Travel changes you in lots of ways. Most of them for the good. Occasionally for the bad. This week I’ve had a difficult time realizing that the near-constant change we’ve experienced in the last 10 months has left me ill-prepared to “settle down,” even when doing so temporarily. That’s not a good thing.
For most people, living in one place for an extended period of time, getting familiar with the local grocery store, having a regular route to drive, and kids going to the same school every day is normal.
Not for us.
We have spent 4+ weeks in one spot three other times since leaving the United States last May, but it’s been three months since our last “home”. In just that amount of time we’ve become so used to picking up and moving every 2-5 days that flight mode has become the new norm. We’ve developed the mentality of diving right in to the place we happen to be and experiencing as much as we can in whatever time we have. It’s a rapid, urgent life that leaves little time for adjusting to anything other than change.
I’ve come to really love this lifestyle. It’s been exciting and fun to constantly see new things, and to know that something else is around the corner if we happen to be left unsatisfied with a location.
But our plan has always been to get to New Zealand where we would max out our 3-month visas by traveling for a few weeks then living in one place for 1-2 months. After spending two weeks traveling around the South Island, one week in Auckland (in two different sides of town), and another week traveling around the North Island with my mom, last week the time finally came to leave nomadic life for a while and settle down to a home.
We’d carefully chosen a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house in the quaint village of Matakana. This home beat out two others in Auckland city because it was large enough for us to spread out and in a beautiful one-road village where we would be able to rest and relax. Ben was leaning towards an urban apartment which would lead to more social opportunities, but I’d immediately felt a prompting that this house was meant to be our home when I saw the pictures online. We took an afternoon to drive to Matakana to see it and the village in person, and the feeling only strengthened once I stepped inside. Whit was equally in love with the idea of riding his bike down the sidewalk, having a backyard with a hammock, and room and bathroom to himself. Ben, very kindly, ensured that a nearby school would accept Whit and got excited about having a dedicated work space.
After being on the go for soooooooooo long (most recently in a cramped motor home and then sharing units with my mom) we were all so excited to finally settle into the vacation home we’d been dreaming of. But sometimes dreams just don’t match reality.
Panic started to set in as we approached our new house for the first time. It was farther away from the village shopping district than I remembered, and the “big towns” we drove through to get here didn’t have the variety of stores I’d been expecting. To where would I escape when the village life felt too cramped?
Once inside the house my fresh eyes made everything worse. The furnishings that had seemed charming and eclectic at first now seemed musty and cluttered. There was stuff everywhere. Big pieces of furniture from random eras were crowded together with nick-knacks on top of every surface, and every single drawer could hardly be opened for the amount of things stuffed inside.
Not only was it overly decorated, it also felt really dirty. Two of the three beds seemed to have clean linen, thankfully, but the carpet had a thick layer of cat hair, the bathrooms had human hair, dead bugs littered the windowsills, and the kitchen was covered in dust and sticky residue.
As we walked from room to room my anxiety heightened. We had known that the house was permanently lived in and occasionally rented out on AirBnB when then owner stayed at his second home in Auckland, but we hadn’t expected it to feel quite so personal. When you move every few days two months feel like a huge commitment, and I was overwhelmed with the feeling that we would be stuck in someone else’s life for the next eight weeks.
To be honest, my recently-honed flight instinct kicked in and I tentatively brought up the idea that we may want to see if that urban apartment in Auckland was still available or that we should consider leaving New Zealand altogether. Ben turned down those ideas, assuring me that this home would fit our needs and that Whit needed some normalcy.
As I stood stuck in one place, afraid to touch anything (other people’s germs- gross!), Ben swung into action. He put most of the nick-knacks and extraneous furnishings in a closet, then found two vacuums and tested each against the carpet. Unfortunately neither worked (even after Ben spent a long time taking them both apart to try and fix any problems), and he was forced to rent an industrial carpet cleaner. Yes, we were willing to incur the charges to be able to walk in the place we’d be living for the next two months.
While he was fighting that fire I got myself together enough to tackle the kitchen. The owner had about 100 bottles of pet odor eliminator but no surface disinfectant, so I used the rest of his Clorox wipes and then a soapy sponge to scour the drawers, counters, windowsills, stove top, handles, fridge, and cupboard surfaces of food splatter. I had moved on to the bathrooms and usable surfaces by the time he was ready to go through the house with the wet vac.
It took a full day of gradually hiding stuff away, laundering throw pillow covers, and deep cleaning for us to finally feel like we could breathe in our new house. We’re still looking at a few odds and ends which didn’t fit into drawers and keeping our own food stock in a cardboard box so we don’t have to open their pantry, but, overall, it’s a huge improvement.
Whit was enrolled at a nearby school during the height of my neurosis about our new town. Luckily his new school seems amazing (more on that next week), but it brought out more fears of mine that he wouldn’t make friends quickly or be up-to-speed with other children his age (we are homeschooling him, after all, and are never totally sure if he’s on level with other U.S. first graders). He’s been enrolled in schools temporarily before, but this is the first time he wouldn’t be doted upon as one of the few native English speakers, wouldn’t wear the official school uniform, and is around children in a completely different stage of learning. He’s a natural wallflower, anyway, so I was really worried about him sticking out like a sore thumb.
What was especially hard for me to reconcile was the fact that I had been the one to push for this house. I’d felt a spiritual prompting that this place would make us happy. Why, then, was I so overwhelmed and anxious about staying? My daily scripture study helped as I read Enos 1:6. Enos has been struggling with the weight of his sins and spends one full day and night praying for forgiveness. He eventually hears the voice of the Lord tell him his sins are forgiven, and Enos, skeptical, decides to believe that they are because “…[he] knew that God could not lie.” Though our circumstances are different, this verse really hit home for me. I believe that personal revelation comes in the form of thoughts or impressions of truth and guidance from God, and I need to trust those feelings because God doesn’t lie.
One thing I’ve had to keep in mind is that even though we have moved in to a home and sent Whit to school that doesn’t mean living in Matakana Village will last forever. Every stop lasting more than 5 days begins to feel permanent and suffocating to me now, but, in the grand scheme of things, this is just a blip on the radar of our lives. And there’s no reason we can’t recognize and appreciate it for the momentary adventure that it is.
Now that things have settled down I’ve started walking into the shopping end of the Village daily and I realize it wasn’t as far from our house as I originally feared. I’m able to make it to the neighborhood chocolate shop or bakery within 5 minutes, and to nature trails in around 10 minutes. The village, though super small, has even surprised us. The cinema gets a few new releases, the grocery store carries basic essentials at reasonable prices, and the main restaurant in town has delicious $5 lunch specials. We’ve even started to make friends! Nico and Emily run the chocolate shop, Max owns the surf store (and is a treasure trove of knowledge about snorkeling in the area), and Gemma is the bakery cashier who loves to have a good conversation.
Not only is our neighborhood manageable, we are calm enough to be open to the beauty all around us. Quiet life in nature is why we chose this spot, after all! Our drive to Whit’s school in a neighboring town is flanked on either side by sweeping pastoral views of grazing cows, rolling hills, and marinas, and there are a number of gorgeous, less trafficked beaches within 10-30 minutes. We’ve been able to find a new adventure every day after school just by staying within 30 minutes of Matakana! Whit is at the top of his class of 6-7 year olds, and we spend every afternoon doing his assignments on the beach while Ben snorkels.
I’m still struggling with my comfort level of our home, but I’m so incredibly grateful that we stuck with our decision to live here. Village life has so much to offer a young family, and I can tell we’ll be sad to go.
Just to prove that I’ve come around to the realities of life in Matakana Village, here is a photo tour of our small community!