With my husband’s contract signed, so it began. The work. We were officially moving to New Zealand and our one way tickets were booked! We still had to get work visas good for three years and immigration paperwork would take at least two or more months to complete… that’s if everything went smoothly. But first, we had to share the news with our families.
I’ve had a sibling who has lived overseas for more than twenty years, so my parents were used to figuring out how to stay in touch and travel far distances. I remember my dad said it’s bittersweet, but they understood why this was an important move for us and have been incredibly supportive.
It was harder to break the news to some of my husband’s family, however. It definitely cast a shadow over our move. After meeting other expats down here, we’ve learned it’s common for some family to be supportive and some to not really know how to be. That’s ok. Reality is- change is hard. As we said then and continue to say now: love remains even from a distance. Technology today makes it easier to stay connected, if it’s used. We’ve been fortunate most embrace that connection with us. It became apparent right away that maintaining these relationships from afar would become some of our most important work.
Around Saint Patrick’s Day, March 2013, our house had a buyer. It was easy to get sentimental about the place we’d remodeled and welcomed a baby, and I remember my emotions ran high. We were lucky how quickly it went, though, with the buyer agreeing to a closing date of May 31. Finally, we had a date!
Our plan was to head to Boston to visit family for a week or so and then head to Minnesota to be with mine until we left for Los Angeles and before departing to New Zealand July 2 (more on that later).
We studied the never-ending stack of immigration paperwork and tried to calculate on our own how many points we’d accrue to determine whether or not we’d even be accepted. Requiring precise details meant doing several steps twice, which sort of became our theme.
We raced around town to get copies of our marriage certificate and our son’s birth certificate notarized. We also had to provide proof of our then five-year relationship: pictures, an old wedding invitation, our mortgage statement, etc. as well as proof of our education.
Fingerprints were next with our background check. Our local police station officers were friendly about it, even when we ended up having to do it twice. It had to be timed right because there was only one officer who could do it and he was only in the station one day a week with his donuts (just kidding!).
In between all this, our dog had his vaccinations and tests at the vet. To help keep us sane, International Pet Travel helped organize what shots he needed and when. Without them, we surely would’ve messed something up. Some of his appointments fell during the times we’d be in transit: Boston, Minnesota, and finally Los Angeles. We had to schedule those as well in advance as we could (there was no wiggle room on appointment times; certain vaccines had to be done within 10 days of the other and within a certain number of days before export) with some vets not knowing if they had the right vaccine and turning us away because our dog wasn’t a regular patient. One day my husband had to drive all the way to the Canadian border to meet with some State Agriculture officer to stamp an import permit as our final approval that Fido (not his real name) could move to New Zealand. This process was nuts, even with the help of IPT. They also helped us find a quarantine facility in Wellington for his two week stay.
Medical info took the most time, so we began the process in January. We provided blood tests and urine samples (us, not our infant). I had to do mine three times over because I was only seven-to-nine months post-partum, which meant hormones were still a bit out of whack. It held up sending in our forms sooner than we wanted, but there were plenty of other things to do. Both of us had to have physicals, which were easy, and our pediatrician signed off on our son’s immunizations.
Everything fell into place even though some of it was tedious and took longer than we wanted since we were both still juggling work, too.
And it felt right.
Then came the chest x-ray. Our son didn’t need one so we thought this would be simple. We’d taken time to schedule it, but when the receptionist at the hospital asked for our referral from our doctor, of course, we’d forgotten it. We had hoped perhaps it would be in their online system but she was adamant we needed the piece of paper.
We begged her to keep a slot open because we had waited so long and it aligned with our son’s nap and our work. Our deadline to get the paperwork in before we left was tight. She agreed if we made it back before a certain time, she’d still check us in. The 20-minute rat race home gave our son a much-needed nap, even if short. A sensitive sleeper since birth, we needed to keep the car moving so he wouldn’t wake up. And we were hungry.
Thinking about it now, it’s rather comical and a sweet testament to rookie parenthood. I drove up and down our neighborhood streets while my husband grabbed leftover pizza to go and the referral form. Any time my son stirred in the back seat, I drove faster. I think I even had an MP3 of soothing rainfall blaring through the speakers so he wouldn’t wake.
Back at the hospital, the x-rays went pretty fast. My husband was in and out like a flash while I waited with our son. I was done just as quickly, got dressed, and waited in the lobby for them to sign off on our paperwork.
That’s when, for the first and only time in the process, something didn’t feel right.
A nurse hurried into the lobby, waving her arms and calling my name. My x-ray revealed a spot near or on my ribcage, near or on my lung. I had to do the x-ray over. I tried to plaster a smile on my face, repeating a meditative “no worries” mantra from the South Pacific in my head. But I was worried. It wasn’t part of our plan. I glanced at my husband, who can never hide his anxieties even if he tried, and I instructed him to get our son something to eat while they waited (always a Mum first).
In the dressing room, I changed back into a gown certain this was a sign. Not only did I play out different health scenarios in my head, but also the dream was over and it would be my fault. There’s no way New Zealand would accept me with a flawed x-ray.
Doing my best to push catastrophic thinking aside, I did as I was told during the detailed exam and then rejoined my husband and son in the waiting room. Thirty-minutes later the nurse returned with our paperwork to report it was nothing serious. They didn’t know what it was— apparently just something on my rib cage— an extra bone? Something leftover from the bout of H1N1 I had in 2009? No idea. I had no history of tuberculosis and the doctor was able to give me a pass on the immigration form along with a CD of my x-ray to send in case immigration had concerns.
Breathing a huge sigh of relief, dream still intact and health undamaged, we headed home. I wish I could say I relaxed in a warm bubble bath after that, but I can’t because there was more work to do. The brief moment of uncertainty lingered for a while, a reminder of how far away from home we’d be if something serious happened to us or to our loved ones. We had a talk that night about the challenge we’d face having to miss certain events or funerals of family members, or in general unable to physically be there for any loved ones going through a hard time. Accepting that as part of this change required again, a lot of emotional work.
By the time we submitted our immigration paperwork it was April. We were on edge hoping our visas would arrive before the closing. If not, our plan B was to stay in a hotel in Vermont and ask the new owner of our home to alert us when they arrived in the mail. Who knows if that would’ve worked but at least we had a backup. Our calculations showed the max time for immigration to process meant we’d receive our visas a day or two before we left our home, and that made us nervous. But there was no time to worry.
Any down time I had at home, to save money, I packed all our belongings myself. We hired a company to wrap big furniture items to load onto the shipping container that we had now booked for May 30, right before our closing. The customs list of how things needed to be packed was intense. Everything had to be labeled and numbered with a brief description of what’s in each box. Anything that had been outdoors was scrubbed thoroughly. Shoes, bicycles, and Christmas tree decorations, too. Chef’s knives, sharp equipment, etc. had to be specifically packed a certain way and labeled as sharp on the box with ‘this side up’ in clear letters. A garage sale claimed most of our electronics since they wouldn’t work in New Zealand. That was tough. Some items I wish we would’ve kept, but at the time, I had too much else going on to care.
This task was a full time job. With barely two months left until the sale of our house, I quit my day job and finally had my son, then 10-months old, at home with me on a regular sleep schedule.
And it felt right.
Up Next Part Four: THE MOVE