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Adjusting to the new normal

My sister said to me the other day “But you’re a New Zealand citizen, you’ll still be able to fly back when you need to, even though you’d have to quarantine”.

My reply was flat – “No, we have to get permission – I’m now an Australian permanent resident, so I need the Government’s approval to leave the country”.

There was not a lot of conversation after that, just a few rose tinted perspectives to try and make things appear better. But the reality is, that freedom to travel – and by that I don’t just mean travel to a tropical island for a winter getaway, I mean travelling to see our families in any other country or indeed interstate has been robbed from us. Exemptions apply of course, but that in itself is a bureaucratic minefield. Yes it’s only temporary, and I fully support the health reasons underpinning the policy decisions but god damn it’s hard. The thing is, temporary can still be a very long time. Touch wood, I don’t have to seek an exemption any time soon or indeed at all.

Living your adult life straddled across two countries can at the best of times be challenging. Add to that a cross-cultural marriage (yes, Australian and New Zealand cultures are different) and children born in your ‘new home’, it requires a deep commitment and bucket loads of positivity when those dark days of nostalgia and yearning for your own family and old friends hit.

I’ve always thought I have two homes – my home here in Sydney, and after 13 years, 3 kids, a house and a husband (no dog, yet), I feel like I’ve really only recently found my own local tribe here and can happily say we’ll be here for a long time. My other home, my spiritual home, my birth country of New Zealand – almost deserves a ‘BC’ after it. Before Children. My life before children was peripatetic and involved a great deal of hedonistic wandering around the globe, but I was grounded by my eternal ties to New Zealand. Like a boomerang, I always returned there – I would go back home.

The key to being able to commit to life and love in Sydney, was knowing that my family and friends, and places which fill my soul with the greatest joy, were only a plane ride away. Doing a number of Trans-Tasman one-night trips to ring in friends’ 40th birthdays proved this was possible.

And then another big ‘C’ came into my life. It didn’t seem so disruptive in the beginning; we cancelled the odd holiday and steeled ourselves for a period of isolation and that tortuous experience that is home-schooling. I still get traumatic flashbacks. We came out the end of that dark period feeling upbeat that as a country we’d done well to suppress the virus yet still managed to get our take-out coffee every morning. I knew we were lucky in that relatively, our lives had really been barely affected. We stayed healthy, my husband’s work stayed busy and the Sydney sun was a constant source of serotonin.

But as the months have rolled by, the coronavirus pandemic is making its mark as an indelible moment in history, and in our day to day lives. Australia is seeing a second wave – there are horrific numbers of cases in Victoria, and as I press publish, Melbourne is about to move into a state of disaster and Stage 4 lockdown. We are thinking of family and friends there. Naturally we in Sydney are on high alert, with a flat sense of inevitability that we might be next. Friends are talking about people being reallocated from working as travel agents to working in coronavirus call centres and contact tracing teams. That's what they did in the war wasn't it? The optimism we all once had for seeing family at Christmas has gone. The seemingly endless nature of this beast is depressing.

How it simplifies one’s priorities is remarkable and refreshing, especially in a city often scorned at for its image conscious residents and somewhat vacuous C list celebrities. What most people in my circle want right now is to stay healthy and keep the kids at school and playing sport. And of course, retaining income. That’s it. A night at a restaurant would be nice once and again, but the consensus is that it’s just not worth the risk of having to isolate with your children, let alone catch the damn virus.

So we all are back to staying local, cancelling dinners and test-driving a range of reusable face-masks. The uncertainty is the killer. But we all know now not to book interstate holidays, and as a New Zealander I’m mentally preparing myself for having a summer without being able to go back. I try not to let my mind wander to the ‘what if’ scenarios that plague our minds living away from family. It’s not worth the pain and worry.

In times BC – Before Coronavirus – we all planned our next holidays, planned expenditure based on expected income, planned to go to a restaurant in 6 weeks, planned to have a child’s birthday party and sent out invitations. But none of that can happen now. I’m lucky though – we don’t have weddings to deal with, we aren’t in our 20s and having to cancel that treasured OE or give up on studying abroad. Really, our day to day suburban life wrangling kids is not that unsuited to the quieter, local lifestyle coronavirus demands these days. And it’s strange how people have generally adapted to this new way of living and behaving.

Had I written this a year ago, I would have thought it to be a great fiction piece – a movie idea. But it's not, we're living this crazy dream. I find it is so important to stop and take stock, and realise what a hellish year this has been – yes the bushfires were in 2020. Remember them? And so we do all that we can to just take one step at a time, living in the present, without overanalysing what may or may not happen in the future. Because there is no timeline on this thing, no timeline at all. It’s such a hard balance, remaining positive about life AC – After Coronavirus – while mustering up strength to get through this unprecedented time with our sanity in tact.

The frightening thing is, I now look at my facemasks and wonder, how will they suit a summer in Sydney surrounded by smoke?

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