Not pledged to a specific cause or course of action. (from thefreedictionary.com)
“You should write a blog about your inability to commit,” said my flat mate, Amy, from across the kitchen bench (counter). I had just re-capped my conversation with the travel agent who told me even though my airline tickets state the kids and I are leaving New Zealand July 20th, I can continue to postpone booking our return flights to the States indefinitely. There are several problems with this method, however: 1) Airfares could rise, and I’d be hit with change fees and penalties beyond the $1,300 I already face; 2) I may forget we’re not ticketed and show up at the airport on a date I have in my head, only to learn we’re not ticketed (unlikely – instead, I’ll obsess over the matter); 3) At some stage, I need to make a decision about returning to the States and stick with it. The $1,300 money-for-nothing already sits on my shoulder like a Mocking Bird: “You jumped the gun, jumped the gun…” I picture employees at a call center inside a windowless, cubicled room, slapping their knees while clicking computer mice: “Hey, Anna – watch this: I just made the company another thousand bucks by ticking a couple boxes.” Airline penalty fees = a tax on changing your mind.
I booked our return flights to the States (via Fiji and Hawaii) last November. I was weary of spending hours on the computer, researching itineraries and fares. After several weeks in South Africa on my own with 2 kids, I finally admitted to myself I was lonely. I had no one beside me to appreciate the heights of Africa's beauty: the craggy rocks and blue waters around Chapman's Peak, salt-white sand dunes east of Cape Town, or depths of its poverty: the sprawl of tin shacks at Khayelitsha; the lines of men, women and children walking along the roads. No one with whom to admire sunsets or eat gazelle, kudu and springbok at the Garden Route Game Lodge. Sure, I had Fiona and Finley, but my 5 and 6-year-olds were tragically bored with sunsets: "You always tell us to look - we've seen that before!" When it came to wild game for dinner, Finley said: "I'm not gonna eat that. How many bites?" (Fiona, however, happily scarfed some gazelle. Atta kid).
I was ready, in South Africa, to attach an end date to our Big Adventure. I wasn't prepared to go home - not yet. Still, I wanted to know we had seats on one of those large metal sky tubes with stale, re-circulated air, screaming toddlers and meaty fellow passengers spilling over their seats into mine.
I sat in my friend, Heather’s, beach house near Cape Town, repeating myself to the travel agent over Skype: "Can you hear me now? How about now?": “How much will it cost to get us from South Africa to Australia to New Zealand? Can we stop in Fiji and Hawaii en route to Seattle?” Answer: It’ll cost a large chunk of change to complete a round-the-world trip, but the price was considerably less booking the segments together, through a consolidator, than what I’d pay by simply getting the kids and I from Africa to Australia. Never mind we flew a massive detour the length of Africa, to the Middle East (to Doha, Quatar), on Quatar Air. We spent 23 hours in flight from Cape Town to Melbourne. Someone should’ve paid us for our time. Thank God for back-of-seat movies, games and Sponge Bob gift packs for the kids.
A couple things have happened in New Zealand to re-scramble my travel plans: Two weeks after the kids started school, I realized they were adjusting, learning and making friends. Maybe 6 months in Kiwi country wouldn't be enough? Surely, they should have the benefit of an entire school year in En Zed. 2 and-a-half months into the term, Fiona and Finley were reading and writing. After 12 or so months, they'll be penning their first novels (maybe not, but they are learning proper placement of quotation marks and other punctuation, which is more than I can say for a lot of grown-ups, including this one).
Some time around Valentine's Day, I broached the subject of a longer stay to 2 important people: 1) My financial advisor 2) My dad. John, the financial advisor, crunched some numbers and said, "Sure, you're within your budget..." He told me I could afford to spend the rest of the year Down Under, but reminded me I'd need to rejoin the work world after that. The next conversation, the one with Dad, wasn't so easy. "I had a feeling this would happen," he said. "I know you - you have a bit of gypsy blood. But you can't keep dragging the kids around the world like nomad children." After that, the conversation skidded downhill like a runaway ski on a bald slope. Look out for that - TREE! Not only was my parenting questionable, but I was also traitor to my country, and had kicked my family in the teeth. I looked at the clock and did a quick calculation. Before calling Dad, I'd added 5 hours to NZ time (minus a day). I'd forgotten he was on East Coast time. I called Ohio after 11 p.m. After-hours is not when you call your father and let him know you're planning to hang with his grand kids in a remote corner of the world. My bad. I know what he was really saying: "I miss you guys and can't stand the thought of Fiona and Finley so far away. Even if we only see each other a couple times a year because we're across the country, at least I know we're in the same country." Plenty of Kiwis face the family-abroad dilemma, because nearly every one of them I've met has lived far, far from New Zealand (just about everywhere's far from NZ). Thankfully, Dad has mellowed since that first ill-timed chat.
One month later, I met Pete. Somewhere between our initial St. Patrick's day coffee and today, Pete became The Boyfriend. I remember talking with a young British woman at a new migrant's course. She was asking herself, "Stay or go?" She hadn't found full-time work and couldn't see a reason to stay in NZ, simply because it's beautiful. I agreed with her. "If I met someone," she said, "that would be different." I'm starting to understand what she meant.
Even though I'm not ready to flee NZ, I planned, as late as a month ago, to use our plane tickets. First, we'd visit Fiji, then Hawaii, where my dad would meet us. Then, the kids and I would turn around and return to New Zealand. We'd fly half-way across the Pacific to spend 10 days with Dad and his wife, Kathe. For a couple reasons, Dad decided he'd rather not leave Northeast Ohio in August. I understand. I grew up there, and you get 2, maybe 3 months of nice weather before it turns cold and snow piles up so high you lose your car, your dog, your mind... I proposed another rendez-vous: How about meeting early next spring, when it's cold, rainy (still snowing, even) in Ohio? Deal.
In lieu of flying to Fiji and Hawaii, we're spending the 2-week school holiday in New Zealand. It's winter, so temps are in the 50's, 60's (even into the 40's at night). We'll survive. Instead of playing on a warm, sunny beach, the kids and I will road trip with Pete (here, they call it a "tiki tour") to visit his family for 5 days in Hawke's Bay. Not as flash as Fiji, but it's something I want to do (remind me, in a couple weeks, that I volunteered for total family immersion).
I still need to make those flight reservations. The ones that'll deliver us to the States in March (Why March? That's when our visas expire). The cheapest route skips Hawaii, stopping instead in Los Angeles, where Dad has proposed renting a van and driving to Spokane via San Francisco and Napa Valley. Road trip. A good 'ol U.S.A., divided-6-lane-highway-"When are we there?-It's taking too long!"- trip. While I still can't imagine leaving behind The Boyfriend, I can nearly always envision a road trip. And you know, Kiwis are allowed to enter the U.S. And Americans can re-enter New Zealand.
Thankfully, it's too late in the day to phone the travel agent. I'm gonna sit on this awhile longer. Uncommitted. That's me.