The half-time whistle


Pass the orange segments, it’s half time. Yes, we’re six months into our one-year adventure and by golly, it’s flying. Another set of school holidays dispatched, and now we’re into the boys’ birthday season – two birthdays a fortnight apart – which every year seems to eat a month of my life. And the next couple of months will continue to be dominated by skiing (school skiing starts this week ­– six consecutive Fridays with the whole school up the mountain, doing four hours of ski lessons each day). Before we know it, it’ll be spring.

The days are getting rapidly and noticeably longer, as we catapult from the much shorter days of the southern winter towards the opposite extreme of much longer summer days. We’ve had a run of unseasonable spring-like weather, which has melted all the snow on our neighbouring mountains and turned the ski fields to slush. (Luckily, we’ve already broken even on our skiing season passes. And we did manage to get in a fantastic family day at Cardrona yesterday. The boys are getting so good so fast that the pressure is now on me to keep up with them on the intermediate slopes, and yesterday Hapless finally realised his goal of us all skiing the whole mountain together, like some cheesy tourist brochure for family package holidays.) On the plus side, the mild weather means we’re not chewing through the firewood nearly so fast, and we might actually make it through the season on current reserves.

We’re encountering the ‘Are you going to stay longer?’ question regularly now, so let it be known that no, at this stage we’re still expecting to be back in Auckland mid-January as planned. There’s an awful lot to be weighed up in making that decision; on the one hand, we’re loving so much about being here; on the other, our setup this year is probably unsustainable for a whole range of financial and social reasons.

As I’ve said before, it would be easy to conflate my joy and relief at not working this year with the pleasures of this spectacular location and semi-rural lifestyle. But reality will bite again before long; even if we stay, I’ll have to pull finger next year. We could stay and, between us, Hapless and I would probably be able to string enough work together to live comfortably enough, to keep renting and resume paying off our mortgage in Auckland. (Selling our house in Auckland is out of the question; like swimming into an eel trap, it would be a one-way journey. We hear enough anecdotes about people giving it a go down here and being driven back to the city for work reasons to know it would be deeply unwise to shut ourselves out of the Auckland housing market.)

We could stay ‘one more year’, but I suspect this year’s bach-camping-making-do-extended-holiday fun will start to feel less like fun and more like hard work once we embark on a second year. And I suspect too that the amazing adventure and journey of discovery that we’ve had over our first year here is an unrepeatable experience; another year will quickly feel like more of the same, only with less enthusiasm.

Ultimately, though, the decision to go back will be centred around the boys. We want them to grow up cosmopolitan kids, comfortable with difference and diversity, not in a 99.5% white small-town school, where ‘gay’ is a routine insult and boys and girls are sharply segregated socially. In the end, it’s easier to offer them a measure of physical freedom in Auckland, alongside the richness of opportunity that the city presents, than to try and provide them with broadness of outlook and diversity of experience in a place where so much opportunity is simply closed down by the logistics of distance and the sparseness of the population.

And if we are going to slot the boys back into their Auckland lives, we want to do so while those old lives are still warm, the friendships still live, their communities still recognisable for them. We do discuss it regularly with them, because if they develop strong opinions either way, it will be a significant contributing factor to our final decision. Firstborn is profoundly conflicted about the idea of going ‘home’, already grieving for the loss of his Hawea freedoms but also joyous at the prospect of joining a cricket team again (no appropriate-level clubs for him here, see ‘logistics of distance’ and ‘sparseness of population’, above). Number Two Son, a boy with a deep attachment to his comfort zone, claims he can’t wait to return to ‘New Zealand’, as he calls Auckland, his own bedroom and his fondly-remembered list of ‘real’ best friends, but at the same time visibly adores the biking, skiing, adventuring life he has here.

For my part, I have regular fantasies about buying an amazing section down here, building a modest house on it and living a semi-reclusive life writing and gazing at the mountains; but there are a few obvious flaws to that plan. For now, I consign it to my list of empty nest/ retirement/ bucket list fantasies, alongside living and working in Manhattan and backpacking through South America.

No, it will have been a fantastic gap year, and I won’t be ready to go back a minute before the year’s up. But, much as the thought of picking up my old life again fills me with horror, by January I think I probably will be ready for the next chapter – whatever that might be.

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