Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Re-entry Shock

Giant snake we saw on our bike ride when we got back to Denver- We aren't in New Zealand anymore!
With my toenails painted the color of paua shells, I stand looking at my phone, nearly brought to tears while watching a promotional video by Air New Zealand about relocating takahe birds. It is strange to be back.
I chose this Kiwi color without even thinking about it

Our reentry to the United States after four months Down Under has been as good as perhaps can be expected, at least in a practical sense: The flight and customs were uneventful, we unpacked our suitcases and the most critical storage boxes within a few days, and our wedding photos are back on the walls in the living room. Fran jumped back full-steam into work and public service (on the Public Defender Commission), and Jeremy headed off to two weeks at sleep away camp without too much fuss (although he was disappointed he would miss Denver Pride).
boy in black t-shirt and black hat smiles for camera while random kids mill around in background
Jeremy enjoying camp
What about me? I have met with my students and am keeping up with emails. I am running around Wash Park in the mornings again, earbuds in. I have had lunch dates and brought a grieving friend a home-cooked meal. We attended a rally for LGBTQ equality. I attended stimulating events as a former TEDx speaker, and have had wonderful dates with my wife, including at Pride. But, there is an emptiness, a sadness that is always just around the corner, ready to accost me at a moments notice. New Zealand became a part of me, and she is there while I am here.
Anna standing in front of TEDx stage "Uncommon", holding speaker and VIP name tags and program with her name
Date night: It's fun to come back to TEDx as a former speaker!

Several things have struck us in our new, Kiwi-fied state, most notably all of the people, cars, stuff, and trash. We were surprised how long it took to relearn how to drive on the right side of the road again. One poignant culture shock example was when at a restaurant, a server plopped a pile of paper napkins down on our table, unrequested, and then when we didn't use them, threw them all away.  We were horrified. You might expect me to also say "reintroduction to American politics," but we didn't get any break from that when we were away- the Kiwis were well-acquainted with what was going on in the U.S., and there was no escaping the news.
Three huge "rubbish bins" at the park- unheard of in New Zealand!
Bizzare Americans- dollars hanging from ceiling at the Bucksnort Cafe

Actually, the biggest emotional adjustment coming home has been our family situation- We were all quite cozy for those four months, spending nearly every waking hour in each other's presence. Although it took us a full month to get acclimated to this new, sometimes uncomfortable arrangement, after that we marveled at how much we were enjoying each other's company.
The week we returned, we were greeted with the "Masterpiece" Supreme Court ruling- so back to The Capitol we went for a rally.

Once we got back, with Jeremy at camp and Fran at her computer, I am left feeling lonely for my family. Fran says, "Aw!" and gives me a sympathetic squeeze before rushing back to her mountain of work.  Jeremy actually wrote us three letters from camp, and I treasure each one, reading his dyslexic scrawl again and again, occasionally coming up with new meanings. I can't wait to retrieve him, even if it means less time to myself.
Pride was strange without Jeremy, but we had fun being childless, too

The things that have helped reverse culture-shock:

1) Continuing to act like a tourist: An American we met in New Zealand advised us to explore new things once we got home. "Continue the feelings of excitement and discovery," she said. Since coming home, I have been to the Denver Botanic Gardens, Golden, The Rhubarb Festival, and new restaurants with Fran. It has helped.
The type of photo I took as a tourist in my own backyard- a sign selling oxygen at a shop in Pine, CO (8,448 ft/ 2,575m  above sea level)
Columbines, our state flower, taken at Denver Botanic Gardens

2) People expressing honest interest in hearing about our trip: Thank you, everyone, for watching our 1 Second Everyday video, for asking questions and listening to the answers and then asking more questions. It really has helped.

Fran being a tourist at Mile High Stadium (in her New Zealand gear) with dear friend Morris Price
3) Being true to our new selves: I posted about how this trip has changed us, and most of it is sticking even in our new American setting and routines. We have spent time outdoors almost every day, are walking more, less stressed about work, using less, and for me, still no makeup.
Hanging out with David and Peter, whom we met in New Zealand, at a new restaurant in Denver
4) Keeping in touch with our new friends: Facebook has been a lifesaver for connecting with those whom we grew close to over those four months, and we have already been visited by a wonderful couple (from New York) whom we met on our Doubtful Sound cruise.

Back on the bikes in Denver!
5) Connecting to all things Kiwi: Fran still reads the Otago Daily Times each morning; we were thrilled by the arrival of the "Prime Miniature" (the New Zealand Prime Minister's baby). And then last week we were excited to get to watch New Zealand play England in League Rugby right here in Denver!
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (and us) after a game with England

And with that, I leave you, dear reader. I may still post from time to time, but I have a new textbook edition to write, students to mentor, a son to raise and a wife to... well, that's not your business. But in any case, I thank you for making this blog worthwhile by reading it; it has meant more to me than you can know.
Jeremy with "his" horse, when we picked him up from camp

Monday, June 4, 2018

Living in New Zealand as a Two-Mom, American Family

In celebration of #LGBTQFamiliesDay, I thought I'd share our experience as a two-mom family during our recent four-month stay in New Zealand. We received many questions both from people there and friends back home about this aspect of our experience, not covered in my other posts about our travels. Here they are, with our answers.
Two white women and their 10 year old son pose for a photo on the deck of a boat, with white-capped mountains behind
Family portrait in Fijordland
Top questions answered about our New Zealand trip regarding being an LGBTQ family:

1. Did you experience any discrimination?
Answer: Nope. We were living in a university town with a population of 120,000 (Dunedin, on the South Island), surrounded by rural countryside known to be conservative. We travelled extensively around the South Island and a bit on the North Island. Everywhere we went we were treated with respect by businesses and casual interactions with strangers. I was impressed with the results of what I call the "flinch test"- when I casually out myself to a new person I watch their reaction; almost universally there was none.
Sticker on a glass door showing a rainbow stick person who is half male, half female, presumably meaning LGBTQ friendly
Welcoming sticker on a business in Wanaka
Kiwis are known to be generally progressive politically, as evidenced by the current Labor Party Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden and by the fact that New Zealand gave women the vote in 1893, long before nearly any other country. Its laws are supportive of gay and lesbian people: New Zealand was the 13th country to support marriage equality (in 2004) and gay and lesbian people could serve openly in the military since 1993.
A line drawing of a unicorn's head is colored in with pencil in rainbow colors. includes the words "What does Dunedin Pride mean to you?"
Coloring pages for Pride in Dunedin
Of course, this isn't to say that there is no discrimination or bigotry in New Zealand; we heard a few stories from individuals that showed that there is definitely still room for improvement. A telling litmus test is that we met several people who were still closeted.
Good, ole-fashioned lesbian pot-luck with the "L Club"
2. Did you connect with the LGBTQ community there?
Answer: Did we ever! Of course, there is no single "community" anywhere; two groups we engaged with in New Zealand were lesbian and gay families and a lesbians group. Due to Fran's social-media savvy, we actually connected some families in Dunedin who hadn't known each other before -- creating community! One of these families, two dads and a son, had never met other gay parents before. The lesbian group we got to know was "the L Club:" mostly boomer-generation women who have been meeting for dinner once a month at a local cafe for several decades.  We had them over for a potluck in honor of my mother's (also a lesbian) visit. It was a roaring good time and got them thinking they might start meeting at each other's houses. We found everyone warm and welcoming.
10 year old boy holds picture he's colored for pride fest in front of backdrop of other coloring pages
Our son shows off his creation for Dunedin Pride
"We" are everywhere, of course, as evidenced by some sweet meetings with other queer folk in small towns. In Bluff, the most southern town in the world, we met Xavier, a fellow member of the tribe, who was so delighted to meet us that he gave us a free souvenir and invited us to tea. Because a boy calling one woman "Mama" and the other "Mommy" in public outs us, random strangers would approach us, like the two lesbians at the cafe in Takaka.

four twenty-somethings with balloon hats pose at the Dunedin Pride Fest table
The wonderful volunteers making Pride happen in Dunedin
3. Do they have Pride?
Answer: You bet! Of course, the big cities of Auckland and Wellington have the biggest LGBTQ Pride events (click on city names to see their events), including parades, but even small Dunedin had a well-publicized week of events. There wasn't a parade or a festival, but every day of "Pride Week" there were several activities, including an art gallery exhibit and a baby-making workshop. We were traveling some that week but made it to the picnic, which was held in the art gallery because the ground was too wet at the park (Dunedin lives up to its nickname, "Mudedin"). By this point, we were running into plenty of people we had met already, including new friend Jenny, who had sketches and journalling displayed at the gallery documenting her full-body transition-surgery experience.
Dancing at a pride event in an art gallery
Jenny takes me for a spin on the dance floor during a Dunedin Pride event
4. Are there resources for LGBT people there?
Answer: At least in the big cities, it appears so. We were impressed to visit The Women's Bookshop where our son purchased a lesbian-mom-friendly Mothers' Day card, and we got a "groom & groom" card for our friends' upcoming wedding. A quick Google search shows sites for resources for LGBTQ Kiwis, including lists six organizations for New Zealand.
Card that reads, "What could be better than having the world's most loving mother? Having two."
The card Jeremy gave us on Mother's Day while in New Zealand
For us-- a white, able-bodied, cis-gendered lesbian couple and their adorable son-- being in New Zealand was easy and a joy. Are you LGBTQ and have travelled to New Zealand? Feel free to share your experience in the comments.