“If you want to live with us, you’ll have to turn to drugs or alcohol, or become a terrible student and get kicked out of the house.”
This was a running joke we had with Matthew, my 16 year-old son.
For years, I had wanted Matthew to live with me when we lived in Colorado, but despite Matthew’s desire, his mother who had custody of him in Virginia had always refused. In fact, part of the reason I had moved to New Zealand was to get on with my own life. I had given up hoping, praying and waiting that someday things might change and I would be able to have the influence and interaction I had always wanted to have with Matthew, more than just Christmas or Easter vacations and a month every summer.
“If you want to live with us, you’ll have to . . . “
Well, as it turned out, we weren’t far off.
For a number of reasons, Matthew began hanging out with the wrong group of friends, his grades in school deteriorated—more like plummeted—and his mother became completely overwhelmed with how to handle this six-foot tall adolescent who had suddenly developed an opinion of his own. What to do?
In anticipation of the seemingly remote possibility of him coming here, we had obtained a student visa for him, which would allow him to go to high school here if the opportunity presented itself, hoping that things could potentially be turned around due to my influence, the counter-clockwise magnetism of the Southern Hemisphere and the pastoral, back-water quality of New Zealand itself.
But Matthew didn’t want to come. He quoted the Tao Te Ching (he was taking a course in World Religions at the time) saying that the Tao had advised him to stay where he was. I told him that my reading of the Tao said that he should come.
Finally things came to a head and one day later—that’s right, one day later— his mother flew him to LA and put him on a plane to Auckland. He allegedly believed he was coming here for a vacation but he must have had a suspicion that things were not as they seemed when the immigration agent in Auckland . . . well, the conversation according to Matthew went something like this.
“What is the purpose of your visit?”
“I’m just coming to visit my dad.”
“Well, then why do you only have a one-way ticket and a student visa?”
And so it was that Matthew accepted his fate, his “exile” as one of this friends texted him to the paradise that is Mount Maunganui in the summer, at least for the next six months.
Other texts he received from his friends about his precipitous departure were equally funny:
“What did you do, dude, to get sent that far away!”
“Go to Mordor.”
“Save up your money, get your passport, go to the airport and escape!”
And from his hapless physics class partner, “I guess I need to find another partner for the catapult project, huh?”
It helps that Mount Maungaunui is so incredibly beautiful in the summer. The beach is one block away—I measured it on Google maps, it’s 100 meters away—and the small town is two blocks in the other direction. An added bonus was that it was summer vacation here for school kids when he arrived with school not starting until January 29th. At least if you were exiled, you didn’t have to start school right away.
He also arrived here just before Christmas week which culminates in a wild New Year’s Eve party in which they close off all the streets surrounding the beach, bands play on stages and the entire town becomes one extended street party. Total madness. For the record, no alcohol is allowed on the beach areas and this is strictly enforced.
Now the revelry has quieted down and Matthew has started school at Mount Maunganui College. That’s right—college. High schools here are called colleges, so as I told him, you’ll be going to college!
He has to wear a uniform to school—all school kids (pronounced ‘keeds’) in New Zealand do. So he wears the school logo shirt, school shorts, socks and black shoes or sock less with black Roman sandals. The black Roman sandals look like something out of—well, they look like something out of the Roman Empire. When I see Matthew go by in his Roman sandals, I strike my chest and intone “Strength and Honor” like Maximus in Gladiator.
So our life here in New Zealand has changed. And there are more people to cook dinner for.