The Government's announcement earlier this week about reopening Fortress Aotearoa to the world is a hopeful and uncertain prospect. Hopeful, because the idea of seeing our loved ones overseas or returning home from abroad sparks great joy.
Even though my teenagers and I returned last month from our first visit back to the States since 2019, I'm still contemplating reunion. This time, thoughts are with other Kiwis who have been disconnected from the embrace of overseas family and friends.
The uncertainty part is due to the fact the Government last year rolled out a reopening plan, only to rip the rug from underneath us when Omicron emerged. Though Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the new opening dates are 'very firm', we do not want to play the part of Charlie Brown over and over, as Lucy continues to pull the football away just when we're about to kick. The cartoon event is a symbol of the tension between belief and betrayal, optimism and anguish. The team of five million has felt Charlie's pain over and over again.
I'm choosing to live in hope because the alternative me is a grouchy, panic-scrolling, popcorn-scoffing mess.
So I imagine that instead of some new variant padlocking the castle doors once more, Omicron will do whatever it is going to do. We will minimise the damage and carry on.
All going well, at the end of this month we'll start to see the joyful airport reunions: Kiwis returning from Australia to the outstretched arms of loved ones. There will be grannies and babies, aunts, fathers, daughters … so many people who have missed their friends and whānau whose dream of reunion has finally come true.
Then no later than July (hopefully sooner), will come the Aussies, and in October, the rest of the world.
That's a lot of reunions.
I remember before 9-11 when you could meet people at the airport gate in America. My late husband and I had a year-long cross-country relationship that involved many airport reunions. The first time I flew into Seattle, Sean stood at my gate as I walked off the plane, grinning like a lottery winner.
I surprised him a couple months later on his birthday. This time, his mother fetched me from the airport and brought me to her house, where she had set aside a large box. I hovered inside as she instructed Sean to lift the box to reveal his gift. Thrilled to see him and elated to be freed from my cardboard confinement, I leapt up and gave him a giant hug. The look of disbelief on his face - priceless.
The airport reunion is tough to pull off in the States these days, with passengers tucked behind many layers of security before they emerge from the bubble. By the time you get your baggage and step onto the kerb, your ride has either circled the block 10 times or is still hoofing it from a carpark on the moon, where parking is cheaper.
Tauranga's airport, like most in New Zealand, is still a fine place to meet someone fresh off the plane. The layout is perfect for reunification since you can reunite with your luggage while reconnecting with friends and family.
The teens and I were greeted last month by two of Miss 18's friends, who had painted a giant 'welcome home' sign that included my daughter's favourite pop group. In place of the seven band members' faces, the girls had glued photos of Miss 18. It brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.
We have several videos of the grandparents stepping off the plane in the Mount and hugging their grandchildren. 'Look how big you've gotten!' said my dad each time the kids rushed to meet him and my stepmum.
The teens and I in 2018 surprised the grandparents at Auckland's airport. I told them a shuttle van driver would meet them with a sign and drive them to Papamoa. Instead, we made our own sign and I was the driver. I can still remember the feeling of my heart beating faster, knowing that at any moment, our people would emerge from customs, and we would hug, laugh and tell each other how happy we were.
It's a privilege to witness someone else's reunion, too. Our Italian exchange student's mother surprised her daughter with an Easter visit in 2016. I picked up Alessandra at Tauranga's airport and delivered her to our home. Sofia had been out with friends and she returned to find her mum standing in the kitchen. 'You looked like you had seen a ghost,' Alessandra would later tell Sofia. I shed happy tears watching the two of them hug and cry, hug and cry ...
We have collectively endured much separation. I hope we can soon revel in the joy of mass reunion.
Who are you waiting for?