My mom flew back to America today. She was simultaneously happy to get home and also sad to leave. Having her visiting for the past few weeks has made me sit back and look at our city, our nation, through visitor's eyes.
For my mom, who grew up in Washington D.C. and spent her adult life in a suburb of New York City her perspective of New Zealand is Rockwellian.
She was pleasantly surprised when an 11-year old boy who we didn't know smiled and said hello as he rode past us on his scooter in Castlecliff.
She constantly noted the many dangerous things that would never happen in the US - the height and speed of flying foxes in public parks, the school swimming pools open to the public, the lack of guardrails on roads overlooking ravines, the concrete play structures at parks.
She remarked on how we couldn't go anywhere in town without stopping and chatting to friends on the street.
She is nostalgic when she says that all of these things remind her of her own childhood in the 60's and 70's.
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Coming from a country where there is a mass shooting every day, it is refreshing to her that in NZ we compare our population to the number of sheep in the country, rather than the number of guns.
My experience visiting the US over the past few years is that most Americans are a little bit news-addicted.
There are more than five 24-hour news channels over there.
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Their demand for viewers and a volatile President have encouraged a culture where people are constantly plugged in to catch the latest headlines.
My mom commented that it must be nice to live in a country where you can feel proud of your leader. I'm equally happy to live in a country that isn't submerged in scandal and drowning in news.
It isn't just the Kiwi propensity for risk that is reminiscent of days gone by, but the connectedness of community – and a disconnection from the rest of the world. Our isolation and insulation protects us, a bit.
It reminds me of a gorgeous sunny day in September 2001.
I can vividly recall walking across my university campus, hearing the birds chirp, not a cloud in the sky, and thinking how weird it was.
It was so beautiful and peaceful, while less than 321km away the world was literally falling apart as 2500 people died in the collapsing twin towers.
Through a window, just past a TV screen displaying horrific images of fireballs and people tumbling through the air, was a tree, with sunlight dappling through the leaves.
My mom's observations of Aotearoa remind me of that juxtaposition, of peace and joy existing in pockets alongside chaos and tragedy.
The past two weeks the rest of the world has been battling bushfires, Brexit, impeachment, coronavirus, and an actual plague of locusts.
"For us, life here feels normal. Beautifully normal. Through her eyes I can see that what we have here is unique. Beautifully unique."
Here in NZ we have been enjoying a day at the beach and getting ready to go back to school.
Towards the end of her visit my mom asked me if I were to do it over again would I still choose to move to Whanganui.
I'm sure it was at least a little disappointing for her to hear me say "yes". But the fact that our mundane life is exceptional is a big reason why.
For us, life here feels normal. Beautifully normal. Through her eyes I can see that what we have here is unique. Beautifully unique.