2020: Boom or Bust and a baby
Let me take you back to those dramatic opening months of 2020.
I was the captive of a long pregnant pause.
The motel was due to settle and the vendor tried to take us to court to refuse sale.
The solicitor was a beautiful barrage of Spanish fury.
There was a deeply disturbing wave gathering momentum in Wuhan, China.
Madeline Joy arrived, late and laughing.
And then the wave broke across the whole globe.
New Zealand entered level 4 lockdowns when Maddie was just a week old. I was sitting on the couch absorbed in the quiet, private world of staring into the baby’s eyes as I breast-feed, until the news quietly emanating from the TV caught my attention. I had spent days in a hazy milky sleep deprived dream. Breastfeeding, the baby, sleep, the baby, eating, the baby. I head the word Lockdown. Stay in your homes. The virus is out there. What? The pieces fell into place in a second. I had heard the rumours of a virus, the cases in NZ, the growing global concern, but I had not really considered that my life would be affected. Its hard to anticipate what we can’t imagine, but suddenly it was here, happening now, in my living room and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I turned straight into the soldier and operator I was trained to be. I checked off in my head the urgent things we may need in lockdown with a newborn. Formula in case I couldn’t breastfeed, a dummy in case she wouldn’t settle, baby panadol, long term food stores, some means of cooking, fuel for the car. Water. I calmly considered full apocalypse and felt that we were relatively well prepared and in any case, extremely resourceful. This is Raglan, wild west coast and pretty much the end of the Earth.
This whole calculation of our position had happened in seconds, invisible to anyone watching me from the outside and I determined that we were going to be ok as far as the pandemic itself went. I mentally made the note that protecting the newborn from any source of possible transmission was really the only important thing. We didn’t yet know how the virus affected children. Maternal instincts temporarily satisfied my brain expanded to explore further effects of the lockdown on our family. I remember vividly the next moments as the cold realisation gripped my chest that our business was in big trouble. The motel had settled just 48 house earlier and interest payment of 15K would now be due monthly. I had planned a 3 month renovation schedule and interest set aside to cover at least that period and a small period of grace, then we needed the project to be generating income at 50% capacity from the three month mark, and growing monthly. Lockdown. No renovations and no tenants. An icy dawn gripped my heart. I got up from the couch clutching the baby, satiated and drunk on breastmilk, oblivious. I stumbled to the office to find Steve who was packing for a trip away. My eyes were wide. Have you heard the news? We’re locked down. The motel - we’re fucked.
"We're not fucked yet"
Stephen was a marvel- a freak in human clothing- whether his calm was a symptom of his great confidence in his resourcefulness or his genuine indifference to our precarious financial position, I still don’t know. I’m not sure whether to be disgusted by his lack of care or awe-inspired.
‘We’re not fucked yet’, he’d say.
‘In fact, we don’t even need to think about being fucked for another few months. A lot could happen. Don’t worry about it. You’ve just got to worry about yourself so the baby is well. Sleep, feed, chill out, heal. Don’t even think about it.’
I oscillated between completely absorbed in the baby and waves of cold foreboding. We didn’t own the deposit, it was all borrowed. If prices plummeted we had no way to pay back investors. My brain found all the possible problems. My husband found all the potential solutions with a logical, cavalier indifference.
‘Its only money,’ he’d say, and shrug, getting on with whatever he was doing.
‘Money shouldn’t cause emotion’.
Nothing bothered Stephen during those challenging days. He was no longer travelling for work, he was with his family in a beautiful part of the world and he had a baby to play with. He was zen itself.
"Money shouldn't cause emotion"
Facing lockdown with no post partum care made me feel very isolated, but in those early days I was in crisis mode, functioning like a soldier, survival of the fittest. And my fitness would ensure the survival of me and my baby. Suddenly it seemed almost life critical to be able to breastfeed and to have a healthy child. I have that, I convinced myself daily. Maddie is fine. I’m fine. Mothers birth children in war zones, and many survive.
I was just in house arrest without medical care.
The business was facing potential ruin.
But a precarious business is a first world problem.
It meant we had resources to begin with.
What a privilege.
I spoke to a property investor friend in those early days of lockdown.
‘We’re fucked’ he said.
‘With two developments on the go and no ability to move forward, high holding costs and all borrowed money, we’re fucked. And prices will plummet off the back of this as people lose their jobs’.
He shrugged as he said it, emotionally detached.
‘Buts so’s everyone else in this business. So I’ll just negotiate with creditors. Its no big deal. Just business. Everyone will be negotiating their way out of a mess. We’re all in the same boat.”
‘A creditor would rather a plan and a small return, than a business declaring bankruptcy and nothing’, he continued logically.
I marvelled at this new world of money that was opening up to me.
We’re all in the same boat - so we’ll just negotiate.
Maddie slept in small bursts, waking crying and uncomfortable. She struggled those first weeks, spewing up her feeds, needing burped for hours, sleep was rare and precious. I was increasingly delirious.
It took a day or so for my brain to dredge up a solution from beneath the fluffy milky pillow of hormones and sleepless delirium. We have a whole motel of empty rooms.
Who needs our rooms, love?’ I voice out loud to Steve late one night from the depths of the sleepless newborn trenches.
‘Anyone without a home. There lots of homeless people at any given time. We should see if someone needs what we have.’
The next day phone calls were made to social housing groups in Whanganui. The idea was seized upon with excitement.
‘YES!!! YES we can use your rooms. THANK YOU.’
A letter was drafted to ensure our renovating team was considered essential workers. They were now allowed to made the rooms clean and habitable, buy a small bench top oven, check the heating systems. I furnished the rooms by doing a facebook appeal on a local entrepreneurial women site and curb-side pickup using more essential social housing workers. The motel was remotely furnished in a few days; beds, linen, crockery. Basic, but safe. Keys were handed into unseen hands. Housing the homeless. The most vulnerable elements of society. I felt proud of our efforts, how we were able to give something valuable to those who needed it most. Carried away on trust and feel-good baby hormones, there was no paperwork trail in those early days. Just the triumph of finding a win-win solution in an unprecedented global crisis. All hands together. The team of five million. How revoltingly naive.
This was 2020.
It was boom or bust.
But we were surviving to fight another day.