I’m becoming a backpacker granny

How do you greet your first grandchild, who has just been born 15,000km away, by Skype?

Baby love: Sharon Hutchinson meets her granddaughter Ella for the first time, at Perth Airport

Baby love: Sharon Hutchinson meets her granddaughter Ella for the first time, at Perth Airport

 

How do you greet your first grandchild, who has just been born 15,000km away, by Skype? I saw her, less than an hour old, in the arms of her father, Steve. He was beside himself with joy, babbling about the rush by ambulance from their home, in the Western Australian town of Northam, to Perth, where my daughter Stephanie had a Caesarean section. I had accompanied them the whole way by phone, text and, now, Skype.

I felt so many emotions– joy, relief, excitement – and had the ache of wanting to be there with them, to wrap the tiny bundle in my arms. I also had the feeling of drop-to-your-knees gratitude that both she and my daughter were okay. And I had a primal longing for the smell of her.

The past three years had been like the flight of the bumblebees, such were the comings and goings of our four children around the globe. My son went to Vietnam, my three daughters to Australia, Dubai and Britain. The two eldest, Colm and Stephanie, met their wife- and husband-to-be within four months of arriving in Vietnam and Australia. Christina met her partner the day she landed in Dubai. These meetings threw off course all their plans to return home after travelling for a while.

My children did not have to leave Ireland. All except one had good jobs here; Shauna left at 17 for music college in Bath. They chose to go, and by all accounts none intends to return to live here any time soon. I’d always encouraged them to travel; little did I know how far and for how long they would go. We are now a multicultural family. We gained a Vietnamese daughter when our son married Nguyen, last February. We also have welcomed an Australian, a Scotsman and an Englishman into our clan.

I worried terribly, on Stephanie’s first night at home with Ella, that she didn’t have me there to help her. I had to pull myself up and remember how lucky I am to have the family I have and that they are all healthy, happy and doing well for themselves.

We have had two more arrivals since then. Layla, in Australia, is six months old, and Finn, in Vietnam, is two months old. I’ve met them only by Skype, a marvellous invention without which we would be bereft.

When Ella was three months old I flew to Australia to meet her in person. Then tragedy struck our family when my eldest sister, Caroline, was diagnosed with cancer. Stephanie brought Ella home to meet her before she died. I babysat one night, when Stephanie went out to catch up with friends. “Don’t you be worrying. Didn’t I rear the four of you?” I said with a swagger when she asked if I’d be okay minding Ella.

But Ella soon woke up – and didn’t know me. I was a stranger to her seven-month-old eyes, and she screamed and screamed. I tried everything I could to calm her but eventually had to ask Stephanie to come home. Ella was soon sitting content in her arms. I was inconsolable.

We fared better when we all went to Vietnam, last February, for Colm’s wedding. It was the first time in five years we had all been together. Ella, who was a year old then, sat on my lap, happily playing with my hair. Now she feeds me sausages through Skype.

I’m going to visit her and my two new grandchildren in a few weeks, and then I will take those precious bundles in the arms that have ached so long to hold them. This is the way of my world now. If I am to spend time with my grandchildren I will need to travel great distances. When I get lonely I think of Kahlil Gibran’s description of us as the bows from which our children are sent forth.

For now I am full of gratitude for the tremendous opportunity I have to visit different countries, to be absorbed in different cultures and families.I’m becoming a backpacker granny.

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