I am a Skype granny, watching Sol grow up online
When my face appears on the screen, she understands I am her ‘bestemor’, her Irish granny
I am a Skype granny! My granddaughter was born in Bergen on the west coast of Norway on the winter solstice 2013. Because she was born on a day of such little daylight, her parents named her Sol, after the sun.
She is one-and-a-half years old and is probably the most beautiful child I have ever seen. But then, I am her granny.
“At least she’s only up the road,” friends say whose grandchildren are far flung in Canada or Australia, and of course they’re right. Norway is only up the road and I can get to her as quickly as to Donegal or the Aran islands off the west coast.
But she’s not in Donegal or the Aran Islands. She won’t grow up with a northern lilt or a west of Ireland brogue. She’ll grow up with Norway in her blood, and already that difference is there in her speech, nascent in those early baby words.
“Øye,” she says, pointing to her eye, while I, delighted that such a tiny person can master an inflection with echoes of fjords and snow-filled peaks, rush to counter it with the flat English. “Eye,” I say. And she repeats it, her countenance changing to reflect our Irish skies, our Irish mist.
Her parents have it all worked out. Her Irish half of the family will speak to her in English, and her Norwegian half in Norwegian. And when she’s old enough, my son will teach her other words like fuinneog, madra, uisce.
I have a special place too in that Irish half of her. No one can fill that place but me. When my face appears on the Skype screen, she understands that I am her bestemor, her Irish granny, and she smiles at me in recognition. Then she points to the palm of her hand because she remembers my last visit to her when I taught her the baby rhyme: “Round and round the garden”.
On the Skype screen, I provide the words, her father provides the movement and she crinkles her shoulder obligingly when we get to the “tickly under there” part. Then she places her thumbs and fingers together, and I sing her “Incey Wincey Spider”. When the “rain comes down to wash poor spider out”, she raises her arms above her head, her fingers moving in time to the words. It’s probably a good thing she can’t see the tears on my cheeks, for she would fear her granny was losing it if she did.
I buy two copies of the same book, one for my house and one for hers. “The little dog laughed to see such fun,” I read, and my words fly north, over the Hill of Howth, up past the Giant’s Causeway, high over the Scottish Highlands, and finally come to rest in the calmness of Bergen, so beautiful, so far away.
I long for disorder, scattered toys, disarray, the weight of her on my lap, the feel of her small hands, her finger nails delicate as rose petals. “How much is the Doggie in the Window?” I say. “Woof, woof”, she answers while I gulp down that empty place in my heart.
Soon, I will collect this little family at the airport. They will settle into my house for those precious few weeks of their visit home to Ireland. The paddling pool will be blown up in the back garden, the toy box will be taken out and chaos will abound. I will love every minute of it, and when she comes to me with a book in her hand, just like her father did all those years ago, I will have all the time in the world.
This time, the dish can run away with the spoon and never come back for all I care. This time there will be nothing calling me, nothing to take away my attention. I will sit right there on the couch, lift her onto my lap, nestle her head under my chin, and breathe in the scent of her.
I know now what I didn’t know before. How swiftly time passes. How nothing stays the same. How precious it is to be one-and-a half years old and how, when it comes right down to it, nothing else matters only sitting on your bestemor’s lap while she reads you a story.
This article was first broadcast on Sunday Miscellany on RTÉ Radio 1.