I had 32 days. 32 days in Perth, Western Australia; days of living Australian while fruitlessly searching for some good, sharp blackberry jam to go with my homemade scones (yep, I see what I did there.) I did manage to source Kerrygold butter, which my daughter told me was extortionately priced but I didn’t care. I needed to feel like Perth was a bit of home.
I had 30 days with my precious brand new granddaughter. 30 days in which to gaze into her eyes, always hoping that she would remember me when I am no longer with her. 30 days in which I enjoyed the pure bliss of morning cuddles as I let her mum have a bit of lie in to catch up on lost night-time sleep. 30 precious days in during which I snuggled with her, listening to classical music or sometimes Fleetwood Mac or Carole King; music always seemed to calm her. And I had 30 days in which to try to see if I could coax a smile, a deliberate smile, from her lips to take home with me to Ireland.
When I arrived there, last August, having travelled for 24 hours, I was unsure if my daughter would be greeting me with her bump or a baby. I was delighted to see her waddle majestically towards me at arrivals, baby still tucked tightly within, a sight which until then I had only seen on my computer screen. Just over 48 hours later, my granddaughter, Emilee Rose, arrived somewhat reluctantly into the Australian late winter evening, over 9,000 miles from where the rest of her family live.
And so began the 30 days of time out of life. 30 days which flew by in a haze of tiny nappies, bouquets of flowers, and some of the cutest babygros you could imagine; too many of which have cats on them – we many need to watch that!
I was there for her birth, well more or less. I kind of hid around a corner at the very end, unable to watch my girl struggle through the last birth pangs. But I was there for that moment when Emilee was placed on her mother’s chest and we all held our breath, waiting for her to let us know she was taking her first. And she did, with a gutsy roar, she announced that all was well and she was here. And through a haze of tears I tried to focus on my first sight of her and simultaneously hug my firstborn of whom I was totally in awe.
Before I left Australia, we registered her birth and began the process of applying for her Irish passport. This seemed very important. A tangible anchor to her homeland. Or maybe it’s just me, fooling myself into thinking it might tie her to us, her family so far away. She may grow up speaking with an Aussie accent and she will be an Australian citizen but she is also the girl of my girl; the next generation.
During the long flights to get there, I wondered how much help I would actually be with a tiny new-born. I mean, I knew I could cook and wash and generally help about the house, but it’s been 17 years since my last child was born and tiny babies with their floppy heads can be terrifying. But magically I found myself reverting to the mother I once was, talking the nonsense I used to talk to my babies, all those years ago. I found myself saying the same things, things I had forgotten. No vest went over her tiny delicate head without my saying, in that stupid high pitched baby voice “oh where’s Emi gone?”, followed by “oh there she is.” Just like I did 17, 19 and 30 years ago when only the names were different.
I know I am lucky, very lucky to have been there. To have shared this precious time in Emilee’s life. There must be thousands of mothers like me in Ireland who have had grandchildren born abroad following the mass exodus of our young people in the aftermath of the economic meltdown. But unlike me, many of them are unable to travel half way around the world to visit their new family members.
Like the ripples in a pond these tiny new citizens of Ireland are the latest wave of our diaspora. A new generation not only for our families but for Ireland; part of a generation displaced by circumstances but lucky to be growing up countries with superb education and health services. And, in the case of Perth, a wonderful outdoor lifestyle.
I hate the distance that separates us but this weekend we wave off daughter number two, who is making her first solo trip abroad. All the way to springtime in Perth where she will have a week to catch her breath and some rays of sunshine before heading back northwards, bringing her big sister and her new niece with her. And so in two weeks’ time I will be at standing, once again at the barrier at Dublin Airport, fizzing with excitement, surrounded by the rest of the family and clutching a tiny padded suit to welcome our Emilee home. Home to this damp, cold, funny island in the north Atlantic; this place that, some day, I hope, she may make her own.