My little Coco – 10 month old daughter, Colette – proved herself to be a pretty handy traveller these past couple of weeks. For a summer trip to England, she journeyed for the most part happily in a delayed 747 across the Atlantic (finally left Newark at 1.30 a.m.), one Heathrow shuttle bus, a rental car through London, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire, three London river buses, and a New Orleans style steamer boat, which classily connected a wedding in Greenwich and its reception in Southwark.
The three of us, of course, were quite the troupe: mum, dad, and baby never far from stroller, car seat, pack and play, luggage, diaper bag, spare clothes, cell phones, and toys. And a hosts of other bits and bobs that help get a baby fed: sippy cups, yoghurts, Cheerios, snacks, lunches, dinners, bowls, cups, wipes, you name it. Fortunately – but for that reception – we steered clear of rain; yet still more items were tucked into one pocket or another to keep it off of Coco.
Yep, the things you do – and get – to turn troubled little frowns upside-down. The results, though, always worth the effort! On a plane with a baby, you feel the eyes of fellow passengers boring into the back of your head. Ha – but our one hardly made a peep! In a restaurant, a content baby means you can savor every morsel of your meal. And, best of all, when the child you introduce friends and family to is wide-eyed, smiling, and jolly, you feel great inside, right down to your toes. Ain’t she a sweetie!
This trip, perhaps the best time of all was taking Colette to meet my two great aunties, 92 year-old Hazel and 97 year-old Joan – Hazel having us all over for a homemade lunch. On the last day of a long vacation, Colette was an absolute gem. How can I describe how that felt without sounding boastful? I’m pretty tired as I write this – so how about I just ask you to believe me when say I don’t mean this boastfully: at my auntie’s house, in the middle of the day in late July, my daughter was a beautiful girl at a beautiful time to be one. Were it constitutionally possible, I definitely would have melted.
I used to see Joan and Hazel all the time growing up. They live on the same small street as each other and have done for 60-odd and 71 years, respectively. (Just around the corner used to be my dear-old grandmother, until she passed away at the end of 2004.) Especially having moved overseas, such continuity really means a lot – and Hazel, in particular, is someone I’ve always been very close to. She is my godmother and, having never married, doesn’t have any children of her own. She calls me “babes.”
After lunch (chicken curry made with a Lloyd Grossman sauce, served with poppadoms and Sharwood’s mango chutney, followed by everyone’s favourite sherry trifle), we all sat in the front room. It felt beyond the reach of hours, days, and years: wonderful and peaceful. Though an adult and a parent, I was back in a room I enjoyed visiting as a child – and looking around it, not too much had changed.
My aunts were older, and their sister and Joan’s husband Bren were no longer with us. But the view out the window was the same, the net curtain in front of it and the blue English sky beyond it the same. And for all of us: the same gentle, simple love of spending time with family. A family now joined by two new people sitting on the carpet, Colette and my wife Jackie.
For a long time before we left, Colette sat in Hazel’s arms. Most of the time she doesn’t sit that still, and most of the time she cries when held by someone for the first time. Maybe I’m silly and sentimental, but it seemed for all the world that Colette wanted to make my old auntie happy, and did what she could to make it so. Sometimes peering up and round to meet my auntie’s gaze.
Maybe, after all, she knows why her middle name is Hazel.