My telephone ping-pinged, and my wristwatch vibrated. A message from Joe, he’d completed another work-out, got a badge and wanted to rub my nose it in, I thought. At least I’d cycled, I applauded myself while rolling my eyes. He could be so irksome about my exercise regime. I took a sneak peek. “Mom, would you like to come and visit us? I have miles, and flights are super cheap now.” To sweeten the deal, he added, “You can see the house and the baby.” That was at 15h31. At 15h57, he messaged, “Start packing, babe.”
I had my work cut out for me. Three days to get myself organised. There was a silver lining. Travel restrictions had lifted, and I wouldn’t quarantine, but I had to have a 72hour PCR test done. The laboratory needed 24 hours; I had 8. The staff at the testing station at Chris Barnard Memorial Hospital in The Gardens were marvellous and soon had me soothed, settled and probed.
The only problem. It was only once I had my negative PCR Covid test printed and stored on the App that I knew I’d been cleared to enter Canadian borders. With a sigh, I relaxed and knew this caper would pan out. Covid 19 has changed communications and rules of engagement. To travel to Canada, one must register on an App and comply with their Covid laws set out on ArriveCAN. My vaccines are recorded on a “Health Passport”, registered at Quenet’s Pharmacy, and my flight on the KLM App. One has to have WIFI or DATA to retrieve all this information when requested. For a SAffa, it means printed hard copies in a file.
My flight was comfortably short. Border control was unexceptional as I was whisked through customs and into the arms of Joe, Emily and Maeva, my new six-week-old granddaughter. The minute I stepped out of the airport into an autumnal breeze, I knew I’d misjudged the temperatures; my lightweight autumn gear would not suffice. It was freezing.
Stealthlike, the almost autonomous car sped along the highway navigating itself through mid-afternoon traffic, the only gadget on the dashboard a giant iPad-like screen, the vehicle’s brain. The glide home was astounding, and I was speechless. My veneration of Tesla has not waned; I’m in awe. Last week my admiration spiked when I filled my car with fuel. It was TEN times more expensive to fill up compared to a battery charge after an equal distance.
A pre-Thanksgiving dinner was arranged as a pretext to gather the siblings and grandchildren. Woozily I soaked myself in the bath in the hope of delaying the jetlag creeping into me. Excitement and anticipation energised us. The reactions from my children and grandchildren upon seeing me were unpredictable. Disbelief, shaking, nose bleeds, tears, trembles, and incomprehension—a ghostlike apparition had appeared like magic. Timmy thought he’d been invited for Turkey, “but this was better,” he said nonchalantly as he sat down next to me. On the other hand, Jaco asked, “what are you doing here, Mom?” and went off bemused to play with his nephews.
We are all exposed to the allure of the digital age, and children, who can’t discern between reality and fiction, are the most affected. How then do you explain the appearance of Ouma, who you occasionally glimpse and acknowledge with a wave and “hallo Ouma” in passing, being present, almost like a holograph, in the entrance hall? Is it possible that Pippa the Pig, Spiderman, Pinky Pie or Elsa could appear next? I was shyly gawked at from a safe distance. This phenomenon had to be mulled over before being approached. I steered clear until green lights said it was ok.
The surreal, dreamlike “out of body” experience I encountered could’ve been jetlag; the suddenness of the trip might’ve exacerbated it too. I needed to calm down, sleep and orientate myself. After almost two years of separation, I felt old, exhausted and out of touch.
Turning back my internal clock a whopping eight hours isn’t easy as I tried unsuccessfully to sleep. The thought of the bitter taste in my mouth after a sleeping tablet didn’t appeal to me. Thankfully, early morning coffees, hugs, and cuddles with Maeva soon had me feeling at home. Her smiles, newborn smell, and satiny skin are irresistible. Babaloo soon had my heart wrapped around her pinky.
Shades of orange, yellow and ochre coloured the landscape as Autumn set in. With much bribery Carla was able to photograph an uncooperative troupe of children frolicking in the leaves. Grandparents scattered near and far the recipients of these annual photographic updates.
I was dressed in my pyjamas while on a grand tour of the newly renovated home Joe and Emily did during their Covid lockdowns. My admiration for this petite girl grew as she told me about using a jackhammer, hauling concrete blocks, skimming and painting walls, installing kitchen cupboards, and tiling bathroom walls while pregnant!
Relationships are tested with any renovation; doing it yourself tests your mettle. Emily and Joe forged a resilient bond while planning, learning, and working together, honing the skills needed to complete the mammoth task they’d set out to do.
I spent a glorious six weeks in Canada getting to know my grandchildren and reacquainting myself to my children. I enjoyed multiple sleepovers with each family. We all needed this, and as time passed, I could feel how we settled into a comfortable rhythm.
Mornings in bed would be spent telling stories, reading books with kids and sipping coffee in the kitchen with a daughter or daughter-in-law. Kids trampolined on my bed, as they do, and I enjoyed copious cups of tea with Isla in her doll’s house.
We went shopping and exploring, dined out, experimented with new ingredients to make exciting new recipes. I tried my hand at sourdough bread. I tasted, for the first time, Timmy's slow-smoked pulled pork and beef. Both techniques need practice, time, and infinite patience. He has all three! I watched fascinated how the Thanksgiving turkey was plunged into a boiling cauldron (pressured pot) of oil to cook. I had the finest doughnuts and the worst and, with the help of the littlies we made our own.
Fun activities were arranged and the Ten Pin Bowling was a hit. The littlies beat us by miles as my skittles remained standing and the ball went skittling down the gulley.
One of the many highlights was meeting up with an old friend for lunch. Like slipping into a favourite jumper, we resumed our conversation as if we’d never parted. Our children have grown up, our circumstances have changed, we’re a little greyer, and the laughter lines around our eyes are more profound, yet the sisterly bond will remain ever young.
The women in my life (Lise, Erin, Carla and Emily) are hardworking, diligent, creative and disciplined. Their lives are so different from the one I come from in South Africa. I admire the way they juggle work, their home life and keep a social calendar. They’re fit, healthy and encourage their families to do likewise. In a country with extreme temperature fluctuations, it takes imagination and resilience to keep children occupied and happy. Boredom and despair make winter months arduous, taxing family life as dark days turn the sunshine off.
Neil and Danny are all grown up now, when I saw them two and a half years ago they were hardly out of nappies, now they're at school, they ride bicycles without training wheels, they whizz past me on scateboards and know more about Super powers than I'll ever know. They're funny, energetic and bright.
Isla with her rosy apple cheeks left on the last flight out when she was only nine months old. Her hair falls in golden waves way past her shoulders, she's tall and loves to dress up. Pink is her favourite colour and speaks nine to the dozen. I hear her say "Scop calking ouma!" when she needs to get a word in edgewise. I sat for a manicure and had my hair brushed. Her dolls are her babies and her cuddles and snuggles are the best. She bandaged my owies and kissed them better. We took her to the lake to feed the Canadian geese who fly in to rest on their migration south. With me in hot pursuit she chased them instead.
My initial sceptism about masking and Covid protocols in Canada soon changed when I realised that every restuarant, pub, public gathering place or sport stadium demanded the presentation of a Covid vaccination certificate and identification card. Without a Covid vaccination certificate it would be impossible to travel to or from Canada. These measures are positive efforts in the drive to achieve herd immunity and to encourage everyone to get vaccinated. It would be shortsighted not to do so.
My first Thanksgiving was celebrated with family and extended family around a laden table of delicious traditional fare, each family contributing their family favourites. I couldn’t be happier and tucked into Pumpkin Pie and whipped cream with gusto! I, for one, had much to be thankful for this year. We had survived Covid unscathed. A new healthy, beautiful baby Maeva added to our numbers, and my beloved Isla was as cute as a button. Neil and Danny were wholesome, energetic boys dressed up like cowboys and Superman and were always ready to entertain. They are the sunshine on a gloomy day.
Once the pumpkins started decaying on the front steps, fairy lights were installed and trees decorated indoors—all in preparation for the festive Holiday season. When you’re surrounded by white, you need to brighten with light.
I will probably never be able to say “it’s enough now”, but I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to say “I love you” to my tribe in person again. Separation is never easy, nor is it conducive to a healthy relationship. We are social beings who need contact with our nearest and dearest, especially our children and grandchildren. I accept that I’m not uppermost on their minds all the time; that distance separates us in ways that are very hard to acknowledge, admit or even say aloud.
My children are like the elements, water, earth, wind and fire. None can be tamed or changed, nor harnassed. They will run their course. As the plane lifted and tucked its wheels into the undercarriage, I looked out for a final glance and imagined them going about their day; the grandchildren would wake up and wonder for a while how did Ouma vaporise. I know they’re as desolate as I am. Fortunately, my age allows me to wallow in my grief and longing. “Until I see you again” is all I can hope for. Right now I feel like the princess who lost her footing and did a nosedive. Those bloody slippers.