Okay, so that title is a little misleading. Family is always worth flying to the other side of the earth for, of course. It’s just sometimes you’re a little more anxious to get there than others.
If you subscribe to my monthly newsletter (No? Form is in the sidebar if you want to sign up!), you already know that my sister who we visited back in June gave birth to her first baby a full two months early. This little 4lb 11oz miracle (whose birth finally made me an aunt!) had to spend his first five weeks in the NICU, and as badly as I wanted to be on the next plane as soon as I heard the words ‘in labor’, we knew it would be for the best if I waited until he was released from his little cooker and allowed to go home. And so I waited…and waited some more…and eventually I just couldn’t go another day without at least having a flight booked for the future, so we made plans for me to arrive the last week of August because surely, surely he’d be home by then. And he was, at least for a few days, until he wasn’t, which was the situation when I arrived. But I’ll get to that in a second.
So, like many people, I suffer from a fear of flying. Or I guess more accurately, a fear of crashing. (I much prefer it when the plane is still flying!) Oddly, this particular irrational fear seems to be fairly common among my fellow travel bloggers and yet we all still continue to travel. The reward is worth the risk, I suppose. Even so, this did not stop me from agonizing for two weeks prior to my flight over the fact that if I were to die, I would have to die with strangers, because I would be making the 28-hour journey solo this time. (Yes, I am a terribly selfish person for preferring to die with people I know. No, I can’t help it.) So anyway, this fear makes me do various unhelpful things like google ‘crash records for Boeing 747’ and ‘how to survive an airplane crash in water’ until I’m sufficiently certain that a) my plane will crash and b) I will probably be the sole person not to survive because there is no way I’m going to be able to remember to secure my oxygen mask before assisting others, find my life vest and inflate it by pulling on the straps, and locate my nearest exit all while the plane is going down, you guys!
The night before my flight to Denver, Cory and I were laying on the couch watching something mindless on television when I turned to him and said, ‘Since I’m 50% sure I’m going to die on this flight, I just want you to know I’m 100% glad I married you.’ (I casually spout movie-worthy one-liners like I’m Nicolas Sparks when facing imminent death, fyi.) Ignoring the affectionate part of my speech, Cory rolled his eyes and said if I really thought I was going to die, I wouldn’t go. But what he didn’t understand was just how badly I wanted to meet this baby.
When I arrived in Denver, where I was relieved to discover the worst part of the journey had been self-inflicted (I hadn’t slept in 50 hours, nor eaten in almost as much), we left from the arrivals gate and drove straight to the hospital. Jude – have I mentioned his name yet? – went home a week or so prior to my visit, but after being very sick for a couple of days, landed himself back in the NICU again where he had a small surgery to correct something I understand very little about. And that’s where I came in.
He’d just come out of surgery a few hours earlier and probably remembers about as much from our first meeting as I do. After traveling so far and being anxious for so long, relief I was on the ground had kicked in and all I could think about was sleeping, anywhere. I do remember displaying for everyone my complete ignorance of babies, and especially babies covered in wires and tubes, when I refused to touch him anywhere other than the bottom of his foot. My mom caught this pretty hilarious moment on her phone, and I’m so grateful for these memorable, if not exactly high quality, images.
Luckily, about 24 hours after our first meeting (and a drive home to Fort Collins), Jude and I finally got a proper introduction to each other when my new little nephew was placed in my arms for the first time. You guys, I hope you all get to experience this feeling of holding your sibling’s first baby for the first time. I hadn’t felt an immediate rush of love like that since my own tiny human was born 15 years ago. It was intense. And instead of sleeping through the whole encounter, Jude made sure I’d never forget our moment together by studying my face so intently that it felt like far more than just my face was being scrutinized. I’m pretty sure my soul was being examined. No word yet on whether I passed.
There were a lot of firsts for me on this trip. Some may find it surprising how little I know about babies considering I had one myself at one point, but that was 15 years ago. And if you still remember everything you did a decade and a half ago and then never did again, then, well, good for you, because I certainly don’t. Even holding a baby was new. Factor in more difficult tasks like changing diapers, feeding and burping, and comforting a crying baby, and I was completely out of my element. And so I spent much of the week doing what comes more naturally – taking pictures.
And man, is this baby a beautiful one to photograph. With his wise forehead wrinkles and quiet stare, I felt like I was photographing an old soul in a new body – a new body that’s already been through much more than should have been expected of it. He’s still on oxygen for now, but mostly just as a precaution. Hopefully that’ll come off soon (because he super loves having that taped to his face, wouldn’t you?) and all of his NICU visits will be a thing of the past. Both him and his parents deserve a bit of normalcy after enduring such a rocky start.
Complete change in topic – see those blue knitted booties? I made them. From scratch. Not impressed? Well you should be, because I am very likely the world’s least crafty person ever. The only reason I keep scissors in the house is in case we experience a home invasion and all the knives are in the dishwasher. But my sister, she knows how to do everything and is the sort of person who decorates her house so she can throw you a birthday party on FaceTime, so store-bought baby outfits just weren’t going to cut it. I wanted to give something Laura-worthy, and so I taught myself to knit. On YouTube.
It was an incredibly frustrating affair with heaps of failed attempts, but on the day Jude was born, I spent hours completing the pair of booties pictured above. They weren’t perfect, and they needed the addition of a shoestring to stay on for longer than .012 seconds, but I felt pretty proud of myself. And despite being 10,000 miles away, making these booties while Jude was making his entrance into the world made me feel, in a small way, like I was still a part of it all.
The day I left Fort Collins, the sun was shining and Jude had just had a bath, so we took the opportunity while his oxygen was off to attempt a quick family photoshoot. Now, I’m no professional photographer, obviously, but I’m still thrilled with how nicely these turned out. There were 50 more I would have liked to share here, but I know you’ve got more important things to do than scroll through pictures of my beautiful family.
Gosh, it was a good trip. Getting to spend an uninterrupted week with my mom and sister for the first time since we were kids still living at home was such a gift. Normally our trips to the US are spent frantically trying to pack a year’s worth of doctor visits, shopping, friend get-togethers, and family time into a very short amount of time, so getting to slow down and do very little on a trip “home” was a real treat. But even though I was leaving Colorado, I wasn’t quite ready to head back to Singapore just yet. I had one more stop to make first.
When we took our annual trip back to Tennessee this summer, I had to say goodbye to the last remaining home from my childhood – my grandmother’s house. Due to health and memory issues, living on her own was becoming too much of a risk and she needed to be moved into a facility where she could be safe and cared for. While I know perfectly well this was for the best, it didn’t stop my heart from breaking this summer when I watched my grandmother put on her brave face when we visited the new place she’d be living. I knew right then that when I came back to visit Laura and the baby, I’d be making a pit stop in Tennessee to see her before I headed home. And that is how I ended up spending half a week living in a nursing home.
Let me first say, if the nursing home where my grandmother lives is representative of all nursing homes, then I have no idea why people complain about moving into them. People clean your house every day, serve you breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and there is a cord in your bathroom that brings people running, even if there really is no emergency and all you want is a chat. Between the multiple course meals and the many activities available every day, a nursing home is like a cross between a cruise ship and summer camp for the over 80’s. Like, why don’t we have these for 30-year-olds?
The remnants of Hurricane Harvey were coming through while I was visiting, so from the time I walked into the complex until I left for the airport, I only walked outside once, which was sort of nerve-wracking. But being trapped indoors left plenty of time for seated exercise class (fyi: chair pose is a heck of a lot easier when you’re already sitting), glass art crafting class, and watching 3-hour Princess Diana documentaries on TV. I think my grandmother would have been perfectly content to stay in her room and play Chinese checkers with me all day (speaking of that, I’m beginning to think this whole dementia thing is a ruse, seeing as she beat me every single time), but I was determined to help her make new friends, so we attended classes and talked to every single person we met. On the evening before I flew out, I was the recipient of hugs and safe travel wishes from nearly half the residents (which, not surprisingly, were 98% female – sorry, guys) and it kind of made me feel like the coolest girl in the world, or at least the nursing home, anyway.
Side note: I found myself with plenty of time on my own while I was staying there since apparently old people like to nap a lot. I had to be quiet, so I soon discovered one of the best ways to silently pass the time was to slowly make my way through all of the old photo albums on her shelves. That beautiful lady above is my mom, around age 18-19. People say we look alike, but I’ve always had a hard time seeing myself in her gentle, feminine beauty. I’m more of a bull in a china shop kind of girl, and I’ve always felt like my facial features reflected that. But I don’t know, what do you think?
Speaking of family photos, my grandmother was very amused at my many ill-fated attempts to capture a photo of us together. This feat involved propping my camera on top of a stack of encyclopedias that were balanced on top of her walker, and using the camera’s self-timer to take the photo. Which is 10-seconds long, by the way. Trying to click the shutter, move from behind the book tower without knocking everything over, and get into position on the couch before the shutter closed was near impossible. Both of us were cracking up by the time we finally got a good one on like the 10th try. She may be so forgetful she’ll ask me the same thing three times in five minutes, but she’s still her. And I’ll forever be grateful for these days together, of that I’m sure.
The irony of beginning this trip celebrating new life and ending it in a nursing home was not lost on me. Two completely different stages of life, yet in both places, life moved at a noticeably slower pace. I like to think it’s like this so the first and last moments of life can be cherished, but it probably has more to do with routine and predictability than my romanticized version of it. All I know for sure is, I have never felt younger in recent history than I did while staying in a nursing home. Forget face creams and Botox, find some geriatric friends if you really want to feel young again!
After 12 nights away, I was more than ready to be back on the same side of the globe as my two favorite people. Of course, to get there meant another 28-hour solo journey through the skies, but I was so ready to be home that this time fear took a backseat and let an overwhelming desire to give bone-crushing bear hugs take the pilot seat. Flying will probably never be an easy thing for me, especially flying alone, but I’d do it again tomorrow if my family needed me. They are definitely worth
risking a terrifying Lost-like scenario for flying to the other side of the earth for.