Expat Life

When Family’s Worth Flying to the Other Side of the Earth

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

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 Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

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.

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

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.

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

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.

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

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 Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

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.

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

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?

When Family's Worth Flying To The Other Side Of The Earth

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.

Share this post:

  • Ashley | Domestic Fashionista
    September 18, 2017 at 10:55 AM

    What a blessing that you could be there! Way to push through your fears for the sake of treasured moments. Love the photos and so proud of your knitting skills!

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 19, 2017 at 12:30 AM

      Thanks! I was pretty proud of myself for that, too! :)

  • Emma @ AdventuresofaLondonKiwi
    September 16, 2017 at 8:50 AM

    Those gorgeous, gorgeous little toes are scrumptious – and you do look so much like your Mama xx

  • Amanda
    September 12, 2017 at 12:16 PM

    Jude is adorable, and I’m so proud of you for making those booties! I could never do this. Your grandma is also so cute with her lil bow shirt.

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2017 at 4:52 AM

      I never thought I’d be able to do something like knitting either, and yet it happened. :) Thanks for the compliment about my grandmother. She is pretty much the cutest. :)

  • Jenn
    September 11, 2017 at 6:55 PM

    I don’t know if this was on purpose but I laughed at your brother-in-laws shirt during the family photos. “Life Outside” … like baby is now on the outside. I’m probably the only one who thinks that’s funny lol Also, Jude is super adorable and I hope he’s still doing well!

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2017 at 4:50 AM

      How funny! I never would have noticed that! You’re so clever!

  • Angelique VanWaarde
    September 11, 2017 at 1:20 PM

    I love your blog, this is so heartwarming. You can truly feel the love you have for your family through your words. It sounds like you had an amazing visit and I am glad to hear you arrived at home safe without any planes crashing

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2017 at 4:50 AM

      Thanks, Angelique! I do have a ridiculous amount of love for these people!

  • Cagefreeliving
    September 11, 2017 at 11:20 AM

    Sounds like a great trip home and to my two favorite states. Tennessee and Colorado! Happy travels!

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2017 at 4:49 AM

      Good choices for favorite states! They are really good ones, although I may be partial to Tennessee seeing as its my home state! :)

  • Cynthia
    September 11, 2017 at 9:06 AM

    Ohhhh I love how you wrote this post so much – was awesome to read. What an amazing trip… and you made it! I have very similar issues with flying so I feel ya big time. But… of the seven flights I took this summer, only one of them had a bit of turbulence (which I was biting my fingernails through the whole time… and I don’t bite my fingernails). So that seems pretty okay.
    Also: LOVE the little booties you knitted and that you learned to knit just for this occasion, as well as knitted during the birth <3 You do look just slightly different from your mother, but every bit as beautiful!

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2017 at 4:47 AM

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this! Thank you for reading! :)

      One out of seven is definitely good odds! I don’t bite my nails when we get turbulence, but I do brace myself as if we’re going to crash, which is a little hilarious.

      • Cynthia
        September 13, 2017 at 9:59 AM

        I used to do that as well (brace myself)… but turns out it sort of just spread the anxiety around (seatmates usually take notice, haha) which in turn makes me even more nervous. So discreetly biting nails like no tomorrow it is.

  • angloyankophile
    September 11, 2017 at 7:28 AM

    Oh my goodness, what a sweet, sweet baby. Your sister and her family just look radiant – I am sure she was so happy for you to be able to make that long journey to meet your nephew, and to soak up all that love! <3

    • Sarah Shumate
      September 13, 2017 at 4:45 AM

      I think she was! And she always looks that radiant by the way, I think it’s her sweetness shining through! :)