I awoke to the following text message this morning:
"Hello ladies, was in for my 40 week hospital appoint this morning and they decided to keep me in and they've broken my waters so it has started but could be a long time!! Love xxx".
My sister was officially in labour. It was a little surreal since I just rolled over and continued to snooze, conscious of the pain she was about to endure and the chaotic hub of emotion about to let fly, but geographically and mentally I couldn't have felt further away. Winnipeg, CA - 3,630 miles away from Dublin city.
I left Ireland on 4 October 2014 to live the New York life I had always hankered after. On leaving, there was plenty of baby talk but no actual bambino cooking up its peachy charm. It wasn't until Christmas morning that my sister delivered the decidedly festive news that they were expecting again. Of course myself and my younger sister who was visiting NYC while en route to South America, took that as a cue to hightail it to Coney Island and sink copious amounts of bubbly on the chilly boardwalk as we toasted to foetuses and the Birthday boy Jesus himself.
For the next eight months my sister consistently kept us in the loop with all the latest developments and lifestyle re-adjustments as they prepared to make room for their new bundle of creamy sweetness. Yet for all the video calls, text messages and emails, nothing could compensate for the comforting warmth and closeness you feel when exchanging news and stories side-by-side in person. I felt every inch of distance the Atlantic sea cast between us in each conversation. I couldn't see the little rippling effect of each kick created by the mini foot or inhale the cosy scent of the newly decorated nursery or indeed share in the slabs of carrot cake consumed to ease cravings or simply be around to offer some of my time to allow her some time out from being mum to their energetic two-year old. Not only did I feel like I was missing out, I also felt like I was somehow letting her down by simply not being there.
Of course to voice this belief would result in a tirade of hopeless objections. I recognise that I am lucky in the sense that my family is not one to castigate or impose ourselves on one another, it is very much a live-and-let-live mentality that rules our roost. Time and again I have offered up a silent thanks to the gods when I hear friends complain about overbearing mothers and interfering siblings.
But at last I'm beginning to understand the pull of family and the draw of home. As much as I like the idea of being the "cool aunt who lives in America", I'm not so sure I'm up for its daily reality. The world continues to grow smaller and plane tickets are getting cheaper but to only see my nephews and nieces sporadically or not having the opportunity to host impromptu Tuesday night family get togethers, that's the tough sacrifice faced by every immigrant. I envision a life with our next generation as one similar to the one I grew up knowing and loving, one that entails summers sleeping on fold-out beds alongside cousins, singalongs until four in the morning with aunts and uncles, red wine around the fire and Christmases drenched in festive tradition.
I return to New York next week after a summer of traveling across country and brief visits with friends dotted along the Trans Canada Highway by means of the age-old Greyhound institution. Foot loose, fancy free and making the most of this time on my hands. When it comes to setting down roots, I plan on having no regrets and so take flight on whim. My 12-month US visa expires October 9th by which time I'll need to have decided if I am going to extend it by the six months allowed or not. To go home or to stay - suddenly there is more than just the dazzle of bright city lights at stake.
My phone beeps as I stare at this screen mid-post:
"Baby girl, everyone doing well."
My sister, my hero.