The absent aunt

In the same breath that I told my sister I had quit my job, bought a bus and was going to hit the road on an indefinite adventure around Australia she told me she was pregnant. This was terrible timing considering that in the 32 years she’s been alive we had lived no more than 2 hours away from each other. Essex, Uni, London and Sydney, we had monthly meetings over a bottle of wine or 7. We always went big and we never remembered going home. Now she actually needed a big sister rather than a fellow white wine demon I was driving off into the sunset. But these things happen and we were both about to embark on our own, very different life adventures.

By the time Jot and I left Sydney at Christmas 2016 Aff was three months pregnant. I spent my days exploring the beaches of this beautiful country and my evenings knitting tiny squares of green, pink, yellow and white fluffy wool. I imagined the end result of a beautiful blanket that my niece or nephew would become inseparable from and be bullied at Uni for having on their bed in halls. “My Aunt Kate made it for me when she lived in a bus,” they’d say with pride and defiance tossing their thick ginger locks inherited from their parents.

When Emily Louise Jones was born on 18th of July 2017 in Sydney I was on the other side of the country in Perth. If you aren’t familiar with how bloody big Australia is you might be forgiven for thinking that’s a drive or a short flight away. Nothing in Australia is a short drive away, in particular that little trip which would take 41 hours of non stop driving at 100 kilometers an hour. Geography and logistics screwed us and poor Aff had no family visits while in the hospital with her newborn daughter and no extra help when they got her home.

6 weeks after Emily arrived Jot and I hopped on a red eye flight headed east to Sydney. A mere 5 hour flight later and my sister opened the door to her house holding her dark haired daughter Emily. My niece. I handled the situation like an adult and burst into tears. Once my contact lenses had stopped swimming in my eyes and a quick reminder from Mum on how to hold babies, I had the tiny human in my arms. I loved her immediately and stared at her trying to memorise her perfect little face. From my backpack came the presents that I’d been gathering for her over the last 6 months as I saw them at different markets and toy shops around the country. Then I gave Aff the blanket that I had been working on for the last half a year. The resulting “ohh’s” and “ahh’s” from my sister, mum and partner told me I had nailed the knitting malarky.

We spent the next week as an army of women looking after the little baby. At age 34 I had somehow never spent a lot of time with babies or children. In fact I think I could have counted my kid filled hours on one hand, since being one myself that is. But my intro to babies was enjoyable. The bouncing helped my step count and I enjoyed the smiles from strangers as I pushed the pram around Bondi. I changed my first nappy, and second and twentieth. My sister dressed Emily in pink baby grows and I changed her into yellow ones. For that too short amount of time my sister had the village they say it takes to care for a child. Then Jot and I had to get back to our travels, and Mum and Dad had to fly back to London.

That Christmas we all saw each other again as families do. This time Jot and I flew from Perth to London and The Jones’s made the 24 hour flight from Sydney to London. By now Emily was 5 months old and much more durable (if you can say that about a baby) so a lot less scary. I lived under the same roof as her for two weeks which was the best Christmas present ever. A few times I got up at 6 to take over from my sister and Emily, the non sleeping baby and I would hang out watching crime dramas on Netflix while the morning sun melted the frost outside and everyone else slept. On Boxing Day I wanted to show Emily the Galea tradition of a walk in the freezing cold (and reach my step count) so I bundled her into a snowsuit I wish came in my size, tied her to my chest and off we went into Epping Forest with Nana Jan in tow.

After Christmas was over and we all headed back to Australia, Jot and I hung out in Sydney to catch up with friends and get some more Emily time in. We showed her the Opera House and Bridge, we took her to an art gallery, we told her that we were really sorry that we lived so far away from her and promised we’d be there for all the big moments if we could be.

July came and in buslife we had made it to the east coast meaning we were about 3 quarters of the way around Australia. I turned 35 and a week later Emily was turning 1. Practically twins. Aff was throwing a first birthday for her to celebrate the fact that she and Dan had survived a year without sleep. As I was shopping for a train set for her birthday present I realised that this was one of the moments that I wanted to be there for. One of the big moments. So at short notice, as with we most things we do, Jot and I booked flights.

During the three days we were in Sydney, Emily and I spent a lot of time together. Naughty Auntie Kate even kept her home from daycare on Friday. I discovered that it isn’t possible to drink a take away coffee and push a pram at the same time. And that a one year old is unable to peel their own banana. We went shopping and she helped her Aunt Jot and I plan what we are going to wear for our upcoming wedding. She seemed like a pro at shopping so I suspect my sister has her in training as her tiny shopping buddy already.

Of course 1 year old Emily won’t know or remember that I was at her 1st birthday party. And I doubt that adult Emily will be that fussed. But it was important to me that I was there and it seemed to make my sister and brother-in-law Dan pretty happy. I have an awesome little niece and I can’t wait to step up as an Aunt and make more memories with her when we get back to Sydney.

 

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