Aug 11

Dear James

Dear James:

You are the real reason I came on this visit to the States. It’s been awesome seeing my friends in the Bay Area and Seattle and Miami, and I have had lots of fun catching up with them, but the whole point of this trip is you and your entry into the world a couple of weeks ago. Your mom—my little sister, whom I accidentally called by her old kid name of ”Becky” at Panera today, when she’s been Beck or Becca or Rebecca for years now—called me around Christmastime last year to tell me she was pregnant and I burst into tears (slightly to my surprise!) and went “I’ll come home! I’ll be there! I’ll come home!” And so here I am—in a hotel in Tampa, Florida, after having spent the day with you and your parents, after having traveled quite a way to meet you.

My own mom—this would be your grandmother—came to visit me on the other side of the world from where I am writing right now about six months ago. We were driving from Picton to Golden Bay on a very twisty road when she asked me, “So, how do you feel about being an auntie? What do you think your relationship with the baby will be like?”

“I don’t know, Mom,” I said, concentrating on the road ahead. “Hard to say until he can Skype.”

That’s true, of course. I live twenty hours by plane from you in a fantastic city by a gorgeous harbour in a beautiful island country now, very far away from where I grew up with my little sister. I don’t have plans to live anywhere else—part of what I’ve done on this trip, before I got here to meet you, is experiment with what regular visits back here are like. Every two years, I’ve thought. I think that can work, well enough for me to be able to live in the city I love and still get to hug everyone back in this hemisphere every once in a while.

But what does that mean for you and me? I think the rest of the family is supportive of my decision to cross the international date line, you know, but no one asked you. Do you care? Will you ever? You have about eight hundred aunties and uncles on your dad’s side, and of course you have about eight thousand cousins, but on your mom’s side I’m your only auntie and I will never have children. Maybe I will only ever be someone on a screen, to you, someone your parents hold up to show me how much you’ve grown.

I can’t even think about the future with you–you’re difficult for me to pin down, at the moment. You’re a baby, two and a half weeks old. You have a full head of hair and my sister’s nose. I met you last night in your carseat and today I’ve got to hold you a couple of times and walk around with you while you grunted and cried a bit. We all went to Target with you today and you were pretty mellow for that and then you slept on my chest briefly this afternoon while I was trying to check Facebook. We talked about you a lot today—you were very much the focus of all our attention—but mostly I did stuff like make dinner and fold laundry, leaving the hard endless work of caring for you to your parents.

They are very good, your parents. (Your parents. How did those two kids become parents?) They are a total team and they’re so into you, so in love with you. Your dad, today, talking to me about New Zealand as he cradled you in his arms and rocked you back to sleep, or your mom when she ran in the door after her first short trip outside the house without you. They have been thinking about you for a long time, wanting you very much. They are so attuned to you, so aware of how you’re feeling and what you’re needing and what they’re doing to make sure you’re okay. I think that’s always going to be the case, with them and you, no matter how old you get or how you express yourself. I think you’re lucky that way.

I will spend another couple of days with you—I have big plans to cook up a storm for your parents tomorrow to give them strength to change diapers–and then I’m back in Miami for a few days, and then I go back to New Zealand. Every two years, I’ve decided, and so the next time I see you you’ll be walking and talking and doing all the other things two-year-olds do. Then you’ll be four, and then you’ll be six, and then you’ll be fourteen and sixteen and twenty-four and twenty-six. I wonder if you will ever come to Wellington to visit me. I wonder if we’ll ever have conversations. Where will you go, and where will you stay, in your life that just began two and a half weeks ago? What will you think about? What kind of family will be yours?

Who knows, oh who knows. You’re only a little baby. I’m only your thirty-six year old aunt. Most of us don’t know the answers to those questions, either, no matter how brand-new we are; personally speaking, I’m less and less sure about what the future holds for me or anyone else the older I get. All I know is that you’re here now, my sister’s son, and that I am glad I came from the other side of the world to meet you. I’m looking forward to meeting you again and again, for a long time.

Love from Auntie Chiara