Building bonds across an ocean feels crazy a lot of the time. The spaces of silence fill up and I wonder if maybe the distance is too much to sustain a connection. Perhaps we have grown apart, and the next time we meet it will feel like a high school reunion—politely awkward and frozen in a past shared experience that doesn’t continue into our divergent present.
And then I get off a plane in Latvia and she is in my arms and she cannot stop holding on. She is sprawled across my bed sharing her secrets and telling me her heart and she cannot stop her words. She is walking beside me and she cannot stop the pleasure of it from oozing out of her. She is micromanaging my schedule and planning my relationships and my travels and my whole life and she cannot stop her sassy thoughtfulness.
And I know again what I have always known: Sunshine is mine and I am hers until we are old and gray.
I was last in Latvia in April with Little Man to close out a chapter in our journey with Peter Pan. I briefly considered not going, and she sassed about how he is not the only Latvian that matters, and that she will never stop needing me.
She is right. And I will never stop needing her.
In those bittersweet days together, as Peter Pan postured and preened, Sunshine settled in and snuggled up.
We spent every day with Sunshine and her boyfriend, who is a darling of a thing. Almost immediately, I got to witness the way they complement each other. We were walking from the airport tram to the apartment I had rented, and we came to a cross-street. Sunshine and I both knew that we needed to turn right, but Mr. Darling insisted that we must go straight. So straight we went and wound the longest way possible to the apartment, all while lugging our 50 pound suitcases through the cobblestone streets. Eventually, we arrived, and Sunshine pointed out how short of a walk it would have been if we had turned right at the crossroads. Mr. Darling said, “Oh! Now I see what you were saying.” Sunshine shrugged and smiled.
Really? That’s it? No crowing over the poor man, really making sure he sees his error? No sassing about her own brilliance? Just a shrug and a smile? This is a Sunshine who wears her sweetness closer to the surface. I like what I see.
Again and again I saw things like this. The way he carried all her bags. The way she asked his opinion instead of telling him what to do. The way he laughed at her sass like I do. We may have winked to one another a few times while she sat in pseudo-outrage at our camaraderie against her. His soft sweetness and her salty sassiness is such a delightful combination. Welcoming him into our little family circle was a joy.
We filled our days together living life: ordering Walk to Wok Chinese takeout at their apartment, shopping, sipping drinks at Double Coffee, Skyping people back in America, and catching up with Sunshine’s friends.
And the words. So many words we needed to say to each other. Pouring forth. I hadn’t realized how parched we both were.
We saw too how our relationship was growing in new and exciting ways as her cute little belly starts to expand. I brought their first baby gifts to them, and Sunshine and Mr. Darling spent hours oohing and aaahing at all the things their American friends and family had sent to them. At one point, Mr. Darling picked up a little giraffe my mother had sent, and I watched the wave of realization flow over his face: he was going to be a dad. The shock, then the fear, then the recognition of the weight of it.
And then he looked at Sunshine, and his face was transformed by the joy of looking at her. “We’re going to be parents,” he whispered.
“I have been saying this for many months, and just now you understand?” She sassed back to him with a raised eyebrow. And he laughed, and so did she, and she slipped her hand into his.
And she looked at me and gathered all the baby things around her. Parents.
“What you think, babushka?” she said to me. “You ready to be old grandmother?”
“Ready or not, here it is!” I shot back.
But I smiled because I knew what my girl was asking. Am I in, too? Is it still the same? Do I still love her, and will I love this man, and this baby, and all the terrifying and wonderful things that are to come? Will I be at her side for all of them?
Yes. Yes. Until I am old and gray, my love.
Now let’s go buy a crib.
We built more family.
It’s not traditional, and it’s sometimes strange to navigate, and I know that I am not the only one who lays claim to this new little sunbeam. But my roots are dug in deep.
She’s due in November.
She’s having a girl.
And she’s asked me to be there to help her. I will go and do the things that my mama did for me when I had my baby. I will cook and clean and soothe and rock and help her start to feel human again. I will tell her that what she feels is normal, that she is an amazing mom, that she is incredible and beautiful and strong.
Because new mamas need a mama to say these things. They need a mama to hold that squalling bit of humanity so that they can take a shower or a nap or just stare into space as they figure out what this motherhood thing means. They need a mama to model mama love again because now they are paying attention.
And that mama gets to be me. I’m the one she’s chosen.
We are chosen. We are loved.
Until we are old and gray.