This is probably the most personal thing I’ve ever posted on here so far. I’ve just come back from a wonderful week in Toronto visiting my sister, her husband and their daughter, Chloe, who is now nearly two. I wrote the piece below on the plane home, mostly in tears. If you’re after something funnier and less sentimental, there’s always my list of Good Things and Bad Things about Canada from my last visit instead.
I am a big girl, and I am going to be brave. I watch your little pink boots march away across the departure hall and tears sting my eyes. But I am not going to cry. Not when you can see.
When Mama turns you round to wave again, you will not see the shiny beads gathering or know that my lips are pressed so tightly together I can taste blood. Mama holds your hand, her camel-coloured grown-up coat brushing against the lilac puff of your snow-suit.
I watch your bright pink hat bobble away across the vaulted concourse, feeling sorry for Baby as her plastic feet drag on the concrete floor. I walk backwards, pushing my suitcase behind me, waving desperately until you both hang right and vanish through the double doors.
I can still smell your hair.
And then I will cry. I will howl and wail, hoisting my breath inside me in shallow, hiccupy gasps. I will cling to the long-suffering man beside me, snuffling into his chest and pulling on his collar, lost in the grief of separation. Travellers stare, although the check-in staff have seen it all before. We pilfer serviettes from a coffee stand. I stand there, head tilted up as he wipes my face, just as I did for you a few minutes ago.
Later I sit in a bar, drinking too much white wine and eating what I swear is my last plate of chips for at least a year. I send your Mama a text, thanking her for everything, and hoping to see her again soon. Deep down she will know that I’m really talking about you. And I cry a bit more.
We fly over your native land, perforated with lakes and threaded with rivers. Villages and towns sparkle like stars strung along the galaxy of the Gulf of St Lawrence. Tim Horton’s coffee. Butter tarts. Romni Wool – the best yarn store in Ontario. A child’s life captured in six-month snapshots and shopping trips. We chase the sunset round the world as time races past us.
You are five weeks old, asleep on my chest. I change your nappies and walk you round the park for hours while Mama finally manages to have a bath. You are nine months old, balancing a plastic mixing bowl on your head, chubby arms waving in delight while your face flames red with incoming teeth.
You are a year and a half, hiding behind Mama’s legs and whispering my name in my absence. We finally bond in the paddling pool – you in your first swimsuit and me with my skirt hitched into my knickers, wriggling our hands to make bubbles in the cool water.
And now you are nearly two. For one delicious week I blow raspberries on your belly and make you Play-Doh cats. You can talk. You can sing. You can count. I am so proud of you it hurts. And I know it’s only going to get better from here.
Perhaps this is it. Maybe I am too old, or just too selfish, to produce a cousin for you. Maybe I can’t. Maybe I don’t want to. And maybe I am too scared to even try. Maybe a perfect day only dawns once.