• Conversely, my parents are getting older. (Moment RF)Source: Moment RF
It’s been two years since I saw my dad, and five years since I saw my mum. As each year goes by, the distance between us weighs on my mind. The trip this year was going to help ease that.
By
Jo Hartley

1 Sep 2020 - 8:59 AM  UPDATED 1 Sep 2020 - 8:59 AM

The screen flickers to life and a little face peers into the camera. "Auntie, are you there?", squeaks my six-year-old nephew. I wave in response and his face beams, revealing two gaps where last week there were teeth.

"I lost my teeth," he lisps and points, in case I hadn’t noticed. I pretend to be shocked, as only six-year-olds would believe. He tells me how much the tooth fairy left him and disappears to get said coin.

He’s changing and growing so fast. I only wish I could hug him while he’s still small. I’ve only ever seen him on screen and don’t know when that’s likely to change. I don’t know when I’ll be able to see my family again.

I’ve only ever seen him on screen and don’t know when that’s likely to change.

Rewind to the days pre-COVID and we excitedly booked tickets to travel to see family in the UK. My two boys, Mr Four and Nine, couldn’t wait to see their grandparents and cousins. I couldn’t wait to see my sister. It’s six years since I saw her last and a lot has changed since then.

She’s added another little monkey to her family circus, as have I, and the last time we caught up the kids were all so young.

Conversely, my parents are getting older.

It’s been two years since I saw my dad, and five years since I saw my mum. As each year goes by, the distance between us weighs on my mind. The trip this year was going to help ease that.

Then life changed.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to come,” I text my sister one night. I’d just watched the news and reality had hit. The world was in lockdown with no end in sight. There weren’t enough sad emojis to convey how I felt.

“I know,” she responded. “I can’t see this ending for a really long time.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes.

“I can’t see this ending for a really long time.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes.

The conversations with my parents were much the same. “It’s OK boys, I’ll see you again soon,” my dad reassured my sons. “When all this silliness is over, I can come and stay.”

“But grandad, I wanted to come to your house,” said Mr Four. “I love you and want to cuddle you now,” My heart broke as grandad, glassy eyed, nodded in response and whispered, “Me too”.

Living overseas and away from family has never been easy. As our families have grown and parents have aged, it’s become harder. The pros of living here far outweigh the cons, but sometimes it does little to relieve the ache. 

In an ideal world my family would be here. But you always want what you can’t have. 

For now, all I can have are regular screen catch ups.

For now, all I can have are regular screen catch ups.

Standing at the oven making dinner, I chat to my sister. Mr Four runs over and roars at her with his latest dinosaur before leaving to wrestle his brother. As we continue to chat, the kids pop in and out of our call.

We alternate in fielding off requests for snacks, finding lost items and sharing our latest woes. We’re living the same life only other sides of the world.

“Muuuuuuum, brother hit me with his car,” signals the end of the call. We eye roll at each other and wave our goodbyes. It’s as good as it gets. For now, a virtual hug has to be enough.

With the future of travel uncertain, I don’t know when we’ll finally get to the UK. International travel’s not predicted to return to normality until around 2024. By then, my youngest son will be nine and my youngest nephew will be 10.

International travel’s not predicted to return to normality until around 2024. By then, my youngest son will be nine and my youngest nephew will be 10.

It’s heartbreaking to think that a decade will have passed before I get to give him and his siblings a hug. It’s heartbreaking to think that it could be another four years before I can have a cuppa with mum and dad.

For now, I’m trying to stay positive and am avoiding conversations about ‘how long do you think it’ll be’. Instead, I’m taking a leaf out of my son’s book.

As he enthusiastically waves and blows kisses at grandad, he says, "I miss and love you so much, but I’ll see you again soon." I can only say and hope the same.

Jo Hartley is a freelance writer.

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