Do you remember, or can you imagine, that moment when your daughter, despite being taller than you are, often wiser than you are and probably brighter than you are is still your baby, announces that she is to have a baby of her own?
For us, sitting there in London, Skyping our daughter, Kami and son-in-law, Luis 12000 miles away in Perth Western Australia it was as if they’d turned our world upside down. Which I suppose they had. Literally. We are talking about Down Under after all.
Obviously we had to be there. Not just for the birth, but before, during and after. Yet, their home is small, the spare room was already being turned into the nursery and besides I have always believed that guests, like fish, go off after three days. We were looking at three months at least. Thank God for Home Exchange.
How could we possibly afford to stay in the other side of the world for three months without Home Exchange? A hotel would have been out of the question. An apartment? You’re still looking at mega money. Camping here and there with friends might have momentary charm, but would be totally inappropriate for new grandparents looking to provide practical as well as emotional support. As usual, Home Exchange was the only option, from every point of view.
It could have taken months I suppose, sometimes finding the ideal location in the perfect house at the right time of year takes patience, but it didn’t. Jan and Peter, whom we’ve exchanged with before, who have the same fascination with London as we have with Perth were just as excited as we were at the prospect of a three month exchange and we were on our way.
We arrived on a sunny morning at the end of March to be greeted by a daughter with a beach ball on her front beaming from ear to ear. We hugged both her and the beach ball, listened to its heartbeat, felt the occasional kick and fell into joyful discussions, repeated every second somewhere in the world, about the miracle of childbirth. Did she have a boy or a girl tucked away in there? No one knew, no one wanted to know until the moment of birth. For the first of many millions of moments later I felt profoundly grateful that I had no real time restrictions on this event that was unfolding in the most natural way possible in our lives. We hadn’t jetted in in a rush, only to have to jet out again after a decent interval following the birth of our new grandchild. We were here to stay, to be at ease in a proper home with all the accompanying comforts of home.
At this stage in our lives, or possibly any stage really, time is the great luxury. Time is often the essential ingredient you can’t buy. We need time to be with our loved ones, but also time to leave them alone. If we’re around for a few months we don’t have to grab every moment, fill every day; we can give each other breathing space yet be around the corner when needed.
The big event, as happens so often with these big events, came five days late. No one fretted, not even my daughter, whose beach ball by this time was twice the size. We went shopping in a glamorous Perth mall, packed floor to ceiling with gorgeous goodies. “You look ready to pop,” said a cheerful sales assistant in the handbag department. “When are you due?”
“Two days ago apparently,” replied Kami equally cheerfully, not allowing childbirth to get in the way of a shopping trip with mum. Three days later we were together, along with her wonderfully supportive husband, bringing a new life into the world.
Little Matteo was born in the early hours of the morning of April 24th. He is, of course, perfect, from his thick head of dark, shiny hair to his tiny toenails. That was three weeks ago and since then I’ve been cooking meals in Jan’s brilliantly stocked kitchen, carting them off to the new little family, trying to take care of all the periphery jobs his mother would normally have to cope with so that she and her baby can get to know each other in peace.
Reflecting on all this from the calm of Jan and Peter’s living room, which has become the calm of my living room I just feel blessed. I can’t say more than that. These major family events, the ones that change our lives forever like births, weddings – I don’t want to say the other one at the moment – need space and time to unfold the way they should. Home Exchange gives that to us. We are indeed the lucky ones.
Sandra has been a freelance broadcaster, journalist and writer all her working life. She has reported on TV for Thames Television, London, presented on radio for the British Broadcasting Corporation and has written for The Sunday Times, You Magazine, Punch, Times 2, She Magazine and High Life where she became commissioning editor. Later she became editor of Business Life and created the highly successful sister magazine to High Life for British Airways Club World and Frequent Flyers. She became an enthusiastic home exchanger after writing an article about it for the British national daily newspaper, The Guardian when she interviewed Ed Kushins, the founder of Homeexchange.com. Since then she has traveled to Rome, Sicily, California, Melbourne, Perth, Morocco and Venice, writing about her adventures not only for various glossy magazines, but for HomeExchange.com. Sandra has been married to Jafar Ramini for 40 years and has three adult children and four grandchildren.