Living so far away from home is easier for APRIL DREW and her family because of Skype on the computer, but nothing beats a real embrace, as April, her mother and baby Colum discovered after a very special visit last week.

My mother first met her grandson the day after we came home from the hospital. Colum was a week old.
Nana Liz was overcome with emotion as she watched him sleep in my arms. She hushed me several times to hear him breathe, and paused her own dialogue during that first day to take him all in.

The only things Nana Liz couldn’t do were hold, touch, smell or cuddle her new grandson.

They met over a computer program called Skype. I was introducing Colum to his nana over the Internet.

I know a lot of Irish immigrants use Skype religiously to keep in touch with family back in Ireland and consider it a Godsend. It’s a free service computer to computer where people can see and hear each other.  It’s fantastic, and it was the first time Nana had used Skype herself.

When visiting New York last September (for the first time) Mom bought a small PC specifically for this purpose, and to date it has served her well. Thanks to modern technology we can now have chats over cups to tea together and still be 3,000 miles away.

We may not be in the same country or even the same time zone, but thanks to Skype Nana Liz and my husband’s mom, Granny Mary, have been part of the various milestones in Colum’s life to date.

Mom and I skyped the first night we gave Colum his bath. I placed the computer on the counter top next to the sink.  Watching her grandson take to his bath like a duck to water was a memory she will cherish forever.

Nana Liz has sat through many feedings, dirty diapers, play times and cranky times. She has been able to experience Colum’s first few days of smiling, and more recently his hearty chuckles when she makes a face at him or an odd sound.

In the past few weeks Colum now looks directly into the computer, throws his nana a smile when he feels like it and has full-blown conversations with her in his own words.

I’ve also, every now and again, asked my mother to “watch” Colum for a minute while I left the room to get something.  The sound is always loud enough for me to hear her calling if there is a problem. I call her my cyber-sitter!

On occasion I’ve heard, “April, quick, he is spewing,” and back in I run armed with baby wipes.

Although advancements in technology don’t make up for having those important people present in our lives on a daily basis, it certainly makes living away from home with a child a lot easier.  I’m sure thousands of immigrants would agree with me on this one.

Yes, the service isn’t perfect.  I may have to reboot the program several times during our conversations and am often forced to repeat myself, but with a little patience it’s a service that certainly brings families together who are physically apart, and that we are very thankful for.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, can beat the real thing.

Four months to the day Colum was born Nana Liz and her partner, Granddad Mike, met the little man in person.

Another emotional meet and greet.  I was, as always, late picking them up from the airport (traffic was bad), and when I finally arrived at JFK last week Liz and Mike were fighting off the jetlag while resting on some seats.

Colum was wide awake and just after a nap. As I literally ran into the airport pushing the stroller through the automatic doors I saw my mother clutching at her glasses while trying to read a text message (very technical savvy is Nana Liz). Mike had his hands folded across his chest, cool as a breeze as always and taking everything in.

In the highest pitched voice I could find (and that wasn’t hard) I shouted “Hello.”  Naturally everyone else at the airport looked around except for the two.  Louder I got with my second “Hellllllo” and finally I got the reaction I had always foreseen.

Up Nana Liz jumped and ran straight over to the stroller.
“Oh my God he is so beautiful, even more beautiful in person,” she cried as she touched his little face with her warm hands.

“Oh and hello April,” she bellowed, reaching across the stroller to give me a hug and a kiss.

Colum greeted his Nana with a big smile that would warm the cockles of your heart and a spontaneous flutter of his hands. It was a beautiful moment watching my own mother become jelly-like as she took her first grandchild out of his stroller and into her arms.  She smothered him with butterfly kisses, and he loved every second of the attention.

“He is so much bigger in person than on the computer,” she echoed time and time again.

“I just can’t believe I’m actually here holding him in my arms.”

After a few more minutes inside Terminal Two at JFK Nana Liz took control of the stroller and marched proudly out through the sliding doors heading for the car park.

That was the last time for a whole week I pushed Colum’s stroller. Every time we were out and about Nana Liz was the one in charge of the pushing.

After we arrived back to our apartment that first day bags were left unpacked in the bedroom -- an unusual thing as my mother likes to be super organized -- and the next hour was spent checking out every little detail of my son.

He has a little birthmark on the top of his forehead (the Harry Potter scar we call it). “It’s much smaller than it looks on the computer,” she said. And that was the way the conversation went for the next few hours.

“His smile is much bigger than it is on the computer...” And so on.

Having enough of cuddling, Mom asked could we take him for a walk.

“I’ve been waiting four months to push him around McLean Avenue so let’s go,” she said.

And off we went.  Liz pushing the stroller, Mike and I trailing behind.  We stopped off at McLean Photo Store to visit my good friend Nuala Purcell and made our way to Eileen’s Country Kitchen for our dinner.

John, my husband, joined us later in the evening and by the time we got Colum back to the apartment he was ready for bed.

“Now, I’ll give him his bottle,” said Liz.  She didn’t have to offer twice.

While Nana fed Colum eight ounces of formula I got a chance to sit back and watch a very precious moment. I know moms reading this who live away from their own mother understand what I mean.

It really is amazing and a very proud moment to have your own mother, the woman who gave you life, now give all the love and affection she once showered you with to your very own flesh and blood.

I felt proud watching mom feeding Colum, proud that I gave her this gift, a gift that I’m sure will bring her joy time and time again. (Although I’ve been told that grannies are very willing to hand back the grandchildren once they begin walking so we’ll see I guess).

The rest of the week was fantastic.  Colum loved every second of having a full house. He was fully content having someone poke at him, make funny faces and entertain him day and night.

A few nights into her trip, Nana Liz spent a solid hour playing with a bracelet that cost three euros that made Colum laugh. He chuckles at least once or twice a day and is always smiling, but I’ve never heard him laugh so loud and for so long as he did when Mom opened and closed the clasp of that bracelet so many times.

I guess the pop sound of when it shut closed excited him to the core. We got many laughs ourselves watching and listening to him.

We also got to spend Irish Mother’s Day together. That was special.

However, with any visit a dark cloud always looms towards the end of it.  As the final days of Mom and Mike’s five day visit began to draw to a close the words “I’ll miss him so much,” were uttered so many times.

And the day finally arrived when we had to say our goodbyes. Their flight wasn’t leaving JFK until 10 p.m. so we had all day. But it was tinged with sadness.

“Only a few more hours with my little boy,” Mom said as the departing time got closer.

We had decided earlier in the day that it would be best if Colum stayed at home with John while I drove them to the airport. It was also his bedtime so it made sense, but it certainly didn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

At 5:30 p.m. that day we began loading the car with their luggage.  Mom was playing with Colum, and I had a sneaky peak into our bedroom to discover her looking into his eyes with tears in her own.

Colum was on the verge of falling asleep, so Mom took every bit of opportunity to kiss and cuddle him because she knew it would be a long time before she got to hold him again.

She finally came out of the room, closed the door gently behind her and said goodbye to her sleeping grandchild.

“I’m glad he is sleeping now,” she said. “It’s best that way.”

They said their goodbyes to John, and as we were about to walk out the front door Mom turned on her heels and tiptoed back into the room for one final look. She returned as sad as ever but agreed to get into the car this time.

I left them go at the airport, tears all round of course, but I felt it was definitely easier, emotionally anyway, not having Colum there.

So it’s back to Skype and catching up over the Internet. It’s definitely better than a few years ago, though, and they promise to try and visit again in September so we dry our eyes and forward we look.


Nana Liz and her grandson Colum.