It's been a year of long separations... a Cork mum reflects

Many mums will be separated from their children this Mother’s Day due to Covid-19. Here CHRIS DUNNE talks about the difficulty of separation during the pandemic
It's been a year of long separations... a Cork mum reflects

Chris Dunne and her daughter Kelly.

THE past year of long separations has taught us all what it really means to miss someone from our lives.

Even though my youngest daughter Kelly, who turned 30 last month, and I have been separated many times before over three decades, 2021 will mark the third year of our separation.

Kelly went travelling and is currently working in Sydney, Australia. Oceans apart, we should have been reunited at Christmas in the sunny climes of New South Wales if it were not for Covid.

This is the longest time Kelly and I have been apart.

But not the first.

When she was about 10 months old we went to the city for a bit of retail therapy. I was also paying an overdue visit to the hairdressers.

Back then there was a crèche in the Savoy Centre on Patrick Street and after our lunch I decided to drop Kelly there for an hour while I got my hair trimmed. Kelly was always a very placid child with a sunny disposition, so she didn’t object when we separated momentarily and she was very content to stay put.

Hair and shopping sorted, I headed home to east Cork to meet the others off the school bus and make the dinner. Dinner eaten, homework looming, Kelly’s eldest brother, hoping for a diversion, piped up; “Where’s Kelly?”

Good question. She was still in the crèche in Patrick Street.

I think Lewis Hamilton would have been proud of me as I frantically crunched out the drive at high speed, desperately hoping I’d get to the crèche before it closed and before Kelly’s father got home from work. And there she was, the last toddler standing with a bottomed tooth-grin beaming across her face.

Kelly, who is living in Sydney, Australia.
Kelly, who is living in Sydney, Australia.

As I walk the beach in Garryvoe, I think back to those (almost) carefree days of childhood, I think of Kelly now living beside another ocean, hanging out with her Irish and Aussie pals in Bondi Beach, or in Cogee, spreading her wings, going out into the world, making the most of life.

The waves and surges of Covid have washed away our plans to get together any time soon, eroding any chance of our longed-for reunion. The quickest way to travel from Cork to Sydney, 1,0831 miles, is as the crow flies or the ‘great circle’. Even if you owned your own G650 Gulfstream, travelling overseas is a non-runner due to the pandemic.

But we can dream.

Day-dreaming, looking out to sea, I think of when we were separated on other occasions, when Kelly went to Irish college in Glanmire and got homesick, so I had to fetch her two days later.

Exploring new territory, she graduated to Irish college in Ballyvourney the following year with minimum correspondence from the now confident teenager.

Faraway, livelier horizons beckoned with not one, but two post-leaving cert holidays. She had found her feet by then, primed for city life and college life in UCC before she headed to Glasgow to do her Masters in Occupational Therapy.

I remember trekking the high-ways and by ways of the Scottish highlands, home to Hogmanay and where Hogwarts was created, with Kelly, queuing up for more than an hour during a visit to Edinburgh, to get into the cafe where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter as a young single mother. We giggled listening to the Scottish accent of Jock, the taxi-driver when he asked us ‘Hoos the guan’, and answered ‘Ach Aye’ to most of our observations.

Graduating with the class of 2016 at Caledonian University was a special day for both of us. The appealing toddler and the chaotic teenager had turned into a self-assured young lady.

Then she went to work at St Elizabeth’s hospital, Glasgow, commuting home to Cork every three weeks via the air-coach from Dublin.

It’s amazing, but even in the foggy cold light before day break, I could spot her familiar figure at the bus stop on Patrick’s Quay from 1,000 paces alighting from the crowded bus. 

Her countenance and her gait never changed since taking her first steps towards independence.

Her conversation never changed.

“Can we stop at the shop on the way home?”

When Kelly came home for the weekends, she always made her presence felt. She made her mark as sure as the mark of the stilettos she wore to her debs that are still ingrained on the hall floor.

Chauffeuring and collecting people became my new occupations. I lay awake on Saturday nights before dawn while the gaggle of giggling girls, all piled in one bedroom, re-lived their fun night out. It’s funny; but when we were apart; I actually missed the chaos, the carnage and the consternation of the ‘what’ll I wear, where are we going tonight? Who’s coming? Who’s waiting for a spin?’ dilemmas that dogged most weekends back then.

Over the last three years, I often think of that beaming baby smile with the two bottom teeth proudly displayed. Over the years those teeth, except the ones missing for her first communion, have been whitened and straightened many times.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and it does. 

The rose-tinted memories come into sharper focus as we look forward to being reunited with our loved ones faraway. The lid of the memory box opens and closes with possibilities. It is never locked away.

“Surf’s up!” she tells me as we face-time on the phone at 6am Irish time.

“Must dash! The gang are waiting to go the beach.”

“How’s work going and how are all your patients doing?”

“Grand, all good. Talk soon. Bye.”

And as the angry waves crash and burn on the rocks surrounding Ballycotton light-house, my heart burns with hope I’ll see Kelly, 1,0831 miles away, this year; her 30th year. That we’ll laugh together over a ‘middy’, a bevvie, hearing the Aussie and Kiwi accents as they declare ‘sweet-as mate!”

I really do believe that it won’t be too long until I see her again; this sweet child o’mine.

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