What can I tell you about my grandson who was 9 months old this week …
That he has the most infectious giggle and finds the adults around him hilarious.
That he loves to play nai nai hugs, careering around his Beijing apartment at break neck speed in his inappropriately named “walker”.
That he loves his books – My First Gruffalo and This is Not My Panda – especially the soft furry bits.
That his first word was “yeah” uttered at loud volume and accompanied by a cheerful yell, his second “bao bao“, the Chinese word for hug and his third “ba ba“, the Chinese for Dad.
That he never sits still for a moment, preferring to pull himself up to standing on any surface he can find, even an arm or leg will do or cliff-hanging on the edge of the kitchen table with three fingers.
That he loves his food (family trait that) and really wants what we are having unless it’s spicy in which case he is most put out. Duck and noodles are his favourites and dragon fruit and watermelon. It’s in the genes.
That he hasn’t yet learned that in this world there isn’t always someone there to catch you when you fall and it is wiser to fall forward and save yourself rather than backwards into empty space.
That his smile would light up a continent and you could lose yourself in his dimples.
That his world so far is full of people he loves and trusts – his mamma, baba, two nai nai and a ye ye and gu gu at the other end of a Skype line.
That his world is full of wonder and fun.
That he is a budding guitarist if bashing a plastic guitar off any surface that he can find to set it playing it’s three repetitive tunes counts – no wonder parents are never the ones to buy noisy toys for their kids.
Yes that’s what I learned about Dermot in the two special weeks I shared with him, in his world in Beijing with Shan, Shane and his Chinese nai nai. And every parent and grand parent will know that, while every child is special, there is none quite so special as the baby in your life right now.
I’m back now in the transit lounge of Dubai airport reflecting on all the new things I discovered in those two weeks – about Dermot, about China, about Chinese food. I have a notebook full of new recipes and insights gleaned from this visit to share. Every time I go there I feel I understand China and its culture that little bit better but it’s like scratching the surface. When the time comes to leave I realise what a vast amount I have still to learn before I truly “get” it, if I ever will.
One day last week I took myself out to a local, western style cafe, Twosome on Jiang Tai Xi Lu, for a fix of coffee and “space”, the European in me briefly overwhelmed by China. An old Carole King song “Far Away” was playing on the stereo and the line “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more” caught me at the back of the throat.
It’s the lot of our generation of mammies and grannies to be torn between continents – my daughter Claire and her husband in Australia, my family and friends in Ireland, my son and his wee family in Beijing. And yet I know how lucky I am to be able to travel to them and have them home fairly often.
Just for these few moments I want to sit here between all those worlds, listening to the sounds of morning prayer, with that feeling of appreciation mixed with longing.
Normal service, including some great new recipes, will resume shortly.