Baby Jack

Musings From a Traveling Auntie

I’ve known for a while that I won’t have children. It wasn’t a conscious decision, at least not at first. It was just something that never happened, for a variety of reasons, and in recent years I’ve become pretty certain that being a mom isn’t for me.

A few of my close friends have kids, but most don’t. I hardly thought about babies at all until last September, when my sister Susanna dropped me a Facebook Messenger bombshell that she was pregnant. (We live many thousands of miles apart and delivering news via Messenger is the norm for us.)

I hadn’t considered how overjoyed I would feel at the prospect of becoming an aunt.

Even though it would mean two long trips back home within a six-month period, there was no question I would travel to the U.S. to meet the baby after he was born. I might only become an auntie once.

Baby JackThis is my nephew, Jack, at his house in Middlebury, Vermont. I met him when he was five weeks old.

Susanna and Jack outsideSusanna and Jack, moments after my dad backed over Susanna’s mailbox with his pickup truck. It was an exciting moment for everyone, Baby Jack included.

Tenney and JackMy father, Tenney, meets his first grandchild.

Jack and Scud MissileBaby Jack and his cat, Scud Missile.

Heather and Baby Jack
Baby Jack and me. (Photo: Susanna Mason)

Two days after I booked my ticket to the U.S., I received a text message from my best friend Claire. Claire was having a baby too! It was an adoption, so Claire and her husband had only a few weeks to prepare to become parents. Claire’s daughter would be born just a couple of weeks after Susanna’s son, and I would be home at just the right time to meet both babies.

Just like that, I became an auntie twice.

Claire and AbigailClaire and Baby Abigail at their hotel room in Alexandria, Virginia, where they stayed temporarily while the adoption paperwork was completed. (They’re now back home in Washington D.C.) I’m proud to say that I was Abigail’s first official visitor. She was two weeks old.

Claire, Isaiah and AbigailClaire’s husband Isaiah joins the photoshoot.

Burrito baby.

Heather and Abigail
I got pretty good at holding babies on this trip. (Photo: Claire Sneed)

I suppose I’m biased. But I’m pretty sure I became auntie to the two most beautiful babies in America.

This trip, like all my trips back home, was such a whirlwind. In addition to meeting the babies in Vermont and Virginia, I made stops in New York, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Mexico City. I was constantly exhausted and elated, and now that I’m back in Joburg I’m just plain exhausted. Nonetheless, I can’t ignore the extra momentousness of this particular visit.

I felt such a mix of emotions before the trip: huge excitement for Susanna and Claire, who had both wanted babies for a very long time, but also apprehension about lots of different things. I know nothing about babies…What if I hated being around them? What if my presence added unnecessary stress to the parents? How would my relationships with Sue and Claire change?

What if meeting the babies made me regret my decision not to have one myself?

None of these feelings came to pass. Another regret did arrive though.

My nephew and almost-niece will grow up fast and I’m very far away. I know that South Africa is where I need to be right now, possibly forever. But the thought of what I’m missing makes me sad.

When I said goodbye to Susanna and Jack outside a Middlebury diner on a cold April morning, I didn’t know when I’d be back. I felt like I was leaving part of my DNA behind, and I guess I was.

I cried a lot on the flight back to South Africa, partly from exhaustion and partly from sadness.

I’m crying a little bit now, too.

Heather and Jack by TenneyHope to see you soon, Baby Jack. Don’t grow too fast. (Photo: Tenney Mason)

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  • Reply Gail Scott Wilson April 24, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Oh Heather they are both beautiful babies and I understand how hard it is to say goodbye, realising that you are going to miss out on so much. However time flies and it’s just so good to see them again when you can.

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm

      Thanks Gail ❤️

  • Reply Semantha April 24, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    We are the same but on opposites ends … we are South Africans living in the US (3 years and counting …) and missing all the precious moments with nieces and nephews back home . And those at home are missing our little girl grow up … it’s bittersweet and never easy … thank goodness for the Internet . Great blog .. you capture my country beautifully … 🇿🇦❤️

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2017 at 6:10 pm

      Oh, thank you so much Semantha!

  • Reply Meg April 24, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    I think being an Aunty is so great, I’m blessed with a gorgeous niece and nephew, and it makes me sad that I’m so far away from them. Technology helps – whatsapp video calls and clips daily make me feel like I can still be a part of their life. And when there are old enough, I hope they want to come visit me!

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2017 at 6:59 pm

      Visits are a nice thing to look forward to 🙂

  • Reply Ellen April 24, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    Heather, I loved this.

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2017 at 6:58 pm


  • Reply Stephanie April 24, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    My kids will be visiting their auntie in DC to do a year with her for high school (fingers crossed) on an exchange. Maybe your nephew can do the same but here… it cam be sooo hard for relatives to be far away but technology does make it quite a bit easier. My girls send my sister video clips of them doing yoga and we regularly share pics across the oceans. I’m just crossing my fingers that I can be an auntie soon myself. Lucky you to have had such an amazing trip — it’s always hard to leave one place with loved ones but to also look forward to getting “home” too. Congrats!

    • Reply 2summers April 27, 2017 at 8:23 am

      Thanks so much Stephanie. And you’re right – thank god for technology.

  • Reply Berry Gargan April 24, 2017 at 8:38 pm

    Heather, what a beautiful blog. Thank you so much – I resonate, having children and a grandbaby very far away and recently I made the decision to move back to them later this year. Your blog has reaffirmed that choice.

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2017 at 8:43 pm

      Oh, thanks so much Berry. Best of luck with your move.

  • Reply tenneymason April 24, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    Great blog. Already looking forward to your next visit.

    • Reply 2summers April 24, 2017 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks Dad 💜

  • Reply Jaina April 24, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    Being far away from family really does suck. There’s no other way to put it. Especially when the big eventful moments happen, like this. The internet and how connected we all can be has made things easier though—embrace it.

    • Reply 2summers April 25, 2017 at 12:45 pm

      Yes, thank god for the internet!

  • Reply Patricia April 24, 2017 at 11:10 pm

    The babies are so precious!! I am happy for you and your family 😊

    • Reply 2summers April 25, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      Thanks Patty! Hope you and the family are doing well.

  • Reply Lani April 25, 2017 at 7:52 am

    I, too, feel bad about being far away from my nieces and nephews, but we made the choice to be expats, right? They grow up fast, I’ll warn you! But that’s so lovely that you made it home to see them at this special time. Congratulations all around 🙂

    • Reply 2summers April 25, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks Lani. Yep, you’re totally right — I’ve made a choice and there are sacrifices necessary for most good choices. I’m definitely going to try to go home more often though.

  • Reply Shasha April 25, 2017 at 9:19 am

    Hey Heather my eyes filled with tears when i read this one, great blog, i love babies!

    • Reply 2summers April 25, 2017 at 12:41 pm

      Thank you so much Shasha 🙂

  • Reply autumnashbough April 25, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Oh, I know the joy of being an auntie and the pain of being one who lives thousands of miles away. It’s tough, no doubt about it. I only see my nieces and nephews once a year, usually. But once those adorable babies (and you are right, they are way cuter than normal babies) are older, you will be the cool auntie who Skypes and shows them LIONS in Africa.

    • Reply 2summers April 25, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      Hahaha, I look forward to that. Glad you agree on the cuteness factor.

  • Reply Eugenia Parrish April 25, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Sorry, they take a second to my great-grandbabies. But not by much! They are both georgeous. My kids, grandkids, and greatgrands are in Vermont (other side of the mountains from Middlebury) and for health reasons I can’t take the cold weather, but I try to visit at least once a year. And still they grow too fast! There’s a powerful tug to move closer, but like you, I feel I must stay based where I am, at least for now. Thank heaven for social media that lets me feel that I’m somewhat better in touch than the old days of maybe one letter every six months and a couple school pics every year. “Hi, Grammy!” videos are the best!

    • Reply 2summers April 27, 2017 at 8:25 am

      Hahaha, in sure yours are beautiful too 😊 And I hear you on the cold weather in VT – it was still cold when I was there in April!

  • Reply Dave Freeman April 25, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    You got me crying as well. Congratulations to Susana and to you. I know you will make a wonderful aunt!

    • Reply 2summers April 25, 2017 at 8:44 pm

      Awww, thanks Dave! So nice to hear from you. I hope all is well in your world.

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