Windows . . .
Justine Tyerman’s wings have been severely clipped . . . but she doesn’t care, as long as she can still fly to Sydney.
My friend and I were puffing up a steep hill in drizzly rain and mist, performing the masochist ritual we punish ourselves with every morning, regardless of the weather.
I was grizzling about how a recent earthquake had tilted the hill to make it even steeper. I was also bemoaning the fact that I was getting older and my prospects of achieving granny-hood in the near future seemed remote. Our career-minded daughters were living and working overseas and babies were not on their radar.
My friend, ever the positive-thinker, said we should be celebrating every moment of freedom in the post-children, pre-grandchildren state that we shared.
‘It's a narrow window of opportunity to do your own thing without any responsibilities or commitments,' she said wisely.
So I did. I took her advice. And after a wonderful decade of exploring the world as a travel writer, I finally became a grandmother. And within the space of a year, husband Chris and I had two adorable little granddaughters . . . both in Sydney.
Suddenly, my wanderlust was replaced with a powerful yearning to be with my mokopuna and be a hands-on granny. My footloose globe-trotting days had come to an abrupt end due to Covid-19 anyway so that window had slammed firmly shut. But I didn't care. All I wanted to do was get across the Ditch, come hell or high water.
However, to travel to Sydney these days meant sidestepping frequent border closures, securing a flight and a precious slot in a managed MIQ facility and enduring the two-week mandatory isolation period and regular Covid testing on our return.
We went, of course, and it was all worth it for the indescribable joy of spending time with two small human beings . . . and their parents.
Helping with a newborn and a toddler was full-on, but I've never experienced such fulfillment and happiness. Our self-imposed schedule involved cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping, changing nappies, burping, rocking, pram-pushing, singing, dancing, playing games and sharing pearls of wisdom. They were mundane things but they made such a huge difference in the lives of our daughters and sons-in-law. They were so appreciative, it made us feel highly valued and essential members of a team.
Rocking our tiny new granddaughter Isabel to sleep and playing raucous games of hide and seek with our boisterous one-year-old granddaughter Francesca rank right up there among the highlights of my life.
The early morning strolls with Isabel in her pram and the late afternoon ambles with Francesca in and out of her pushchair are memories I'll treasure forever.
Ironically, while in Sydney, I had glimmerings of a new and exciting window opening up for me in a post-Covid world. I pictured myself as a travel-writing granny, finding fascinating and exciting child-friendly places to visit with our grandchildren. I began to see the world through new eyes, frequenting only child-friendly beaches, playgrounds and cafes, seeking out walkways with pram access, hanging out in toy shops and scouring nearby Bondi Junction for patterns and fabric to feed my rekindled passion for sewing . . . for little people only, I might add.
I also came to realise that independent accommodation and transport were crucial elements when spending any length of time in Sydney. Our daughters live in small apartments in neighbouring suburbs but now they both have babies, there's no spare room for guests. Anyway, at the end of a busy day with little ones, we needed a quiet haven to retreat to and our daughters and sons-in-law needed their own space and time to be together as a family.
I knew the cost of a hotel or holiday rental for an extended period over summer in Sydney would be prohibitive so I resorted to my favourite accommodation site, Love Home Swap. I've been a member of this international home swap club for over 10 years and during that time, we've stayed in some wonderful private homes all around the world — Santorini, the Swiss Alps, Paris, London, Piha, Wanaka. You pay a membership fee (see the Factbox) and then stay for free, absolutely free.
I searched for properties available in the Edgecliff-Bondi area, sent out a few messages and within hours, I had a positive response from a couple who live near Bondi Beach, close to both daughters' homes. We arranged a points swap which meant home-owners, David and Imy, were not committed to a simultaneous swap with us but could use the points or credits to stay in the home of any Love Home Swap member, anywhere, any time. Their scope is mainly limited to Australia at present due to Covid-19 but as soon as border restrictions ease, they will have the choice of thousands of homes in hundreds of countries all around the world.
David and Imy's compact two-bedroom, two-bathroom, open-plan apartment worked incredibly well for us. Located on the top floor of a three-storey building in a great neighbourhood with excellent cafes, restaurants, seafood, bakery, fruit shops and a supermarket nearby, the apartment was absolutely immaculate, and equipped with high-quality appliances and everything we needed. We enjoyed many a relaxed beer and rosé on their balcony overlooking the rugged coastline on the famous Bondi to Coogee walkway — not pram-friendly but a great spot for an early morning or evening run/stroll.
We met David and Imy before they headed off on a road trip in New South Wales. They left an impressive 40-page guide to the apartment covering everything from security and access to neighbourhood shopping, dining and recreation — the most comprehensive compendium I've ever seen. They also left us some superb local wines to sample which was a lovely kind touch.
Having a secure covered car park under the apartment building was another huge plus as parking can be a major problem around Bondi . . . which brings me to my next key element: securing our own means of transport so we were not dependent on family members.
We organised a JUCY Rentals vehicle before we left home and it turned out to be absolutely indispensable. We couldn't have managed without it. JUCY provides an excellent pickup/drop-off service at Sydney Airport which was very convenient. Our zippy Toyota Corolla hatchback did umpteen trips to the supermarket, delivered supplies and home-cooked meals to the two households, and transported Francesca to the beach and playground in the secure, back-facing car seat that JUCY fitted for us. We were also able to help with her gradual transition to daycare when our daughter returned to work after a year's maternity leave.
The vehicle was big enough to accommodate the pushchair and other infant paraphernalia but small enough to squeeze into tight parking spaces, a boon in Sydney. Having our own wheels literally enabled us to be in two places at once, one of us with Francesca and the other with Isabel. We'd often swap over because we couldn't bear not to see both grandchildren every day.
I'm back in Gizzy now and my friend and I still climb that hill every morning, regardless of the weather. She's a granny too so our ritual has changed to include at least 15 minutes of rabbiting on to each other about our adorable grandchildren and chortling at videos of their first smiles, first steps and first words. Such joy!
The hill is even steeper these days, no doubt tilted further by the recent earthquake, but we have the added incentive of wanting to stay fit and well to be useful, energetic grannies for years to come.
I'm already planning my next trip across the Tasman and bracing myself for the challenges and complications of running the Covid gauntlet yet again. Like thousands of others with family members in Australia, I'm praying for the elusive two-way, isolation-free trans-Tasman bubble to be declared . . . but that particular window seems to be a hard one to prise open.