Travel by Radio

This is the first time I will try dictating A blog post while I’m holding the baby. I’m using word to be able to do this. It feels a bit unnatural to just speak out loud and I will probably have to make a lot of edits as I go but it will hopefully make it so that I can still write even if I have a Velcro child attached to me. Of course as I say that, my child just stirred and decided maybe he doesn’t like Mama talking into the ether.

So, it’s been a while.

Not much has changed in the world since Baby was born. He was born in early December, when the coronavirus was still causing havoc and there was still the possibility of lockdown for many people around the world. Since he was born we’ve been in Newborn Land. Newborn Land is in many ways very similar to Quarantine Land, except that there might or might not be a tiny baby who is attached to you at all times day and night. I exaggerate, in fact my son is very independent for someone his age. Occasionally he lets me put him down for 1/2 an hour or so when he’s awake!

But of course the situation more broadly is still the same. No one from our families has been able to make a trip to come to China and meet our son. In many ways it seems as if it might be a year until anyone is able to. Everyone is of course very eager to see him and we are eager for them to come and see him as well, but the circumstances that he was born in don’t really make it possible for him to meet his grandparents or aunties or uncles or his cousins yet. In keeping with an emergent theme of this self portrait in progress that I began when I was in my early 20s, for me some of the coping mechanism comes down to music and audio.

When our baby was born some of the first voices he heard in English that weren’t ours were those of the people who work at NPR. We listened to All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and other things that were available to us. It became part of our hospital morning routine.

Radio is one of the things that I miss the most when I’m abroad. When I’m in Colorado I’m able to listen to the radio in the car if I’m driving to a place and I always have it on. When you listen to NPR on your phone it cuts out all of the music in between the pieces and it doesn’t have the introductions or the full show. It can feel a bit sterilised compared to how radio feels when you’re listening to it whilst driving around and seeing other things in your local vicinity.

I was reminded by a friend of a website that I used to use years ago when I was preparing to move abroad full time. Radio.garden is a website that allows you to stream content from many different radio stations all around the world, some of them obscure and some of them very well known. I’ve made a list again of all of the places that I want to listen to music from, Italy and Iceland and Colorado and Seattle. I’ve taken to putting these on during the day.

Still on maternity leave, my days are as many new parents experience, a whirlwind of the same four or five actions over and over: change a nappy, get the bottle, do some playing with the foot piano, soothe whilst crying and fussing, and then hope that the little guy will take that little nap. I enjoy it more than I ever would have thought possible.

Still, I know that many people around the world are stuck in situations that they don’t enjoy as much as I enjoy Newborn Land. It’s to the point where I’m seeing posts that I made during our heavy lockdown period last year here in China on Facebook, with the marker “A Year Ago Today.” It seems impossible that it could be a year since all of that began to happen. For the time being the situation in the world more broadly means that our small situation for our small family remains as it was a year ago. Not going out much. Masks. Health codes. And the knowledge that if we were to leave China now we would be leaving for good.

We were very hopeful that maybe this year we would be able to see our families. It’s still possible. After all, it’s only February! Given how much the world changed in the course of a few weeks in 2020, it’s certainly possible that we might be able to see our families in one form or another. Either with them being able to come here , which I see as a remote possibility, or with us being able to travel outside of China. We are as many are, forced to choose between relative material comfort here in China and the ability to see our family and friends or to travel as we used to. At least we have a choice when so many have lost so much.

And so in the mean time I hold my baby son, I tend to his needs, I dream of reuniting with my family, all of them around the world … And I listen to Radio Garden.

To me it’s a magic transportation device. I am suddenly in London, on a bus going past Hackney Marshes. I am driving down US 36 toward Boulder from my parents’ house in Colorado. I am driving my favourite road in Iceland at sunset. I am looking out for deer on the roads of the Dolomites. I am in Ferrara, at the lake in Annecy, on the costanera in Puerto Natales, on I-80 heading to the mountains outside Seattle. I take my son to all the places I promised myself I would take him, not just the familiar park 500m from our place along the river Minjiang.

I listen to the audio from the stations that pump out the radiowaves wrapping around the places I love. My ears (and those of my son) vibrate to the very sounds that fill cars and businesses in all those places, in real time. We absorb the same physical manifestation of the waves that embrace my many homes around the world, and that pass through the physical bodies of the people we love.

I watch him sleep in my lap and tell him stories of the world. Of the world before. Of the world to come. Of the dreamworld I constructed in my mind before, where we would take him on nomad adventures. I still look at my wall of photos and wonder if it was stupid or just naïve to think I would be able to keep living three-continent years, wonder if motherhood would have wiped away all of that even if my identity hadn’t been obliterated by Covid.

With the radio, some tiny part of that world I had hoped for is alive and well. Sometimes my baby son smiles in his sleep and I hope he can see the places I imagine and feel the curvature of the radio waves as they move across those landscapes, so far and so very immediate all at once.

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