It felt like the longest flight ever. Travelling from Auckland to London to meet her first-ever grandchild, Kerre McIvor was longing to set eyes on him, but also not entirely sure how she was going to feel when the moment arrived.
“Everyone had told me that you’ve never known love like it,” Weekly columnist Kerre explains. “I’d got to the point where I thought, ‘What if it’s not like that? What if I’m a really bad grandparent and don’t know how to do this?’
“So I was excited but also aware that he’s a little person in his own right and what if he didn’t like me or I didn’t connect with him?”
Kerre had asked daughter Kate (28) if she wanted her there in time for the baby’s birth and both had decided her husband Ranko Berich could provide all the support needed.
“When I heard she was in labour, I was so anxious, I went out and drank Champagne and ate oysters with friends because I didn’t want to think about it,” laughs Kerre.
Little Bart was born a healthy 3.4kg and was nine days old by the time his nana Kerre was on the plane heading over. Ranko met her at the airport and drove her to the family’s home in leafy Richmond, southwest London.
“When I walked in the door, Kate was feeding him and I just burst into tears,” recalls Kerre (52). “And, of course, as soon as I held him, I fell completely and utterly in love. Everyone was right – you don’t know a love like it. It’s remarkable.”
Kerre had five blissful weeks in the UK. For the first three, she stayed with Ranko and Kate, and delighted in being able to make herself useful, cooking and cleaning so the new parents had time to relax and enjoy their baby.
“We had the glorious luxury of just hanging out together,” tells Kerry. “We’d take Bart for walks in Richmond Park. In the afternoons, we’d have dance-athons in the living room and give him a bit of a boogie. He’s such a happy, gurgly boy – an absolute delight.”
Kate expressed her breast milk so she could enjoy some nights of sleep while Kerre woke to give Bart his night feeds.
“That was a joy,” she says. “I felt really lucky.”
The little boy’s favourite spot was what Kerre has learned is called “the nana shelf”. He loved to be held, snuggling right into her chest.
“He’d fold his little hands and rest his chin,” she says. “So I’m glad the double Fs came into their own!”
For the final fortnight, Kerre’s husband Tom came over to join her and she worked nights to broadcast her regular afternoon slot on Newstalk ZB while still managing to get plenty of time with Bart.
“I watched him go from a newborn to a little baby who was almost rolling over. I gave him his first-ever bath and it was wonderful to see how strong he was, splashing and kicking, and how much he loved it. I’m so grateful to have had those moments to treasure.”
Being such a hands-on grandmother might not be the ideal for every woman – particularly those who have already raised large families – but mum-of-one Kerre is relishing every single aspect of her new role.“I never had enough children,” she admits. “I always wanted more. I’d love to live just around the corner so I could pop in and take Bart for a few hours. But I’m not focusing on that – I’m focusing on how lucky I am to have had that time with him.”
Kerre was 23 when she gave birth to Kate, mostly raising her as a solo mother while working on radio and television. That meant plenty of love but also lots of chaos.
“Kate is already a much better mother than I ever was,” she admits. “I’m so full of admiration for her and Ranko. It was lovely watching this new little family interact, to see how they love each other – it’s the way it should be.”
On Kerre’s phone there is a video of Bart being cradled in his dad’s arms and watching raptly as Ranko reads aloud from Hairy Maclary. Now she is back in Auckland, new photos are shared every day.
“Kate says she’s spamming me, but I can’t get enough of Bart. And he’s already changed so much since I was there!”
Hopefully, some day, Kate’s family will come home to New Zealand for good, but for now Kerre is having to content herself with watching her grandson grow from a distance. It isn’t easy, she admits.
“We did get a bit tearful knowing my visit was coming to an end. I really wanted to fall to my knees, grab Kate’s tiny ankles and beg her to come home. But they’ve got their lives to lead and it would be selfish of me. I can be a bit over-the-top and pathetic when it comes to leaving, but I had to be strong for her and grateful for those five weeks.”
Kerre is now counting down the days until October, when Bart will be coming to New Zealand to meet his great-grandmother Colleen, bringing four generations of the family together.
Hopefully, that family will be growing bigger before too long. Kate, whose career has been in public relations, would love to have more children, ideally two more bouncing young ones.
And so Kerre is dreaming of some day having a brood of grandchildren running wild over her property in the Hokianga and building tree huts. She wants to be around to watch them grow up and be at their sides as they experience some of the world – in particular, she’d like to take them on the same safari she did in Africa when she turned 50.
But ask what her greatest hope for baby Bart is and Kerre looks thoughtful for a moment before saying simply, “I just hope he’s open to people, experiences and opportunity, and never closes off any part of his life because you miss so much if you do. I hope he keeps the enthusiasm for life he’s already shown.”
Despite her determination not to feel sad at having so many thousands of kilometres separating them, there’s wistfulness when Kerre talks about Bart. She describes the beautiful hand-knits sent in by Weekly readers and Newstalk ZB listeners, and how lovely it was to see him dressed up in them. And there are tears in her eyes when she talks about the fragility of babies and the privilege of being part of their lives.
Her visit to London coincided with the British version of Mother’s Day, traditionally known as Mothering Sunday.
“I had a beautiful lunch with my new little mother,” smiles Kerre. “She gave me the loveliest card and said, ‘Thank you for teaching me to have fun and showing me that the washing doesn’t have to be folded – you can just pick up your baby and dance,’ and that made me cry again. I seem to have got more emotional since I became a grandmother!”