When Rose was born, my second life began…
It’s 7.05 am and I am pedalling my bicycle furiously through our seaside town to get to work on time. Out of all the jobs I’ve had in my life, this is the hardest – and also the best. I have an eleven hour day without a lunch hour to myself. My salary comes in kisses and hugs instead of pounds. But believe it or not, it’s also a crowded market.
That’s right! I’m one of thousands of grandparents in this country who look after their grandchildren free of charge because their grown up “babies” can’t afford childcare.
“How will you find the time?” asked some of my friends when I started to look after my granddaughter Rose, then aged nine months.
They had a point. I’m a full-time novelist and have been lucky enough to get into the top ten bestseller list with my last three novels. But I was determined that I’d manage to do both. My own mother died when she was 56 from ovarian cancer and only had three years of grannyhood. From an early age, I’d told my daughter that when she was a “big girl”, she should live near me so I can help out.
Mum – remember that deal we had?
Fast forward almost thirty years and I received a phone call from Vietnam where my daughter and her husband were teaching. “Mum – remember that deal we had? How would you feel if we moved back to the UK near you? We’d like to start a baby in the next few years.”
Our own family had changed a great deal. I’d got divorced – which is certainly not something I envisaged when the children were small – and re-married. My husband had never been married before and didn’t have children of his own. I couldn’t help wondering how all this was going to work but at the same time, I was very excited!
When Rose was born, my second life began. As soon as I clapped eyes on this tiny little scrap with red hair (just like my first husband’s), I felt as though I had fallen in love all over again – in a completely different way from anything else. But how was I going to cope when she was in my care for two whole days a week when my daughter went back to work in nine months time?
My daughter was equally apprehensive. “You will be all right, won’t you Mum?” she kept asking.
“Of course I will,” I replied, trying to sound reassuring.
“You’ll be fine,” declared my husband. “After all, you brought up three of your own.”
But everything has changed! Babies are now put to bed face up instead of face down as in my day. There’s a list of “can’t eat” foods which all mine ate when they got onto solids – and survived to tell the tale. As for the equipment, don’t even get me started! All I can say is that a degree in engineering would come in very handy when first tackling the pram and car seat! You need an extra pair of hands in order to press a button on each side and then lift the safety bar over a little one who flails rebellious arms and legs while you’re strapping them in!
Somehow, we survived that first year and a half although not without some trips to A & E with bruised heads (a fall in the swimming pool cubicle) and concussion (a run-in with the door handle). Rose was thankfully all right although I was a blubbering mess.
“It feels worse if something happens to my grandchildren than when it did to my own,” I said to the duty doctor tearfully.
She nodded. “My own mum feels the same.”
You’ll be all right with two, won’t you Mum?
Then, just when Rose and I had got the hang of the feeding, the naps, the tantrums and the fun stuff (oh the joy of finger painting!), baby George arrived a year ago. “You’ll be all right with two, won’t you Mum?” asked my daughter whose confidence in me had thankfully grown by now.
“Of course,” I said, taking a deep breath.
Now I’m in charge of a just-walking one-year-old and a nearly three-year-old (going on 13) with a wonderful mind of her own. Yesterday she insisted on wearing her left wellie on her right foot and the right on the left because that’s what she wanted! But I also get wonderful hugs and I know that by looking after them, we have forged a very special relationship.
“Gan, Gan,” calls out Rose as I get off my bike and knock at their front door. George beams and lunges at me, almost tripping over his sister’s potty.
“Must dash,” says my daughter, grabbing her briefcase.
Meanwhile, we’re off to playgroup to meet the other grannies.
This is a brief outline of my new life so far. Next week, I’ll be filling you in on our adventures. See you then!