WRITTEN BY JANE CORRY, OUR NEW “DIARY OF A MODERN GRAN” COLUMNIST
Part Two: Exhausted new grans Patty, Sally and Hannah find themselves at loggerheads with their nearest and dearest…
“I’ve told you before,” declared Patty with all the authority of a new grandmother. “Just let baby cry himself to sleep. Or you”ll make a rod for your own back.”
Her daughter looked up from the crib where she’d been trying to soothe little Arthur.
“But it seems so cruel.”
“Nonsense. You young mums are far too soft, in my opinion. Just look at all the thugs on the street.”
Rosie’s eyes filled with tears.
“My son isn’t going to be a thug.”
Oh dear, thought Patty. Looked as if she’d said the wrong thing again. Ever since they’d got home from the hospital a month ago, it had been so difficult!
For a start, everything had changed since her day. The far-too-young health visitor who had been round on home visits had told Rosie to feed the baby whenever it felt like it. Ridiculous!
And now they were having the increasingly familiar “should I pick him up or not” argument. In her view – which was surely the right one – it was about time that baby Arthur had some proper shut-eye. None of them had had any sleep from the day he’d been born.
If only Rosie would do what she said, they might stand a chance. But now look! Her daughter was now cuddling and feeding this little scrap which looked so infuriatingly like its father.
“No news from Clive, I suppose,” she couldn’t resist asking.
Rosie’s eyes filled with tears again
“So you think that because I’m a single mother, I can’t cope?”
“No –” Patty tried to put her arms around her daughter but found herself being shrugged off. “I just wondered, that was all. Now come on, darling. You’re just feeling emotional. I was the same after you.”
Actually, Patty couldn’t quite remember. Dear Fred had hired a maternity nurse to take over. She’d had a lovely rest for several weeks while Rosie had been taught how to get into a routine.
Yet even if they could afford some help now, there wouldn’t be room in Rosie’s little two-bedroom house. It was hard enough sleeping in the spare room on the other side of the thin wall from her daughter and new grandson.
That boy had a set of lungs on him, no doubt about that. No wonder she was exhausted. Being a grandparent was much harder than she’d realised.
For a minute, Patty felt a nostalgic pang for her old life in Newcastle. It was true that she’d felt rather bored after retiring from her PA job. Moving to Devon to help Rosie had given her a new purpose! At least, that’s what she’d thought. But right now, she was beginning to wonder if she’d made the right decision.
“Why don’t we go out for a walk? It’s a beautiful day outside and the movement might send Arthur to sleep.”
Rosie’s eyes filled with tears yet again.
“Supposing he gets germs?”
“In the fresh air?”
“You can pick up some horrible things, you know.” Rosie pointed to one of the many baby books that were littering the bedroom.
“You don’t think, darling, that you’re getting just a little bit too anxious?”
“No, I don’t.” The tears had turned to anger now. “You just don’t understand – do you, Mum?”
Arthur began to scream loudly as if he agreed. At the same time, there was the bleep of a text.
Don’t forget the GransRUs meeting today!!!
Anything to get out of here
Patty wouldn’t normally trust a message with three exclamation marks but frankly this had come at just the right time. Anything to get out of here. Besides, with any luck, that other grandmother from the hospital – Sally, wasn’t it? – might bring along her husband, that chap who was familiar with her old stamping ground. It might be nice to chat to him.
Still, if she suggested this to Rosie, her daughter would no doubt start going on about “catching something” from the other babies.
“Tell you what,” she said. “I’ve got to walk into town to do some errands. Why don’t you let me take Arthur while you rest? I promise I’ll look after him.”
“I”m not sure.” Rosie had gone back to being sad rather than angry.
She did look a mess, poor darling. One of a wife’s first duties was to look good for her husband. Maybe if Rosie had kept more of an eye on her figure during pregnancy, Clive might not have left.
“What if he cries or needs feeding?”
“Then I’ll bring him straight back.” Patty was already wrestling her grandson into his natural-fibre pram suit before her daughter could raise any more objections. “See you soon!”
Goodness, it was lovely to get out!
A rather nice mature gentleman gave her a decidedly friendly smile as he went past. So did various other people as she made her way down the high street to the church hall.
By the time she got there, Patty had decided that she rather liked having a grandson as an accessory – especially as the pram movement had sent him to sleep. So she’d been right! Just a shame that her daughter wasn’t here to see it.
“Patty! So glad you could make it!”
It was Duncan, Sally’s husband, hovering on the steps outside. Quickly he shoved his mobile into his pocket. “The other girls are inside.” Then he lowered his voice. “Actually, my wife asked me to wait here to warn a few people.”
What a striking, deep voice he had! Patty smoothed back her hair, hoping the wind hadn’t messed it up too much.
“Do you remember Hannah, the other gran from the hospital? Her daughter-in-law gave birth at the same time as ours.”
She certainly did! Rather pretty with blonde streaked hair and a husband whom she’d almost mistaken for a son until he’d called her “darling”!
“I believe I do, yes,” said Patty, pursing her lips.
“Well she’s here now with her new grandson to give her daughter-in-law a break. And, well, the thing is that he has Downs Syndrome.”
Patty stopped short
Downs? As a child she’d lived next door to a boy like that. People hadn’t been kind, she recalled.
“Lovely little chap, he is. But Hannah’s still coming to terms with it. Sally thought you should know so you didn’t say the wrong thing. I mean, not that you would, of course. But it’s easily done, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” she replied uncertainly. “It is.”
Just at that moment, Arthur stirred in his sleep. His rosy face looked so perfect and peaceful. It suddenly occurred to Patty that it didn’t matter that he was a “difficult baby”. He was healthy and that was what mattered.
“Let me give you a hand with the pram. Then you can answer your phone.”
Patty had been so shocked by Duncan’s news that she hadn’t even heard it ring.
“Mum? It’s me!”
So soon? Didn’t she trust them for more than five minutes?
“Something amazing has happened! Clive’s just rung. He wants to come and see Arthur. ‘Get to know him’. Those were his words. He’ll be here after lunch. So I was just wondering if you’d mind going out when he arrives, to give us time alone?”
“Lovely to see you!” Sally heard herself saying brightly to Patty, the new gran who’d just moved in. “So glad you could make it. There are quite a few of us here today as you can see. Help yourself to tea and biscuits and get chatting. We’re all very friendly!”
No-one would know that she and Duncan had just had a horrific argument in the car
Funny how you could sound so much bubblier than you felt inside. No-one would know that she and Duncan had just had a horrific argument in the car. Of course, it had had to be conducted in whispers because Grandchild Number Ten was asleep in her baby seat. But it was nonetheless pretty upsetting.
When she’d been a new mum, her own mother had warned her that babies could change a marriage. But what no-one had told her was that grandchildren could do the same.
“I don’t mind looking after her every now and then,” Duncan had said. “You know how much I love being a grandad. I just think that we’ve taken on too much. Especially with the B & B.”
The worst thing was that he had a point. People didn’t always realise how much hard work it was to have complete strangers in your home. One had actually complained about the baby crying – even though it was during the day when babies were entitled to be noisy!
The guest had left early, which had made Duncan even grumpier. In fact, it had taken all her powers of persuasion to get him to come here. But someone needed to be on the doorstep to warn everyone. It wasn’t the sort of thing you could easily put in a text.
Poor Hannah, thought Sally. She was still finding it hard to adjust. Of course, you always worried when you were pregnant yourself in case something went wrong. But you worried even more when your own daughter or son was about to be a parent. How lucky they’d been to have ten healthy grandchildren!
“Even more reason for us to have time on our own,” Duncan had said when she’d pointed this out. “We need to enjoy ourselves while we have our own health.”
“Excuse me,” said one of the regulars, butting into her thoughts. “But do you know where the decaf has gone?”
“Absolutely!” Sally put on her bright smile. “There should be a new jar in the cupboard above the sink. And don’t forget to have one of the chocolate brownies.”
“Delicious! Thanks. Honestly, Sally, I don’t know how you do it all.”
Duncan knew she was doing what she loved best
By neglecting my husband, she almost said. Then again, Duncan wasn’t a child! Didn’t he know her well enough to know she was doing what she loved best?
“You’re a natural carer,” her own mother used to say. Yet now and then, she couldn’t help feeling slightly envious of her own children who were doing great things in boardrooms and classrooms and various other jobs while she was left holding their babies…
BLEEP BLEEP. Sally reached for her mobile. DAD, said the screen. Her heart gave a little jump. Ever since Mum had died, she’d been trying to get him to move from his suburban London home to Devon. It would be easier to have him on the doorstep rather than making her regular monthly trip up there and worrying in case he fell.
“Sal? I’ve done it.”
For a minute, she thought he’d signed up for yet another bungee jump. Dad was one of those sprightly seventy-somethings who looked and behaved much younger.
“Sold the house and got one of those new places you were telling me about by the harbour. I’ll just be five minutes away. What do you reckon?”
As he spoke, Sally saw one of the toddlers pushing over another while their grans chatted regardless. The “any decaf” member was complaining because the new jar wasn’t the same brand as the old. And Hannah was sitting quietly in the corner, clearly upset.
At the same time, a call was coming in from daughter-in-law Number Five.
“I didn’t even know you had your house on the market, Dad.”
“Thought I’d test out the waters. Got a buyer almost immediately.” His voice dropped. “Thing is, Sal, I’ve been feeling a bit low recently without your mother. It will be good to have company. Goodness, what’s that noise at your end?”
“I”ll call you later, Dad,” said Sally, scooting off towards Number Ten, who was crying lustily in the old family pram. Where on earth was Duncan?
“There, there,” she soothed.
Really. It would help if the little scrap had an easier name. But Tatiana was quite a mouthful. Her husband had taken to calling her Number Ten instead and she’d found herself following suit.
“Does someone need their nappy changing? Whoops!”
“Well caught,” laughed one of the other grans but Sally’s heart was racing. Her ankle was throbbing, too, from the sudden movement she’d had to make.
Never before had she almost dropped a baby. Was she losing her grip? Truth was, she was exhausted from babysitting Numbers Four and Five last night, then being up at dawn to do breakfast for the B & B guests. Where was Duncan?
Sounded like his voice in the toddler play area. Clutching Number Ten against her chest, Sally hobbled over.
“There you are…” Then she stopped.
Duncan was standing very close to the latest member of their group,Patty
Duncan and Patty were bent over her phone.
“I remember that,” her husband said. “When I was a boy, we used to climb it.”
Sally recognised that interested-and-admiring tone. It was how she used to sound before she and Duncan had started being scratchy to each other.
“Duncan. Can you change your granddaughter, please? I’ve done something to my ankle. And Patty, I wonder if you’d mind talking to Hannah? She’s looking rather left out.”
“There’s my wife, doing her headmistress bit again,” said her husband. His mouth was smiling but not his eyes.
It wasn’t fair. She couldn’t do everything. And yet she wanted to! Life was going to be even busier when Dad moved down. How would she manage?
It had been a mistake to come here, Hannah could see that now. All these sympathetic looks and “how are you getting ons” made her want to rush back home. But she needed to set an example to Gudrun: show her that life could go on.
“He’s a lovely little boy,” she’d assured her son and daughter-in-law during those dark days after Tom’s birth. “Remember what the consultant said? Downs children are particularly loving. And there’s no reason why he shouldn’t live a fairly normal life.”
Hannah was aware that her attempts to make everything all right sounded lame and almost made it worse. How was this poor little mite going to manage?
“He’ll be fine,” her friend Sally had said. “But it’s normal to be upset. You’re grieving for the baby you expected, and you don’t want your son and daughter-in-law to be in pain. Come along to our next meeting – it will do you good to get out.”
Dear Sally, with her perfect grandchildren and always-understanding Duncan. She had no idea!
For a start, it was different when you had a husband who wasn’t the biological grandfather. When she and Simon met at work five years ago, she’d initially worried that he might want children. He was quite a bit younger than her.
“I’m not really a family man,” he’d insisted. This hadn’t mattered at the time because her son had been in his thirties. But ever since little Tom had arrived, Simon had made it clear he’d rather watch television than help change a nappy.
“Going already?” It was the rather bossy gran whose daughter had given birth the same day as Gudrun. Hannah couldn’t help feeling resentful that it had turned out all right for her and not them.
“I’m meeting someone.”
The woman was bending over the pram. Hannah prepared herself for the usual sentiments. Usually people over-gushed or simply pretended nothing was different.
“What a lovely little boy,” the woman said. Then she touched Hannah’s arm. “Let me know if I can do anything to help. I’m Patty. My daughter’s on her own – that’s not easy either.”
Then she scuttled off as though she’d said too much and wished she hadn’t.
Well, thought Hannah. It just goes to show folk aren’t always who they seem.
“Come on,” she whispered. “Let’s go or we’ll be late.”
Weaving her way through the back streets, Hannah found the tea shop that Michael had suggested. The gran meeting had been a cover. It meant she didn’t exactly have to lie to Simon when he asked where she’d been that day.
Pushing open the door – these modern prams were so awkward! – her heart did a slight skip. There he was. Had she done the right thing to contact him?
There were the usual glances from others around her – a mix of sympathy and studied avoidance.
“Hi,” she said, gently touching him on the shoulder. He started.
“Hannah.” His voice was softer than the last time they’d met. “You look exactly the same.”
Then he leaned over and picked up Tom, holding him closely to his chest.
“Hello, little one. Aren’t you going to say hello to your grandad?”
Honestly, thought Patty crossly. How much longer was she expected to stay away from the house? When she’d come back from the grans’ meeting, her daughter met her at the door, grabbed Arthur and asked her to “come back when I ring you.”
She’d already browsed round the shops. Might as well have a cup of tea now in this rather nice café.
Goodness! Patty couldn’t help staring. Wasn’t that Hannah with her dear little grandson? Talking very intimately to a man who didn’t look anything like the young husband she remembered from the hospital. Something was going on!