“You know, Mum,” said my daughter last week. “I wish I saw more of you.”
“What do you mean?” I said, surprised. After all, we only live eight minutes away from each other. I look after little Rose and George for two full days a week. And on my non-granny days, I am usually there for tea and bath time (even if I am running a little late).
“I know,” she says when I point this out. “The children and I just want some proper hang-out time with you.”
But when? I’m a full-time novelist. I write in the morning and spend most of the afternoon either editing my morning’s work or catching up with emails and social media – a vital part of a novelist’s job. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, when I have the grandchildren, I spend both evenings at my desktop to make up for the hours I’ve missed.
I also have a second husband who says he doesn’t mind me “leaving him to it” in retirement. But I suspect that he’d like to see more of me.
Life doesn’t go on for ever – at least not as we know it
Yet at the same time, I know exactly what my daughter means. It would be nice to have simple “hang-out” time together. There’s something else too. I’m determined not to join the “old before our time” brigade. But now I’m in my early sixties, I have to face facts. Life doesn’t go on for ever – at least not as we know it. I have several friends who have either passed on too early or who aren’t as physically able as I am. (I’m not including my broken elbow here, although it’s still giving me pain.) So if I don’t have more time with my daughter now, when will I?
“Of course,” I find myself saying. “Let’s have a day together.”
“How about Tuesday?” she says promptly, naming an adventure play park with beautiful grounds and a nice café.
“Great. Shall we meet at 10?”
“The kids will have been up for five hours already by then. Can’t we say 8.30?”
We compromise with 9am. But it doesn’t quite turn out like that. Little George has developed a chesty cough. When he was only one month old, he was in intensive care with bronchiolitis so my daughter sensibly got him a doctor’s appointment first thing before we go.
“Can you have Rose?” she asks. “When we last went to the surgery, she re-assembled the do-it-yourself blood pressure machine in reception.”
Clever girl! But I take the point. It’s much easier to leave a toddler behind with Gran or Gan Gan as I’m known.
Within a few minutes of arriving for our play-date at our place, Rose has re-organised our mugs cupboard with a couple of bone china casualties. “I told you we should have put them higher up,” I tell my husband.
“We shouldn’t have to,” he retorts with the air of one who has never had to make a house child-proof before marrying me.
My daughter returns with good news. The doctor says George just has a bad cold but that his chest is clear. So off we go!
It feels as if I’m bunking off work
I’m slightly twitchy because I really should be at my desk, doing my line-edits for the next novel. It feels as if I’m bunking off work. And what about all my emails?
“Chill out, Mum,” instructs my daughter who’s at the wheel. “This is meant to be our time.”
Whoops. Yes. Of course.
Gradually, I start to unwind. We have a lovely time at the park with little Rose and George. Then I find myself playing games with my daughter. “What’s that plant called?” I laughingly test her.
“I don’t know, Mum.”
“Lobelia,” I say triumphantly.
I’m not much of a gardener myself – my sister inherited our mother’s green fingers – but I can remember her teaching me the names of plants. Incredibly, all these years later, they’ve stuck.
“This is fun,” she says, linking her arm with mine, as I point out wallflowers, and winter jasmine.
But the best part is playing pooh sticks. It’s a lovely bright autumn day and George, who is well-wrapped up, has fallen asleep in his pram. “Great!” says my daughter. “Here’s the bridge.”
Rose, throws herself down on her tummy, overlooking the shallow river running below. “Throw the leaves in, Mummy,” she yells. Then she shouts triumphantly as hers comes in first. I feel a pang that they have done this before without me, while I’ve been pounding the computer at my desk. What have I missed out on?
Then we have lunch which is a slightly chaotic affair with George – now wide awake – chucking macaroni cheese around and Rose demanding my salad instead of hers (“Please, Gan Gan!”). But the most important thing is that my daughter is beaming. “Nice to get out, isn’t it?” she says.
Yes. It is.
But after another play in the miniature houses section, we need to get home.
“Thanks, Mum,” she says. “That was such fun.”
I feel terrible. All my life, I’ve tried to be a good mother by giving them everything they need. But now I see that all they really want is time with me – even if they are now grown up. I should be flattered but it also makes me feel a failure.
“Nonsense,” says my husband when I tell him this later that night after I’ve finished burning the midnight oil to make up for my lack of work earlier on. “You’re always with them. By the way, I thought we’d go out for the day tomorrow. We hardly ever have any time together any more. Is that all right with you?”
Oh dear. If I say I have to work, he’ll be offended – especially as I was with my daughter today. Besides, when you get onto husband number two, you become rather conscious of needing to try harder.
“That would be lovely,” I say. I’ll just have to set the alarm for 5am so I can do my line-edits first…