It’s been a long time since I was on my own, overnight with a one-year-old baby. Thirty-five odd years in fact. Are they meant to make these snuffly little noises every few minutes? Or is it due to the super-sensitive baby monitor next to my daughter and son-in-law’s bed which I am currently inhabiting in their absence? Or maybe it’s because little George developed a cough within minutes of his parent’s departure…
“Of course I’ll stay at your place and look after the children when you go to your friend’s wedding,” I had said gaily back last Christmas. But now that time is here! Two whole days and nights in fact. Meanwhile, little Rose is having a loud dream which involves Paw Patrol (a favourite of hers on television) and Mummy. I know this because she has her own little monitor next to George’s, also positioned by my bed.
I glance at the clock which reads 1.47am and creep along the landing to my granddaughter’s room. Thankfully, I only need to stroke her golden head and whisper reassuring noises before she is out like a light again.
I can do this, I tell myself…
George’s cough, however, has woken him up. He is standing up in his cot, rattling the bars and screaming. Right. I can do this, I tell myself. Swiftly, I prepare a bottle of formula milk and cradle him in the nursery chair. He sucks greedily, starts to cough again and then throws up all over the carpet. Oh dear.
I don’t want to turn on the light or he’ll think it’s day time. So I try to mop up the mess with a handful of wipes while crooning Brahms lullaby with made-up words that I used for his mother and brothers all those years ago. Then very gently, I put George back down in his cot. I hold my breath, waiting for him to yell again but he carries on sleeping. Yes! Flushed with a sense of achievement, I tiptoe back to my bed and stay awake all night; my ears on constant alert in case he starts coughing or is sick again.
Just as I finally doze off around 6am, I hear a little voice coming out imperiously from monitor number two. “Hello! HELLO?”
Rose is awake! So too is George. Our day has begun! I used to do this for years, I remind myself with a yawn, as we start playing with farmyard and dolly tea party sets. How did I manage? Still, it’s the least I can do for my daughter and son-in-law. They deserve a rest.
“So do I,” mumbled my husband when I’d suggested that he stayed overnight with me. “But you know what my back’s like. I need our own bed.”
By 8am we’re all going a bit stir crazy
Never mind. The three of us actually have a rather cosy morning. George’s cough seems better now he’s upright and Rose persuades me that it’s much easier to have breakfast in front of Paw Patrol. But by 8 o’clock we’re all going a bit stir crazy so I get them dressed and out in the double buggy.
This is so easy to write in print but in reality, it requires the strategy of a one-handed Peace Corps. George throws his back into a stiff arch because he doesn’t want to be strapped in while Rose simply gives a cool but firm “No” in a tone which suggests she might go into politics one day. I distract the first with a rusk and the second with a chocolate button, hoping she doesn’t split on me to her parents. (I brought two packets in my overnight bag, just in case.) Then I somehow heave the giant buggy out of the front door and head for the sea, five minutes down the road.
We have a lovely time, strolling along the promenade along the front and peeping through the telescope. “I can see Mummy and Daddy,” says Rose. I hope not. They’d told me they were going to London – not France!
As if on cue, my phone bleeps with an “is everything all right” message from my daughter. I make the mistake of telling her about George being sick and the fact that I haven’t slept all night. Immediately, she rings. “Should we come back?” she asks.
“Of course not,” I say. But now I wish I hadn’t worried her.
When we get back to their place, my husband is there. He’d promised to come out with us to a playpark for the day but his nose wrinkles up. “What’s that smell?” he says. Oh dear. In the chaos of getting them dressed, I’d forgotten to mop up the sick on George’s carpet…
Eventually we get out. I can see why my daughter plans an expedition every day. Both children are at the age where they need to run. Thank goodness there are two of us to keep an eye on them! “Are you having fun?” texts my daughter.
I feel a bit like I did as a teenage babysitter
Yes. Of course I am. But my main aim is to make sure I hand them back safe and sound at the end of the weekend. That night, my husband stays to watch a film while the children are asleep before walking back to our house. I feel a bit like I did as a teenage babysitter except that I’m on the other side of 55! Yet there’s rather a nice feeling as I creep up to bed alone. I missed my grown up children desperately when they all left home at different times. Now I’ve been given a second opportunity to cuddle up with a new generation, read stories and get down on my knees to build palaces made of bricks.
The following day, we’re all in a state of excitement as the countdown to Mummy and Daddy’s arrival begins. Rose has made several extremely sticky glittery pictures for them at the expense of the kitchen table (whoops – I forgot to put down the plastic cover). All is well and then… crash. No!
George has fallen over, head-first onto a toy. He yells madly for a bit and then starts to play happily like they do. But there’s a big red mark on his forehead! I try to put a bag of peas against it but he swipes me away. Just at that moment, the front door opens. “Mummy!” calls out Rose, racing towards the toddler safety gate with her brother in hot pursuit.
“We’re back!” beams my daughter. Then her eye falls on George’s forehead. “Oh no. What’s happened?”
Rose meanwhile, is tugging at her mother’s dress, her face smeared with chocolate from the last packet. “We’ve had a lovely time,” she says. “Can Gan Gan stay again?”