When my granddaughter was born, she had to be rushed into intensive care. After that, we had eight months of worry until she turned the corner. But during that very difficult time, I silently promised her two things. When she was old enough, I would take her to Sunday School and also teach her to swim.
We started the first a few weeks ago, just after her third birthday. She loves it and comes back with some wonderful pictures of Biblical characters. I also take little George as there is a crèche for tinies at the back with the sermon on loudspeakers. This means I can catch part of the week’s message while playing farm puzzles. Back home, my daughter and son-in-law can have a well-deserved rest.
The swimming lessons have, however, been patchier. We began before Rose was one but it was a bit of a trek and to be honest, I found it really hard work coaxing a wriggly near-toddler into a swimming nappy and then rinsing her afterwards. When she slipped out of my arms in the changing room – resulting in an egg-shaped bump on her head – I decided we’d wait a bit even though the doctor declared that “no harm had been done”.
But last week, Rose and I tripped off to the local pool for another bash. There was only one problem. Well, two actually. The first was that it wasn’t one of my official granny days so I had to take time off from checking my proofs for my new novel (which is being published by Penguin this summer). Still, I reminded myself, I could make up for it in the afternoon.
The second was that Rose wasn’t too sure about the water any more. She was fine when it came to swimming on her front. But – rather like me – she doesn’t like back stroke or rather “back splash”.
“Want to go home now,” she declares between splutters after fifteen minutes.
“Shall we stay for a little longer?” I suggest.
“No. Want to go home. Please.”
So we do just that, stopping off en route for a hot chocolate to warm us both up. “Yummy,” she said, her face beaming.
In my day…
Meanwhile, I am learning a new skill myself: the art of negotiation. In my day (here we go again!), if we said “no” or “don’t do that” to our children, that was it. No discussion. But now modern parents go into the pros and cons plus the why’s and wherefores in a manner that is worthy of a politician. Take last Friday when Rose gave George a gentle shove because she wanted to play with his toy train. “Do you know why you mustn’t do that?” asks my daughter, sitting Rose on her knee for eye to eye contact. Then she spent quite some time explaining why it wasn’t nice to hurt people even if you didn’t mean to.
I am seriously impressed. Clearly this is where I went wrong with my lot. Life was so hectic (freelancing with three children without grandparents on tap was pretty frenetic) that I didn’t spend enough time negotiating. I would do better this time, I tell myself. This morning, the opportunity arises. Rose is still in her nightdress when I arrive – she’s slept in late. “Do you mind dressing her?” asks my daughter as she leaves for work. Of course not.
Except that Rose doesn’t fancy getting dressed. Instead, she is glued to the family iPad. (Another new “thing” since our day!) “No,” she says, squirming when I try to coax her into the warm leggings and jumper which my daughter had left out.
“You can’t go to nursery naked,” I reply, trying to be reasonable.
My words fall on deaf ears so I try again.
“But you’ll be cold.”
She wriggles out of my grasp.
“I’ll turn off Ben and Holly, then,” I say. (If you haven’t discovered these cartoon characters, you’ve missed a treat! My favourite is the granny Queen.)
But she holds fast to her principles.
I have to follow through
Now I’ve threatened, I have to carry out my promise. So I turn off the iPad. She howls with horror.
I give in after seconds in case the neighbours come round. But I can’t turn it on again. Ben and Holly seem to have disappeared. I send a panic “How do I fix this?” message to the children on What’s App. No reply. Of course. They’re working. Isn’t that why I’m here in the first place?
Meanwhile, I have one naked granddaughter to get to nursery. George on the other hand has allowed me to dress him without any fuss (although he did nick his sister’s toothbrush which he prefers to his own).
There’s only one thing to do. Text my granny friends for help. Since starting my “job”, I’ve discovered a whole new network of other grandparents who also help out with their grandchildren. We swap advice and tears and jokes. In fact, I don’t know what I’d do without them.
“Take Rose as she is,” texts the first one back. “She’ll soon let you put clothes on her when she feels the temperature outside.’”
But I can’t do that because – wait for it – the car has broken down. This means I need to push them up a steep hill for fifteen minutes to nursery school. And I’m not letting Rose do that Lady Godiva style.
“I’ll come round and help,” offers my eldest son who’s at home for a bit.
But by the time he’s there, I’ve got Rose dressed. How? By bribing her with a manicure at the kitchen table using sparkly blue nail varnish. Someone gave her a bottle for Christmas and she’s been desperate to try it out. Personally I think she’s far too young but when it comes to negotiation, you have to make compromises. Meanwhile, I’ve decided that Rose with her determination and charm, is destined for politics. And if that doesn’t work out, she can always go into the hot chocolate business…