“Right,” says my daughter, pointing to an angelic-looking Rose and George on the sofa. “I’ve bathed and hair-washed them for you. All you have to do is put them to bed.”
All? Help! In my experience, this is one of the most difficult jobs of all. It’s a fact of life, as any grandparent re-discovers, that children go to sleep when you don’t want them to and refuse to do the same when you do.
When I offered to babysit so my daughter and son-in-law could go out for her birthday dinner, I’d envisaged a nice peaceful evening at their place, curled up on the sofa with a book. But they’re going out early because it’s a working day tomorrow. So I’ve got the bedtime routine to grapple with.
Don’t take this the wrong way. I love looking after my grandchildren. But I’m not so keen on the confrontation which comes with it. Like now.
“Whatever you do,” my daughter had said before shutting the front door behind her and leaving me to it, “don’t let George see his night time bottle of milk or he’ll want it before his story. It’s important to stick to his usual routine. And don’t pick him up immediately if he cries. Try talking in a soothing way instead.”
All I can say is that I wouldn’t make a spy…
It’s almost impossible to hide a pretty large bottle. George is no fool. (In fact, like many proud grandparents, I’m convinced he’s super-bright!) He spots it immediately even though I’ve camouflaged it with Dear Zoo, one of my favourite children’s books which I used to read to his mother and her brothers. Immediately he starts squawking. I cave in immediately – how can I deprive him of drink? – and he gulps it down. Then I read the story but that seems to wake him up. I try a bit more milk and put him down in his cot. He yells. I promptly pick him up. It goes on like this for a bit until amazingly he finally conks out on my shoulder.
“One down, one to go,” I text my daughter and son-in-law.
Now it’s Rose’s turn. My instructions are simple. Three stories (no more or I’ll be there until morning, apparently), quick cuddle and then a clear “Night Night”, before going out of the room. But my granddaughter has other ideas. “I want a biscuit,” she announces after I’ve got her brother to sleep. I would never have given one of mine a sugary snack before bed. So I gently explain that it’s “not the right time”.
“But I NEED a biscuit,” she says, her bottom lip quivering and her eyes filling with tears. “PLEASE.”
Oh dear. My daughter won’t be very happy about this one but on the other hand, I can’t risk her waking up George. So I take the plainest one I can find out of the biscuit tin. “No,” she says firmly. “I need a chocolate one.”
“Only if you don’t tell your mother,” I say.
“I won’t,” she chirps. This is even worse. Now I’m teaching her to lie. We snuggle up in bed with a biscuit and three library books. “Want another one,” she says.
“You can’t,” I say trying to reason. “You’ll be sick.”
“Want another,” she thunders.
It transpires she’s talking about books. I’m a novelist. Who am I to deny her an extra story? So we have a fourth. And a fifth. She’s wide awake now. We say our prayers, listing all her nearest and dearest, including the cats. Then I remember we need to clean her teeth again after the biscuits.
Now it’s way past her bedtime and she’s getting over-tired
“Don’t want to sleep,” she says. “Want Mummy cuddles.”
My heart contorts. How can I compete with that? Then I get an idea. “I’ll sing you a song I used to sing your mummy when she was little,” I offer. It’s a variation of Brahms’ Lullaby with my own words. At the same time, I stroke her cheek with my little finger just as I used to with my three when they were upset. It works a treat. Within minutes – honestly – she’s out like a light.
“I think I might have hypnotised Rose,” I text my husband.
I’m only semi-joking.
Then I take the two baby monitors downstairs and settle down with my book. But it isn’t in my bag! I must have left it behind. So I text my husband again. “Do you mind bringing it round please?”
I have to say that for a childless bachelor until his mid-fifties, my husband is very understanding. Or at least, so I always thought. Within five minutes there is barking at the door. I didn’t realise he was going to bring the dog! “Shhh,” I say opening the door quickly. “You’ll wake them!”
Rose and George adore Jack. In fact, they’d be up like a shot if they knew he was here to play. “Did you bring my book?” I ask.
“Yes, but I thought we’d watch that final episode of Cheat instead of television,” he says.
Oooh. What a good idea. We were riveted to it last week but had to miss the last episode because of going out. So eventually we work out the children’s complicated remote controls (the bane of my life) and tune into catch-up. Naturally I have one eye on both baby monitors at the same time. Rose is talking in her sleep again (something about unicorns) but George is extremely quiet for a change.
Afterwards, he catches up on some old Match Of The Days while I read my book. Before I know it, there’s the sound of the key in the front door.
“Everyone all right?” asks my daughter.
“Absolutely fine,” I say, feeling rather pleased with myself.
“Thanks so much,” says my son-in-law. “It was great to have some couple time.”
But hang on. Something isn’t right. My daughter is picking up George’s baby monitor with a frown on her face. “Mum! You had it on mute.”
Did I? Whoops. No wonder my grandson was so quiet. My son-in-law nips upstairs to check. Thankfully, George is fine. So too is Rose. In fact, when I arrive at 7.15am the following morning for my usual granny day, it turns out that they’d both slept through the night which is pretty rare. Even better, Rose’s first words on waking had been, “Where’s Gan Gan?” How’s that for good feedback?
“You’ll have to babysit more often,” jokes my daughter as she grabs her coat and disappears out of the front door.
Happy to do so. Just as long as I’m allowed to break the rules. It seems to work…