“Fancy going to the cinema on Saturday night?” asks my husband.
“Sorry,” I say. “I’ve promised to look after Rose and George at their place for the weekend.”
“Really?” he says. “I didn’t know about that.”
The truth is that it’s been in the diary for months but recently I’ve been flying all over the place for work and to visit my elderly father. So I’d forgotten to mention to my husband of ten years that my daughter and her husband had been invited to a wedding. They only live round the corner and frankly, it’s easier for me to go to the grandchildren’s rather than having a sleepover at our own house which is not particularly child-safe.
The only thing is that my husband doesn’t want to leave our elderly dog and we can’t bring him because the children have cats who loathe him. So it means I am there alone. That’s fine unless both Rose (3) and George (18 months) wake at the same time in the night which isn’t easy without back-up. I know because it’s happened before….
Anyway, off I go on the Friday evening, arriving just before bath and bedtime so my grandchildren are prepared for seeing me in the morning. (“They probably think you live there anyway,” jokes my husband.) I am almost as excited as they are. Memories are made of days like this. I can almost imagine Rose asking George if he remembers “when Gan Gan let us do whatever we liked, just to keep the peace.”
I’m afraid to say that it’s not that far from the truth.
It starts after the parents leave…
My husband comes round for the evening – it feels rather like a date! – and we watch television while keeping an eye on the two baby monitors. But just as the programme gets to a crucial part, Rose starts waving her arms around in a rather alarming fashion. So I go up to check.
Big mistake! It turns out she is just playing around with her hair in her sleep but as soon as I put my head round the door, she sits bolt upright. “I want Mummy,” she says and then bursts into floods of tears. Oh dear. So I bring her downstairs in order not to wake up little George. “May I have an ice lolly please?” she asks.
“I don’t think so,” says my husband. “Let’s wait until tomorrow.”
Three hours later, she is buzzing around, possibly because I’d given her not just one ice lolly but two, to save on the tears. OK. Three if I’m being truthful.
Yes, I know. I shouldn’t have. I was much stricter when I was a mother. But I don’t seem to have the energy to make a stand – and besides, I’m worried about upsetting my granddaughter at this time of the night when Mummy and Daddy are so far away.
“Don’t want to go to bed,” she says.
But I’m already desperate for some shut-eye – especially as I know that I’ll probably be up in the night with the baby. There’s only one thing for it. I take her with me. There isn’t a spare room so I’m sleeping in my daughter and son-in-law’s room which Rose thinks is brilliant.
“I want Mummy’s side,” she demands, beaming from ear to ear as she bounces up and down on the mattress. It reminds me of the time when I was little and going into my parent’s bed was a special treat if we were poorly.
“Only if you go to sleep,” I say wearily.
The bribe works…
Rose conks out and I try to doze off myself. But I’m worried about her falling out. I’m also sleeping with half an ear and eye on George’s monitor. Sure as anything, he wakes just after 2am with yells that are loud enough to wake the house on the other side of the wall. As instructed, I have a bottle of milk ready and manage to get him back to sleep. But then he wakes at 4.15am, bright eyed and bushy-tailed, standing up in his cot and pointing to a book on the floor. “Tractor!” he says.
We read it again and again. Now what? What on earth can we do at this time of the morning when everyone else is asleep? We read more tractor books of course.
George starts to grizzle. Maybe he’s hungry. Yes! He demolishes “Daddy biscuits”, his name for his father’s favourite cereal and then I glance in the mirror. I look like a wreck. But I can’t exactly leave George while I have a shower. So I take him with me, settling him down on the bathroom floor with a pile of bath toys. He stares up with an appalled expression on his face as if to say “What are you doing?”
Not for the first time, I wonder how young mothers get washed and dressed, let alone put on make-up. In fact, how did I do it with three under seven?
Then Rose wakes up. It’s only 5.45am! “Where’s Mummy and Daddy?” she says, her lower lip wobbling.
“Gone to a wedding,” I say brightly. “Shall we have breakfast?”
“OK,” she replies carefully as if negotiating. “But I want an ice lolly.” This child is either going to be a politician or a law-breaker. Maybe both.
By 9am I am ready to go back to bed but the whole day is stretching out before us! Now I know why my daughter and her friends are raring to get out of the house so early. They’ve already packed in half a working day already!
We can’t go to any of the usual playgroups because it’s a Saturday. So we go to a coffee shop and have a yummy hot chocolate. The place is packed with bleary-eyed mums and their toddlers, all of whom have been up since the early hours.
Then I ring my husband who, judging from the sound of his voice, has only just woken up. (It’s all right for some!) We arrange to meet at the seafront with the dog. It’s not a moment too soon. Rose who has been playing me up with her refusal to get dressed (did I mention that we went to the coffee shop in her pyjamas?) immediately becomes as good as gold. “She’s playing you up,” he says. And how! It continues all day.
My daughter gets in touch
“Is everything all right?” texts my daughter at lunchtime. Rose is having lunch in front of the television. Of course it’s not allowed but it’s the only way I can get her to eat anything apart from ice lollies. Meanwhile, George is trying to take his new tractor toy to bits.
“Absolutely fine,” I text back. There’s no point in telling her the truth. I want her to enjoy herself.
It occurs to me later, as I buy Rose her favourite comic from the newsagent with a free whistle on the cover, that this is why grannies spoil their grandchildren. It’s so much easier to give in than make a stand. I spent years getting my own children to behave. And now I feel too old to make a fuss. So what if their offspring won’t get dressed or eat the right food at the right time or blow whistles that make your head ring? Just as long as they’re happy and healthy. And yes, I know I should stick to the rules because children need boundaries. But I’ve got a sneaking feeling that I’m turning into a bit of a rebel after being a good girl all my life. “Better late than never,” jokes my husband.
Maybe it’s not such a bad approach. That night Rose goes into her own bed without a fuss, George actually allows me a full five hours sleep. Then we go off to visit some new-born chicks at a farm. They are utterly cute. “I want one,” says Rose. “Pleeese.”
“Let’s ask Mummy when she’s back,” I say. That bottom lip starts to quiver again.
“How about an ice lolly instead?” suggests my husband.
It works. Then we go on a children’s train ride with George shrieking “tractor” every time we see another engine going by.
“This is rather good fun, isn’t it?” says my husband who has never had children of his own.
Yes. It is! Even though I look after “my babies” for two full days a week during term time when my daughter works, I’m still struck by how funny they are. George mimics Rose constantly, desperately trying to keep up and laughing when we do. Rose’s favourite phrase at the moment is “You’re welcome” when I thank her for doing something good. (I’ve been well-versed in the positive praise technique by my daughter.)
“Thanks, Mum,” says my daughter when she and her husband come home. “They look as though they’ve had a great time.”
Later that night, she sends me a text. “Is there any chance you can stay over for the night in May? We’ve got another wedding. And by the way, why on earth did you buy Rose a whistle? It’s doing my head in!”
I don’t actually read the message until the next morning. Why? Because I’m out for the count. I’ve got several hours of sleep to catch up on. Soft-spot grans like me need all the rest we can get. I also need to get my feet done because I’ve developed cracked heels from all that running around!
Meanwhile, we’re off to the cinema tonight. But I’m going to pop round to the children’s first because I don’t want to miss out on those cuddly bedtime stories…