As regular readers will know, I write my columns a day or so before they come out. So with your blessing – I hope! – I’m typing this as though it’s Easter day. Because that’s what it is right now!
I’m lucky enough to have my daughter and son-in-law plus my two gorgeous grandchildren just round the corner from me. It was arranged that way before they gave birth because I always said I’d help out with children. My own mother died young and I wanted to make sure I was there.
We decide to have lunch at their place on the grounds that our house is full of accidents waiting to happen such as unexpected steps, steep staircases that won’t take stair gates and precious vinyl records from my husband’s bachelor past!
“Can’t we just teach them not to touch?” he says in all seriousness.
I try to point out that it doesn’t work that way. There are times when I wish he had children himself – but then again, as one of my granny friends points out, that can lead to friction. Families can be so complicated!
Easter Sunday happens to be my son-in-law’s birthday. Rose, age three is convinced the two are connected. “Why can’t I have Easter eggs on my birthday?” she questions.
“Because your birthday is at Christmas,” we explain.
“So will Daddy get two presents instead of just one like me?” she asks, referring to our practice of making sure that both her special days are celebrated.
“It doesn’t quite work that way,” I say carefully.
I’d forgotten about all those questions which can’t be answered!
Meanwhile, we are off to Easter lunch with our little family.
“Make sure you’re here by 12,” says my daughter.
“That’s really early,” groans my husband. Normally he is polishing off breakfast by then but I persuade him to have it at 7:30am instead so he’s got an appetite. One of the big lessons I’ve been reminded of since being a gran is that children start really early and therefore meals follow suit. When it’s one of my two days a week on “childcare duty” (as my husband calls it), I sometimes have my evening tea at 4.30pm!
It’s a blistering hot day so we have lunch in the garden. The children aren’t hungry because they’ve already demolished a couple of Easter eggs despite a ban on chocolate before lunch by my daughter – whoops! I’m afraid that was my fault!
The adults are more than peckish but we have to keep leaping up to supervise because the children just want to play. And who can blame them in weather like this!
George scoots off to the sandpit while Millie waters the tree which my eldest son gave her for her christening.
They both make such a pretty picture that I put down my knife and fork to take a photograph. “Do you have to do that all the time, Mum,” says my daughter. “Just remember the memory instead.”
She’s right, but the older I get, the more I want to make a lasting memento. In fact, that reminds me. I simply must get round to printing out all the pictures on my phone and making a proper album. I did this when my children were young and now I’m worried there won’t be anything to pass down to the next generations. By then technology is bound to have changed and they probably won’t be able to access digital phone pictures.
Whoops again! George has fallen over…
“See,” points out my daughter quite quickly. “That’s what happens when you’re not actually looking. I hope you don’t do that when you’re in charge.”
Of course not…
Talking of being in charge, part of my Christmas present was to give my daughter and son-in-law a pass to the local health club. I suggested they might like to do it in the afternoon of Easter Sunday and combine it with my son-in-law’s birthday.
But we have a problem. For some reason, my left eyelid has quadrupled in size. At first I thought it might have been connected with the double whammy of chickenpox we’ve just been through with George and Rose. But no. Apparently it’s a kind of cyst which might or might not have something to do with me taking off my eye make-up properly.
It’s been coming and going for four weeks now but it’s decided on Easter day to make a real display. Agonising!
“We won’t go to the spa,” says my daughter kindly. “You just go home.”
But I want them to have a break. And besides, my husband is here to help out.
So after some persuasion, off they go.
Immediately there’s a glint in Rose’s eye
“May we have the paddling pool out? Please!”
Sounds good. But my husband has the great idea of positioning it at the bottom of the slide. “It’s not safe,” I say.
“I’m sure it’s fine,” he retires. “It looks like fun.”
Whoops! Rose has gone sliding down and scratched her back at the bottom. She bursts into tears.
“I told you ,” I say to my husband crossly. I don’t normally get irritated but as I am always telling my husband, my goal is to get the tinies to the end of the day in one piece. Which is more than one might say of me at the moment.
“What’s wrong with your eye, Gan Gan?’ asks Rose, tracing my eyebrow gently. Ouch! Even the slightest touch makes me want to shoot through the roof.
“Is it because we had chocolate today?” she asks, “or because it’s Daddy’s birthday?”
Not for the first time, I marvel at how children make connections between words and concepts when they are still learning about the world around them.
Sometimes they are spot on and sometimes they’re not.
Meanwhile, this eye of mine is throbbing madly. I don’t want to take any more painkillers in case they make me sleepy and I can’t watch the children properly.
I remember the days when I wasn’t well and still had to look after the children. It feels a bit like that now. But the last thing I want to do is summon my daughter back.
“I’ll look after them,” says my husband. “Have a bit of a lie down.” But I’m in charge here. I can’t subcontract out! And amazing as my husband is, he hasn’t got the 35 years worth of childcare experience that I’ve had.
“If you’re not well, you can’t do the job properly,” he points out. “Just go and ring 111.”
I’d been hoping to get through this until the Easter holidays were over, but he’s right. Something needs to be done now. I’m beginning to look like the monster in one of Rose’s favourite books.
You probably know how 111 works. After describing your situation, someone then ring you back. All this takes some time. “See,” says my husband when I get back to the garden, “they are fine.”
They are too. In fact they look a lot happier than when I was with them. Rose has been in her Wendy house and George is playing tractors in the sandpit. “I watched them like a hawk,” says my husband. “Mind you, they did have a bit of a squabble over the watering can. But I told them they had to share.”
I give him a big hug. He is as chuffed as a new boy on his first day at work. And that’s when I realise. I’m not indispensable. None of us are.
Just then we hear the front door opening. My daughter and son-in-law are back early. “We didn’t want to leave you because of your eyes,” says my daughter.
I feel so guilty but Rose and George leap into their parents’ arms as if they haven’t seen them for two weeks instead of two hours.
“It’s so lovely to know that you’re there for them,” says my daughter.
Her words mean more to me than any salary I’ve ever received.
“Cough, cough,” says my husband, clearly feeling left out.
“Of course we mean you too,” chorus my daughter and I together.
Off to A&E…
Meanwhile, my husband and I are off to A&E together. I’ve got to get fixed quick because I’m looking after the children again on Tuesday. “You’re so lucky,” says a friend who’s desperate for her children to give birth. I know I am. But it’s not all plain sailing. When they’re your children, the buck stops with you. But when they’re your children’s children, there’s an added layer of responsibility.
Mind you, a sense of humour helps! When we arrive at the hospital, my husband has a brown stain on his trousers. “What’s that?” I ask.
It turns out that one of the children has slipped a mini Easter egg in his pocket!
“Well,” says my husband cheerfully, swallowing the remains of the chocolate, “you did say they had to share! This childcare stuff has its perks, doesn’t it?”
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