“Don’t want to go to nursery today,” says my three-year-old granddaughter firmly.
What? Rose has never said this before. But Mummy and Daddy are away and I’m in charge. Although she’s been very good, I sense she’s feeling a little unsettled.
So I try to reason. “But you love nursery,” I point out. “You make lovely pictures there.”
“We can draw at home,” she says, “on my kitchen table.”
For her age, she has great logic. “You have all your friends at nursery,” I say.
“We could ask them here to play instead,” she retorts.
I have to admit it. My heart is beginning to sink for two reasons. First I do find it hard to have two children for the whole day. And secondly, I feel I need to make a stand. If I let Rose stay at home, it sets a precedent.
Oh dear. What should I do?
There is only one answer. I summon my husband. I haven’t seen him since the previous evening because I’m staying over at the children’s, so it’s quite a novelty.
“Come on, Rose,” he says. “We can all go to nursery together.”
“No,” she says taking his hand. “You can stay with Gan Gan and me. We are going to do some drawing in the kitchen with all my friends.”
Meanwhile,19 month old George is jumping on and off the sofa. This makes me highly nervous because my youngest son (now 28) gave himself concussion after falling three inches off the sofa at about that age.
“No, George,” I say.
“Nose,” he chirps, touching his nose with a cheeky grin.
The two words are pretty similar! Not for the first time, I wonder about the complications of the English language. How children ever learn their way round it, is anyone’s guess.
Meanwhile, I have two rebels on my hands.
“You need to negotiate,” advises my husband. I should add here that he is a retired lawyer. Arguments and negotiation were his thing.
Indeed, I’ve often admired my daughter and son-in-law’s negotiation styles when they’re with the children. For example, if Rose doesn’t want to get dressed, she will be offered a choice between two outfits.
In my day, we didn’t negotiate. We just told our children that they had to do something. In fact, I remember dragging my eldest son to school kicking and screaming. I feel really bad about that now.
I’m still not convinced about this negotiation lark. Is it a sign of weakness or strength? But it’s worth a go.
“Would you like to go to nursery in the car or shall we walk?” I say. This is a bit of a gamble as it’s raining cats and dogs outside. My husband treats me to an “are you mad?” look.
“In the car,” she says, apparently forgetting her earlier refusal to go at all.
So off we go…
When we arrive, she clings to me and my heart does a little flip. But one of the wonderful nursery staff tells her that they’re going to make pizza today and she trots off without a murmur.
Later I get a reassuring text at midday to say Rose is very happy. Phew!
When I collect her, she runs into my arms, her little face beaming. “I had a lovely time!” she says. “Can I go tomorrow too?”
But my relief is short-lived. That evening, Rose refuses to let me wash her hair. It’s a house rule that the children have their hair done every other night. Rose has very long tresses and it takes quite a long time. I’m tempted to give in but – once more – I feel I shouldn’t.
On the other hand, everyone knows that grannies are entitled to spoil their grandchildren and let them get away with things. I also feel older and more tired than when I was a young mum. And – just as relevant – I’m out of practice!
My own daughter seems so much more competent and knowledgeable than me when it comes to babies. At times, it’s as though I am learning an entirely new craft, even though I brought up three of my own.
Maybe I’ll just start to wash Rose’s hair anyway.
“No,” she says, snatching the shampoo bottle out of my hands.
“But don’t you want your hair to look pretty?” I plead.
“Don’t need it,” she says. Then she starts to cry. Oh dear. But what can I do? Her hair is wet already. I try to make a mermaid game out of it but she’s having none of it. Rose fights me all the way through the hair drying too but I can hardly let her go to bed with soaking wet locks. There are some things that are non-negotiable.
Half an hour later, she’s forgotten all about it. We sit up in bed and read a story. Her hair is beautiful. She is very happy. I won the battle. And yet I still feel bad about it.
“We all do,” reassures a granny friend of mine who also looks after her daughter’s children. “Hands-on grandparents like us have a tough task. We have to stick to the rules that our children have set or else we’re superseding them. And that’s not right. But at the same time, our grandchildren play us up because they know we’re not their parents.”
But what really irks me is that my granddaughter will listen more to my husband than she does to me. It’s not even as if he’s ever had children of his own!
“Just be grateful,” says another of my friends. “Our grandchildren run rings around both of us when they come to stay. And because we only see them a few times a year, we don’t like to get cross with them.”
The following day, I realise I have a dentist appointment. “Oh dear,” I sigh out loud. “I really don’t want to go.”
“Don’t worry,” chirps my granddaughter. “You’ll like it when you get there. Do you want to go in the car or walk?”
I burst out laughing. Rose is a quick learner! She’s going to go far.
Meanwhile, George is still fearlessly jumping on and off the sofa, despite all my “no’s”. Perhaps there are some battles that you simply can’t win. (If you’ve got any negotiation tips, I’d love to receive them.)
“Everything all right?” asks my daughter when she gets back.
“Absolutely fine,” I say.
And it’s true. My grandchildren and I might have had an odd disagreement but on the whole, we had a great time. Perhaps that’s the point of negotiation. It all comes down to getting a balance…