I should be in Spain right now! At the beginning of the year, I’d offered to go with my daughter and son-in-law for the first week of their holiday in order to babysit while they have “couple time”. But as regular readers will know, my husband has had a spinal op. Even though he’s doing that macho thing and declaring that he’s absolutely fine, it doesn’t feel right to leave him.
“Good thing too,” says straight-talking gran, one of my best friends. “You’d only get in the way. What about when the kids go to bed? You’d just be sitting on the sofa with them like a gooseberry.”
Oh dear. I just thought I was being helpful. It’s so hard as a hands-on granny to strike the right balance sometimes.
“We’ll miss you, Mum,” said my daughter. “But when we’re away, could you feed the cats morning and evening. And water the plants. Oh, and the tumble drier repair man is coming on Thursday. He can’t give an exact time so do you mind being around?”
Of course I don’t. I remember all too well what it was like not to have any help.
But it seems very strange to go into their cosy little home and see George’s sleepsuit strewn on the sofa (they had an early flight and didn’t have time to put everything away) as well as Rose’s drawings on the junior-sized desk which I bought her last Christmas. It’s as though they’ve just gone out of the house for a walk rather than being hundreds of miles away.
It’s also very quiet! Even my husband is feeling it. “Have they got there safely?” he asks.
Yes. My daughter has already texted but it’s not the same as hearing her cheery voice. At the same time, I’ve got 1001 things to do which I haven’t been able to tackle in that very hectic end of term rush when I was doing granny over-time. So I try to distract myself from missing them all by getting all my admin sorted as well as tidying my study.
Then I remember that I have to drop something off at one of the playgroups which George and I go to. “Where’s your grandson?” asks a helper.
I explain they’re away. “Would you like to stay for coffee?” she asks warmly.
It’s very kind but I can’t help feeling like a bit of a fraud or even an intruder without my small charges. So I make my excuses and leave.
“No grandchildren today then?” asks one of my neighbours as I pass her on the high street.
“No,” I say brightly.
Then my phone pings…
My daughter has just What’s Apped me some pictures! They are standing by the pool, looking so happy. “Isn’t that lovely!” I say to my husband when I get back.
“Yes,” he says unconvincingly. “It would be nice to talk to them, wouldn’t it?”
Then he gets down on his hands and knees and starts to re-arrange a floor-level cupboard.
“You’re not meant to do that after your op,” I remind him. “You have to take it easy. Remember?”
“I’m just putting the mugs back in their usual place,” he says. “Since George isn’t around for a fortnight, we don’t have to worry about them being broken.”
This is a slightly sore point as my beloved grandson sent one of my very expensive bone china heart mugs crashing to the floor the other day. (Luckily he wasn’t hurt.) I then re-located them all to the saucepan shelf which is far from convenient but is my only out-of-toddler-reach free space.
“We’ll only have to hide them again when they’re back,” I point out.
He pretends not to hear me. Maybe the mug re-arranging is his way of coping with their absence. Even the dog is gazing mournfully up at George’s highchair and Rose’s usual place at our table. Both of them love to feed him when they think we’re not looking!
Three days later, we’re both beginning to settle into a routine. I’ve done all that paperwork and also some publicity events for my new novel. I’ve gone to an evening gym class which I previously couldn’t get to because of my granny hours. And my study is looking tidier than it’s ever been before.
Yet ironically, I’m still waking up with a start at 6am every morning – my usual time for getting up when I have Rose and George to look after. “Can’t you lie in?” asks my husband sleepily.
Not really. It’s as though my body won’t accept that I’m no longer needed.
Then, later that evening, my phone announces that I have an incoming video call from my daughter. Yes! Oh dear. I’m not quite sure how to “open” it and by the time I do, there’s a message to say I’ve missed it.
I want to cry!
Then it rings again.
This time I’m a bit faster off the mark
Rose’s little face comes into view. “Gan Gan!” she says. “We went swimming today!”
“Did you see a mermaid?” I ask. (This is one of our “things” – I encourage her to look out for them when we’re walking along the beach at home.)
“No,” she says solemnly. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Then George looms up and starts blowing kisses.
“Is that the children?” asks my husband, hobbling into the room on his crutches. He gives George a high-five on the screen.
“Are you having a lovely time?” I ask.
“Brilliant,” says my daughter. Her face is glowing. Instantly I realise that I did the right thing in not going along too. My friend was right. I really would have got in their way.
The following morning when I’m walking our dog along the seafront, I meet one of my granny friends from the Thursday playgroup. “You look brown,” I say.
She gives me a big smile. “I’ve just had a great two weeks with my son and his wife in Tenerife. They asked me to come along and help. It was fantastic. We all made sure we had some time to ourselves as well as looking after the children.” She patted me on the arm. “You ought to try it sometime.”
Ouch. Then my phone rings. It’s my eldest son who is currently foot-loose and fancy-free. “Mum,” he says. “Mind if I come home for a week?”
“That would be lovely!” I say.
And I bounce back home with a new spring in my step. Of course I don’t want to be one of those empty-nest grans who can’t manage without her little brood. But it is nice to be wanted…
I Looked Away – my new Penguin psychological thriller about a gran with a secret past is out now. You can order through https://amzn.to/2Lq2rew and https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Looked-Away/23635139