When I was a child, my grandmother had one of those weather-women clocks on the wall. I used to watch, fascinated, as the little wooden figure came out of one door and back in the other, depending on the rain or sun for the day.
Now I’m beginning to feel exactly the same. Well almost. No sooner has my daughter and son-in-law’s little brood returned from holiday in Wales with the other grandparents, than it’s our turn to pack our bags.
That’s right! My second husband and I are having two whole weeks of sitting in the sun on our own. It’s the first time we’ve had a relaxing holiday for I don’t know how long. (In fact we didn’t even have a honeymoon ten years ago because I didn’t like to leave the youngest.)
“We’re going to miss you,” says my daughter in a small voice. I feel as upset as she is. Our summer wasn’t meant to be like this. But because of work and other family commitments, we are passing like ships in the night.
The irony is that we are going to the same apartment in Spain that they went to in July. So when my husband and I arrive, there are poignant little reminders of the previous occupants. A packet of clean nappies. Mickey Mouse beakers. A stray jigsaw piece. Children’s buckets and spades.
There are also grandparents all round the communal pool, urging their little ones to swim or get dressed or have lunch or have a nap. I feel bereft. In fact I want to wear a notice saying “I’ve got two of those at home myself!”
Wish they were here…
Last year and the year before that, we all managed to go on holiday together. It was a really special time although we were always on our toes. How I wish they were here now.
“We all need some time to ourselves,” said one of my granny friends when I text for moral support . “Make the most of it. Before you know it, we’ll be back in the thick of it.”
Maybe she’s right. In fact, as the new term approaches, I’m reminded of how I felt three years ago when I was about to start looking after a very small Rose for the first time when her mother returned to work after maternity leave.
I was absolutely terrified. What if I dropped her? What if she choked? What would I do if she didn’t stop crying? And how would I cope with two when George arrived?
But somehow, we’ve muddled through with a mixture of laughter and tears. And, as I lie on the sunbed, reflecting on the last few years, I can’t help feeling a certain sense of achievement.
Ping! An email pops into my Inbox…
Oh dear. I wasn’t going to keep checking my mail like I do at home. But I do like to have the phone by my side just in case the children ring.
This email however isn’t from them. It’s from a woman whom I vaguely know at home who is about to start looking after her grandchildren when her son goes back to work. “I’m rather nervous,” she says. “Do you have any tips?”
Where do I start? OK. Here goes.
Have an early night before a granny day. You’ll need it.
Pack a granny bag the night before. I’ve found that light haversacks are better than shoulder styles because you’ve got both hands free for little ones and buggies. Include cleansing wipes to dab off vomit -,and maybe worse – on your clothes. And don’t forget bribes. My current favourites (strictly between you and me) are gingerbread men and chocolate buttons. Obviously, you don’t give these to babies….
Wear comfortable shoes. I reckon I walk at least about 5 miles a day on granny days!
Pretend to be confident in front of your adult offspring. You don’t want them going off to work and worrying all day about whether you’re actually capable of looking after their children.
Ask for a list of dos and don’ts so everyone’s singing from the same song sheet. You might have your own ideas on bed and feeding times and everything else. But this isn’t your baby.
Go to baby groups, toddler groups and anything else that’s on offer. (Libraries are very good at telling you what’s on locally.) You’ll be surprised at how many other grandparents are there. You will even find yourself making new friends for life just as I have.
Sing. Even if you’re tone deaf, it’s a great way of calming even small babies down and also engaging with them . I’m always tra-la-ing to my two when pushing the double buggy round town. And no, I don’t care what people think!
Set up a family WhatsApp group so you can send pictures of your grandchildren to their parents through the day. It reassures them unless you’re doing something wrong. I’ve been told off for minor things like putting Rose or George in the wrong clothes. And also for big things that I don’t dare mention.
Whatever you do, don’t let the parents go to work without giving you a lesson in how to work the television remote controls. I’m only half joking.
Bring round the odd surprise to entertain older grandchildren. This can be anything from a handful of leaves for making gluey pictures to one of those ready-made cake mixes. Dead easy for all age groups. (Apologies to My Weekly’s cookery department.)
Towards the end of your day, write a debriefing note stating what you’ve fed them (I kept mum about the day I gave them three ice lollies each); when they had a nap; how you kept them amused. There isn’t always time to go into verbal details when the adults come back.
Of course there is much more. I could write a book about it. Maybe I will. But the most important piece of advice is to enjoy them.
Meanwhile, it’s back to the sunbed. I need to build up my strength…
Jane Corry is the author of I Looked Away (Penguin) which is currently number 3 in the bestseller list. Available from bookshops, supermarkets and online from https://amzn.to/2Lq2rew and https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Looked-Away/23635139