Not that long ago, I worked as a writer in residence in a high security male prison. I helped men write short stories, novels and poems. One of the favourite topics was time. When you’re behind bars, the clock seems to go round very slowly.
Don’t take this the wrong way but there are times when I start a granny day at 7:15am when I feel as though I am doing another stretch inside! How are we going to fill the day? It’s a long time until my adult children come back from work at anything from 5 to 6 o’clock. After all, there are only so many walks you can have, pictures you can make, and toy brick towers built (before being demolished). And if there aren’t any other grandparent chums around, you really have to rely on your own creative skills.
Take today. It’s not a preschool or playgroup morning. So it’s up to me to amuse a lively 3 and nearly 2-year-old. Hmmm…
The biggest tip, I’ve learnt, is not to look at the clock
So we start with a little chill out either in front of children’s TV or doing jigsaw puzzles. Then we head for some fresh air. Thank heavens it’s not raining! We are really lucky to have the sea five minutes away. In fact one of Rose’s first words was beach although to my acute embarrassment, she began by substituting the second and third letter with an ‘i’ and a ‘t’.
Before you start writing in to complain, I can promise you this is not a word that is used in either my daughter’s or my house. It was simply a matter of mispronunciation by a toddler learning to speak!
Then we set off to buy a birthday card for the author Fay Weldon. We met nearly 30 years ago when I was sent to interview her for the Daily Mail. Fay had always been one of my favourite authors and I was totally star struck. I confided my ambition to be a novelist one day and she kindly gave me some advice. I’m very grateful to her and we’ve remained in touch ever since.
There’s just one problem. It’s too early for the shops be open! So instead we hang out in the local park. It’s one of those bright but cold autumn days and the outfits which my daughter had laid out in the morning are a bit skimpy. Fortunately I’ve brought cardigans and anoraks. I take some pictures as I always do to show my “bosses” that we’re in one piece. This is a big mistake as I find out later!
Then we go back to the shops to do our shopping just as my mobile goes. It’s the electrician whom my daughter booked to put in a much needed plug for the tumble dryer. Will I be around after lunch, he asks. Why not? Only another four hours to kill by then and then another five until I clock off.
So we make some leaf pictures – except that George tries to eat them – and then we saunter back to our place to check up on my husband who is still on crutches. “When are Grandad’s legs going to work again?” asks Rose. (Children are good at direct questions, aren’t they? We have adult friends who have been dying to ask this.)
“Hopefully,” I say carefully, “the doctor can tell us next week.”
“But why can’t he tell us now?” demands Rose.
Luckily the doorbell rings just in time
It’s one of my readers who’d contacted me to say he was on holiday nearby and asked if we could meet up. By chance we share the same surname and he wondered if we were related.
His visit and family ancestry chat was exactly what my husband needed to perk him up!
I try to join in the conversation – it sounds fascinating – but I have to watch little Millie and George who are tearing round the garden along with the dog. And as every carer knows, you can’t take your eyes off children for a second.
Then my phone rings. It’s my daughter who is not very happy. Why have I got the children in coats when it’s so hot?
“They’re sleeveless now,” I retort (by text). That’s when I realise that time has flown. That will teach me to send photographs.
Not the phone again! It’s the electrician. He’s ready and waiting. Has someone done something to that clock? It suddenly seems to be gathering speed. Just as I am doing now, racing through town in charge of this giant double buggy so we’re not late.
I’d like to say a big “thank you” here to everyone who stepped aside to let us squeeze past. It wasn’t until I found myself in charge of one of these juggernauts that I realised how incredibly tough it is to push it. Certainly beats any of my gym sessions!
Ironically, it’s often the elderly who give way more than the young ones. Which reminds me of something else. One of my daughter’s friends goes to a playgroup which is held in an old people’s home. The idea is that the young cheer up the old while the old teach the young about caring for others. What a wonderful idea – especially if children don’t have grandparents nearby.
Before I know it, it’s nearly the end of the day…
But it’s not just any other day. It’s the last day when my little grandson George is one. Tomorrow is his second birthday. I really feel for my daughter as she has to go into work. Years ago, I remember – forgive me for dropping names again – being asked to interview Caroline Quentin when it was my youngest son’s third birthday. I explained the situation to her PR who passed the message on to the actress herself. She was wonderfully understanding and said that of course she would see me on another day instead. She wouldn’t want me missing my son’s special day. I’ve always had a warm spot for Caroline ever since.
When I get home that evening, the phone starts ringing again. It’s a friend whose daughter is expecting. “They’ve asked me to help,” she says. “I want to but I feel so out of practice. What do you do with them?”
So I tell her about our day.
“It sounds as though every grandparent needs to be a master in time management,” she says.
You could say that. (It also applies to parents or any other kind of carer.) You also need to be a master in lots of other things too. But I don’t want to frighten her off. She’ll find out herself before too long!
But the real secret about time is this. When you analyse what you’ve done on an hour by hour basis, it might not sound that interesting. But the truth is that the whole experience – over the months and years – adds up to something totally magical. Why? Because this is a special time spent with your grandchildren that not everyone is lucky to get.
It won’t be long until my two go to school. Yet the warm loving memories of looking after them as babies, will remain forever.
Just like my eye bags!
I Looked Away – my new Penguin psychological thriller is out now. You can order through https://amzn.to/2Lq2rew and https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Looked-Away/23635139