“You MUST hold onto Mummy and Gan Gan safely,” says my daughter to little Rose and George as we make our way round the fashion section of a giant supermarket store. “Otherwise we’ll just have to go home without anything.”
“OK,” says Rose. “Can I have that dress over there, Gan Gan? Pleeeese.”
Oh dear. I’ve never enjoyed clothes shopping myself. In fact, the older I’ve got, the more I resent the waste of time. Nowadays, I never go looking for a specific item, as I rarely find what I’m looking for. Instead, I tend to buy something I like when I see it (as long as I can afford it).
But today’s outing is essential. Number one, the children hardly have any clothes that fit, now the winter weather is here. And number two, my granddaughter needs a party dress for her fourth birthday which is coming up.
I’d forgotten how fast children grow until my grandchildren came along. It doesn’t seem two minutes since I was gingerly easing a newborn Rose into an all-in-one and trying to co-ordinate those poppers. (I invariably got left with one stud that didn’t seem to belong anywhere.)
But now she has suddenly become a mini-teenager in her tastes.
As for George, he appears to have shot up
My favourite outfit for him is a rugby shirt which his Welsh granny bought. Can he really be just two?
“What do you think of this?” asks my daughter, holding up a pair of boyish dungarees. The label declares it to be suitable for three year olds but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my experience of clothes shopping for my own three when they were small, it’s that the age guidelines can’t always be relied on.
George himself doesn’t seem too keen. “Tractor!” he demands pointing to a T-shirt with a digger on it. “It’s not warm enough,” says my daughter. “We need some jumpers.”
George bursts into tears as we leave the digger T-shirt hanging on the rail.
Rose has forgotten the dress she wanted just now and has her eye on a unicorn handbag. “Pleeese, Gan Gan.”
I can see why she likes it. In fact, I wouldn’t mind it myself.
“No, you two,” says my daughter sternly. “She’s already got the dog satchel you bought her last year. We don’t have room for anything that isn’t essential.”
But it is! After all, a girl can never have too many handbags.
“You’re meant to be here to help, Mum. Now what do you think of this?”
She holds up an item which I won’t even attempt to describe.
“Hideous,” I say. “What about this, instead?”
“Are you joking?” asks my daughter.
“I LOVE it!” says Rose.
Then we both burst out laughing. “Do you remember what it was like shopping with me when I was a teenager?” she asks.
Can I forget it? My daughter has always known her own mind, even from a tiny tot. If she didn’t want to wear something, she wouldn’t. And Rose appears to be following in her mother’s footsteps.
“Now you know what it’s like,” I can’t resist saying, giving my daughter a hug.
By now, the trolley is getting rather full.
“We don’t need all this,” says my daughter. “Now let’s see. What do we definitely want to keep?”
We all start squabbling at once
“Tractor, tractor,” sobs George plaintively.
“I think,” I say, “we should have a break for lunch.”
So we take our trolley into the canteen department (yes – it is allowed!) and mull over the trolley contents while eating a rather delicious veggie lasagne.
“Do you remember your bridesmaid dress for your aunt’s first wedding?” I say.
My daughter’s face lights up. “I loved it. Where is it now?”
My daughter takes Rose into the Ladies to try on some of the outfits. She comes out and does a little fashion show to the amusement of some of our fellow diners. “I like that one best,” says an elderly lady who is having lunch with her daughter.
“Me too,” says Rose.
We’re too worried to try anything on George as he isn’t wearing a nappy. Yes. I know. I think it’s a bit of a risk too taking him shopping in boxers, when he’s only just been potty trained. As my husband jokes, he ought to be wearing an L badge.
When I get home, I check on husband-with-crutches (his next operation is this Friday, so fingers crossed) and then go upstairs to the attic. As I do so, the phone rings. It’s my daughter. “I thought we’d decided not to buy the unicorn handbag,” she says accusingly.
“Did I leave that in the trolley?” I ask, pretending to sound innocent.
“You know you did, Mum.”
“Never mind. Guess what I’ve just found?”
“My bridesmaid dress?”
“No,” I say, holding up an electric blue item to the light. “I was looking for it but instead I discovered my hotpants from the 70s. They were all the rage then.”
“How embarrassing, Mum!”
She’s probably right…
The next day, I’m off to speak at Yeovil Literary Festival with another author about the effect of the past on our writing. Afterwards, a lovely woman came up to me and said, “You may not remember me but…”
She turned out to be a fellow train passenger whom I’d met about six months ago. We started talking because the train was seriously delayed and she was worried she was going to be late in meeting her little grandson (and his parents) who had flown over from Canada where they live.
“Did you have a good time with them?” I ask now.
“Yes,” she says. My heart goes out to her. Only another grandparent can understand the pain of separation and the joy of reunion.
At the weekend, my little brood go to Wales to visit my son-in-law’s family. They come back, with shining faces. When I help put Rose to bed with my daughter (while my son-in-law does the same with George), we go through her usual bedtime routine of reading two stories, singing two songs and then describing the best parts of the day. “Playing with my cousins,” chirps Rose.
Ah. It’s so lovely that even in today’s day and age, family is still so important
And that’s when I remember. Of course!
“What’s the rush?” asks my husband as I race up the stairs and into the boys’ room where I store all their stuff, even though they no longer live at home.
I emerge, triumphantly, clutching my prize and then searching for my mobile. (Why are we always mislaying them?)
“Guess what I’ve found?” I say to my daughter.
“My bridesmaid dress,” she says.
No flies on her.
“Yes. And I think, looking at the size, it might just work for Rose’s birthday party.”
“Sounds great,” she says. “But please, do me one favour.”
“Promise not to wear those hot pants to the party?”
I Looked Away by Jane Corry is published by Penguin Viking. To buy, go to https://amzn.to/2Lq2rew and https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Looked-Away/23635139