It’s a non-granny day and I’m lying on the couch at our local beautician, about to have my bikini line waxed. Then my mobile rings. “Sorry,” I say to the lovely girl who’s just about to apply the hot, sticky stuff. “I thought I’d turned it off.”
Leaning over to get it, I see my daughter’s name on the screen.
I’m half-inclined to ignore it but something makes me feel uneasy inside. “Do you mind if I take it?” I ask.
I know it’s not very polite but children have to come first. At least, in my book. I know there are others who would disagree but I’d never forgive myself if I ignored a call that was important.
And it is…
“Mum,” says my daughter. “George has got a really high temperature and he’s just been sick everywhere. I’ve rung the doctor but I just wondered if you’d mind coming round.”
Of course I don’t. I remember all too well how worrying it is when little ones are ill, especially as Rose spent a large part of her first year in and out of intensive care. Mind you, I do wonder how the NHS copes with our family alone. We seem to have a weekly season ticket either to the surgery or to casualty.
“I’m really sorry,” I say to the beautician. “Do you mind if we just do the down below bit and forget the eyebrows?”
“What about the stray hairs on your chin?” she asks.
I’ve been dying to get rid of those for ages (such horrid stubborn things!) but I have to get my priorities right. “May I book in another time,” I ask reluctantly. “Obviously I’ll pay you now for your wasted time.”
Being a granny can be an expensive business. (I’ve worked out that I spend more than twice my usual outlay when I have little Rose and George, simply because of toddler magazines, chocolate bribes and “things to do” like those amazing eggs which you put in water and then wait for a baby dinosaur to come out. Keeps them quiet for hours and also teaches them patience.)
But just as I’ve got dressed, my mobile goes again. “It’s all right, Mum. You don’t need to rush. George is eating a digestive biscuit now.”
It’s on the tip of my tongue to question whether that’s a good idea. But since becoming a granny, I’ve learned my place. It’s to be there whenever I’m summoned but not to doubt any parental decisions. I’m only half-joking.
“Do you think,” I ask the beautician, “that we could do those eyebrows and the stray chin hairs after all?”
Afterwards, I cycle round to my daughter after checking with husband-on-crutches that all is all right at home. Just as well that I got up at 5am to write my morning chapter for the next novel. I love that time of the day when it’s blissfully peaceful.
“George was sick after the biscuit,” says my daughter. “He’s got a really high temperature too. We’ve got an appointment at the surgery.”
Of course I want to come too. By now it’s dark outside, even though it’s only late afternoon. Rain is beating down as if there’s no tomorrow. We can barely see through the windscreen to find a parking space. “You take Rose and I’ll take George,” suggests my daughter when we get there.
But I can’t carry Rose even though she’s only a slip of a thing. Much as I hate to admit it, I simply don’t have the stamina now in my almost-mid-sixties that I had a few years ago. Instead, I cradle little George against me to protect him from the gales and make a dash for the surgery.
After a bit of a wait, we’re told to keep “topping up the fluids” and that his chest is clear. It certainly doesn’t sound it. Still, the doctor has to be right.
I try to get an early night as the next day is one of my official two days a week, ten-hour-long granny days. So I’m sitting at my desk at 6am the following day to write my chapter before leaving, when the mobile rings.
At first, I assume it’s my 28-year-old son in London on his way to bed. But it’s my daughter’s name that’s flashing up on the screen. My heart goes into overdrive. At this time, something must be wrong.
“George isn’t at all well,” she says. “He’s got worse. I don’t know what to do about going into work.”
It’s the modern working mother’s dilemma. What to do if the children are sick?
“I’ll manage,” I say. After all, it’s my usual granny day. But when I get there, George only wants to cuddle up to mummy. When I try to pick him up, he pushes me away instead of giving me his usual big hug. His cheeks have bright red spots on them and he still has a high temperature. “I can’t leave him,” she says and I have to say that I agree.
My mind shoots back to when my daughter was two and my then-husband and I were invited by Pam Ayres and her husband to share a box at a Nana Mouskouri concert. I was so excited! But then my daughter developed a shocking hacking chest cough and I didn’t have anyone to leave her with. (My own mother had died by then.) So we had to cancel. I know I did the right thing but missing such a special night still niggles to this day.
“I’ll stay with you,” I offer. “I can be a second pair of hands. Come on Rose, let’s get you breakfast before I take you to nursery.”
“Can we have it on the sofa in front of the television?”
“Mum,” says my daughter. “You know I don’t approve of that.”
Whoops. I’ve been caught out red-handed.
My “mistakes” continue. I know my daughter has every right to bring the children up their way but I do rather feel as though I am under observation!
“You know,” she says when I come back from nursery with little Rose, clutching her reading book and a picture she’s made for her little brother. “I’m very grateful.”
She gives me a big warm cuddle. “Thank you,” I say. Although I know she is, it’s always nice to be told.
The following day, George still isn’t right but at least he’s happy to come to me. So my daughter sets off for work as usual. “Please ring if he’s not well,” she says.
As I write, we’re half-way through the day. I’m looking after him at his place as I don’t want my post-op husband to catch anything although I swear I can feel a cold coming on myself. Meanwhile, George is still hacking away as though he’s on 20 a day but he’s had half a bowl of rice pudding which is more than he had yesterday. And he’s kept it down. Oh oh – I’ve spoken too soon. Must dash. See you next week…
PS. Not long after this, we had some Canadian friends to stay. We went for a little drive but I had to stop to go into the post office. I dashed in to beat the collection time after arranging to meet them in an art gallery further down the road. But they weren’t there. After searching all over town, I found them still in the car. They’d been unable to get out because the doors were child-locked.
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