“What are you doing for new year, Mum?” asks my daughter.
For a minute I think she’s going to ask if we could babysit. In fact, I’d be quite happy to do so. Between you and me, I’ve never been terribly fond of this time of the year. My own parents’ marriage broke up just after Christmas and even after all this time, it brings associations. Silly isn’t it?
So my husband and I generally spend New Year at home with a good film and maybe a game of Scrabble. “I think we’ll will do the same,” says my daughter. “We’re exhausted. I’m having terrible trouble getting the children to go to sleep after the excitement of Christmas.”
But my four-year-old granddaughter is confused by our conversation. “Why do we have to have a New Year,” she asks. “What’s wrong with this one?”
I half expect her to join the early January Sales and demand a refund.
“It’s sort of worn out,” I tell her gently, squatting down so I’m on the same level as her. “A bit like an old dress or pair of trousers. So now we’re starting all over again.”
My daughter tries to help me out. “Because that’s the way the world works. Besides, New Year is exciting. We can all make special promises about how we are going to do good things. Like go to bed on time.”
“That’s right,” I say. “I’m going to give up chocolate.”
Rose frowns. “Why?”
She’s making me have a rethink now. Perhaps I’ll wait until Lent.
Meanwhile, my eldest son who is with us until he goes back to Spain where he works – decides to spend half of New Year with his sister, playing with the children, and the second half with us. He and I have a lovely walk down to the seafront just before midnight. It’s only when the children are older that you realise how special these times are. Not long ago, I used to dream of having time to myself. Now I like nothing more than when they’re all around.
The next day, we all meet up for a January 1st walk. “You said this is a new year, Gan Gan,” says my granddaughter accusingly. “But it doesn’t look different.”
Yet it feels like it. In fact, there is a definite sense that there is a new lease of life as the grandchildren trundle through the woods, in their colourful all in ones. I have to hand it to my daughter and son-in-law. They’ve even brought along a flask of hot chocolate – so much for my own New Year resolution!
We all sit on an upturned log to drink it. It doesn’t get much better than this.
The following day, my son-in-law has to go on a long journey to a funeral. So sad – especially at this time of the year. “Can I give you a hand with the children when he’s away?” I ask.
“To be honest,” says my daughter, “it would be brilliant if you could help me at bedtime.”
I can see trouble ahead!
Oh dear. The only person who can coax George to sleep is my son-in-law. I can see trouble ahead! The timing isn’t great as I’ve put myself down for the evening tennis club triples tournament. I try very hard to be around for the grandchildren but I can’t duck out of this one as it will put the numbers out. Luckily it ends earlier than I’d expected – yes we won! – so I call my daughter. I can hear little George yelling in the background. “Would you like me to come over,” I say.
“Yes please,” says a little voice at the other end.
When I get there, Rose greets me with a finger against her lips. “Shush,” she says. “Mummy’s singing George a lullaby.”
How I remember those tricky days of trying to get both small little ones to bed at the same time!
“Could I have a biscuit?” asks Rose.
Clearly she’s trying to milk the situation. And why not?
“Of course,” I say. “Just don’t tell Mummy.”
Ten minutes later, George is still yelling. “Why don’t we do a swap?” I suggest to my daughter, on the baby monitor.
“You won’t get him down,” she says.
So I read George his favourite tractor story. He is wide-awake. We read another and another.
I can see this going on all night.
“George,” I say. “It’s time to go to sleep. Good night.”
I speak calmly but firmly. Then I get up and leave the room. I stand outside, waiting for him to yell out. Nothing. Is he alright? I peep through the door. I can hear him breathing steadily.
Hardly believing my luck, I tip toe down the stairs…
“How did you do that?” asks my daughter.
I give her a high-five. I don’t know. I couldn’t do it with her or her brothers when they were little. It’s a real boost to my confidence! Then I go back home to find my husband fast asleep on the sofa. Oh dear. I’m rather aware that he’s come last with all my family commitments. He is usually very good, considering he doesn’t have children of his own. In fact, he loves the grandchildren as if they were his own flesh and blood. Still, every couple needs some private time so we go out for lunch on our own the next day.
The family at the table next to us have twins. They’re about the same age as George and Rose. I can’t help chatting to them even though I’m off duty!
“It’s like a busman’s holiday,” jokes my husband. “By the way, you know you’re always saying you can’t take time off during a granny week?”
“Yes,” I reply. George cries blue murder if he goes to anyone else so I don’t have an understudy.
“Well I wondered if you minded if I went to Canada for a week.”
His great friend lives there and I know they haven’t caught up for ages. How can I say no? But at the same time, I can’t help feeling a bit left out…
All too soon, it’s time to take my eldest son back to the station where he’ll make his way to London and fly back to Spain. I return home with a heavy heart. My youngest (known as the “bearded baby”) has already returned to his London shoebox. No matter how old the children are, it’s always a wrench when they go. I know that in a few days when we get back to get back into our usual routine, it won’t feel so bad. But at the moment I feel a touch of the January blues coming on.
Then the phone rings. It’s my daughter. “Rose has just made her new year resolution,” she says.
Why do I feel there’s a catch coming up?
“She says she wants to have a sleepover at Gan Gan’s once a week. How about starting tomorrow?”
Wonderful. We can have boiled eggs for tea and lots of bedroom stories. Then in the morning, we can take the dog for a walk, with little Rose’s hand clasped firmly in mine. Sounds like the perfect start to a new year.
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