“Gan Gan,” says little Rose. “Please can I stay the night?”
We’ve been talking about having a sleepover for ages. The last time was over a year ago. This is partly because of the fact that when it’s not an official granny day, I need to work and also have some time with my second husband. But to be honest, I’m also really scared about her staying overnight.
It’s a big enough responsibility looking after my grandchildren during the day when I can see what’s going on.
Our house is old and not particularly child friendly. Supposing Rose gets up in the night and falls or helps herself to something she shouldn’t?
“But Mum,” points out my daughter (whose friends’ children apparently have regular sleepovers at their grandparents), “you put a stairgate at the door of my old room for the last sleepover two years ago.”
Yes but she wasn’t so mobile then.
“And I’ll lend you the baby monitor,” she adds, “so you’ll hear if she wakes up.”
“Pleeese,” wheedles Rose, tugging at my hands.
So I agree…
It starts off well. My granddaughter comes over complete with an overnight bag that would last a fortnight. She’s also got the entire collection of teddies from her own bedroom as far as I can see. My daughter does a quick safety check and removes a bottle of bleach which I’d forgotten about in the en suite. I go into spasms about thinking of the what-might-have-beens if she hadn’t spotted it.
I run my granddaughter a bath, carefully making sure I put the cold in at the same time as the hot. As a journalist, I came across some real horror stories about baths and toddlers which is possibly why I’m such a neurotic mother and gran.
Rose has also brought the little wash bag and duck that I gave her for Christmas and we have a lovely time splashing around. Just in case you’re wondering, I wasn’t actually in there with her – but I got almost as wet as if I was!
Then we clamber into the big bed that used to belong to her mummy before she got married and had babies. I don’t have any bed guards so I put squashy pillows on both sides of the floor. Oh dear. Will they be enough in case she tumbles out?
Then I sit next to Rose on the bed and read all the old story books which I’ve still kept from when my daughter was little. It makes me feel quite nostalgic.
After that, we say the prayer I’ve taught her. Thank you, God for a lovely day. And then we sing two songs.
“No, Gan Gan,” says Rose sternly when I get the horsey horsey one wrong. “It’s when the wheels goes round – not the hooves, silly.”
And then the trouble starts
“I want Mummy,” she says plaintively.
“Mummy will be here in the morning,” I say in as cheerful a voice as I can muster. “We’re going to have breakfast together.”
“But I want Mummy now,” she whimpers. “And George. And Daddy. And the cats.”
I try to distract her with more stories. We have extra night-time drinks. More trips to the loo. But it becomes clear she’s not going to settle.
I feel like a failure as I ring my daughter to explain the situation.
“I’ll come round and settle her,” she says. “So she does. I step outside the bedroom to get them some space. Within seconds, Rose is fast asleep.”
“There you are,” says my daughter, giving me a cuddle. “Thanks, Mum. I’m really grateful.”
I go down to watch Sunday evening television with my husband but neither of us can concentrate. Both of us have our eyes on the monitor.
It’s the same when we go to bed at night. I keep waking up with a start and tiptoeing along the corridor, torch in hand, to her bedroom.
But I can’t quite hear her breathing from the door. So I clamber over the stairgate. If I open it, it will click and the noise is guaranteed to disturb her.
That’s alright. She is breathing.
I repeat this about 10 times during the night.
In the morning at about 5.30am, there is a cry. “MUMMY!”
I’m out of bed before my feet touch the ground. It’s like going back 30 odd years to when my three were little.
This time, however I manage to cheer her up because the dog comes with me.
The three of us to go down to the kitchen and have a hot chocolate. But when we finish, Rose’s brow starts to furrow. “Want Mummy,” she says again.
It’s strange. My granddaughter never complains when I’m looking after her for my 10 or 11 hour granny days during the week. But this isn’t a normal granny day, and we are both aware of it.
So we put on our duffle coats and walk round to my daughter’s. “Why is the moon still up, Gan Gan?”
“Because everyone else is still asleep,” I say, yawning.
My daughter, who has been alerted, is waiting at the door. “Mummy!” says Rose, running into her arms as if they haven’t seen each other for 15 years.
“Did you have a lovely time, darling?”
“Yes,” she says as if it’s all gone swimmingly.
A few days later, comes the date we’ve been waiting for with baited breath. Little George is having another stab at going solo to nursery. Regular readers might remember that he was “suspended” as my husband jokingly puts it for not settling back in September. The lovely nursery staff suggested he has another go now but this time, without me staying to hold his hand.
It’s the same nursery that Rose goes to. Rather like the sleepover, it all begins promisingly. George is obsessed with tractors so his aunt has bought him a tractor-themed back pack. He’s also excited about the toy tractors in the playground and has started calling nursery “tractor school”. So fingers crossed…
He runs in excitedly but as soon as I turn to go, he calls out “Gan Gan”. The nursery staff and my daughter have told me to leave even if he gets upset. So I do. But as I walk up the slope towards my car, I can hear his cries. I really can’t take this.
“It will be alright,” says another granny behind me. “I went through this with my granddaughter and she’s fine now.”
My boys (now grown up) weren’t too keen on being left either. My daughter, it should be said couldn’t wait to get to school, which is probably why she’s a teacher now! But somehow it feels more of a betrayal to let my grandson cry than it did with my own children.
I sit in the car shaking. I can still hear his cries in my head. I ring Nursery. Yes, he’s still upset. They’re going to give it another 20 minutes and then call me. It’s the 20 longest minutes of my life if you discount certain stages of labour and divorce. The phone rings. He’s inconsolable, they say.
I run down to the school. We meet in the office and George flies into my arms. His eyes are red and he always looks as though he’s been hyperventilating. He snuggles into my chest and immediately stops.
I’m not sure who is more traumatised. Him or me. So we have a calm play date with a dear friend who’s also a childminder. She makes me feel so much better.
“Maybe he’s going to be a school truant,” says my second husband cheerfully.
“Thank you for that,” I reply.
Just as well the following day is a Saturday. This is where it really helps to have a job. I can immerse myself in my proofs for next year’s novel and then take off an hour for tennis.
My husband, meanwhile, is Googling “homeschooling” just in case George decides he’s never going to go back to the classroom again. Actually, I’ve written some features about parents who teach their own children from home and I’ve been very impressed.
Then the phone rings. It’s my daughter. “Mum?” she says. “Rose wants to talk to you.”
“Gan Gan,” chirps a little voice. “Can I come over for a sleepover tomorrow please? And can Mummy and Daddy and George and the cats come too?”
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