It’s just after lunch when the phone rings. George is having his afternoon nap right next to me. I rely on his siesta to catch up with work emails and write down notes for my next novel. He needs it too, even though the parents would rather he didn’t as it means he won’t go to bed on time. I just hope they’re not reading this as he’s been zonked out for ages.
“Is that Gan Gan?” asks a voice. Instantly my mind zooms to high alert. The number on the screen, I suddenly realise, is that of Rose’s nursery. (The staff call me by the same name as my grandchildren.) Has she fallen off a piece of play equipment. Is she ill?
“We thought we ought to tell you that Rose has fallen asleep.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. Although my granddaughter doesn’t usually drop off during the day, she is only four so is bound to be tired at times. Anyway, nowadays (understandably), nurseries have to be super careful. They almost have to report a sneeze. No wonder everyone is drowning in paperwork. When mine were little, I often turned up to find lumps on their foreheads that were as big as eggs and no one had bothered to ring me. But health and safety has moved on a long way since then.
We agree that they’ll keep an eye on her.
Twenty minutes later the phone goes again…
“We’ve just taken Rosie’s temperature and it’s rather high,” they say.
I’m in the car before I know it. Oops! I’d almost forgotten George. So back I go into the house to transfer my sleeping grandson from the pushchair into the car seat. He roars with objection. So does my back, with his weight. (Note to self: book another chiropractic appointment.)
“Would you like me to come too?” asks my husband. This is quite a big deal as he’s only just thrown away his crutches. Well actually he gave it back them back to the hospital but you know what I mean.
“Yes please,” I say. It means he can stay in the car playing tractors with George so I can rush in and scoop up Rose.
She is looking very pale. My heart goes into freefall. The thing about being a Granny (well, one of them) is that it’s a huge responsibility. Should I ring my daughter? It will mean getting her out of the classroom where she is teaching. Maybe it’s best to call the doctor first and see what’s going on.
I know we hear a lot of negative things about how long it takes to be seen at the doctor’s surgery nowadays. But I have to say that our system is brilliant, especially when it comes to small ones. The duty doctor rings me straight back and asks us to bring her in.
By now, Rose has stopped looking so lethargic and has decided to eat her packed lunch which she’d turned down earlier. So in we go to the doctor’s room with my granddaughter clutching a cup cake proprietorially. “I don’t want you to think we’re bothering you unnecessarily,” I say, feeling like a bit like a fraud. “But she really has been poorly.”
“I can see,” he says, examining her. “When did the spots start?”
Spots? What spots. Oh dear. I hadn’t noticed those.
The good news is that she’s already had chicken pox. But then the doctor freaks me out by giving me a leaflet on sepsis “just in case”. At the moment she doesn’t have any of the other symptoms but I have to “keep an eye on her just in case”.
Her temperature is also very high. He gives it to me in centigrade which is hopeless because I’m a Fahrenheit girl. I ask him to convert it and then I get worried. He suggests Calpol and a fan.
But when I text my daughter to tell her what’s going on, she texts back immediately. “No fans,” she says. “I’ve heard that’s not a good idea.” Honestly. Childcare rules seem to change from one minute to the next.
When we get home, Rose is instantly cheered up with a Paw Patrol comic and a video but I still can’t help worrying. Neither of her parents can come home for another four hours. I only hope I’m doing the right thing.
“Did you know that slapped cheek is doing the rounds?” says one of my granny friends when she rings to commiserate.
My husband is appalled. “If anyone’s been hitting Rose, he’ll have me to deal with,” he says, macho-fashion.
At times, I forget my second husband hasn’t had much experience of child rearing. Mind you, I’m not very knowledgeable about slapped cheek myself. But when I look it up, it appears less serious as it sounds.
I try to take Rose’s temperature again with the all-singing all-dancing thermometer that the “children” use.
But I have no idea how to even turn it on. So I dispatch husband out to buy a traditional old-fashioned one. That’s no good either as Rose refuses to allow me to put it under her arm or under her tongue.
I text my daughter for instructions on how to use the one that requires a science degree. “I did explain before,” she points out kindly. “But I understand these things might be difficult for someone who is older.”
Too true. Mind you I could do without the older bit.
The good news is that I’ve worked it. The bad news is that Rose’s temperature has gone up again.
I give her more squash. The one thing I do remember about bringing down temperatures is that you need plenty of fluid. I could do with something stronger myself but a) I’m on duty and b) alcohol doesn’t agree with me. I know. Sad, isn’t it?
“Are you hungry?” I ask when she turns down most of her tea. She shakes her little head. So George – who could eat for an entire football squad – scoffs hers instead. Oh dear. Now he’ll probably get ill too.
“I’m bored,” says Rose when the video finishes. So we make some cakes. This proved to be not only messy but also highly infectious since she is licking the spoon at every opportunity. At this rate, we’re all going to go down with slapped cheek. That could be interesting. I make a mental note not to try out a cake myself.
Still, at least she’s eating the chocolate decorations.
I have to admit that it’s a huge relief when the parents come home and I can hand over. But I don’t sleep that night in case Rose is poorly.
In the morning, when I go round for my second regular granny day, Rose seems as right as rain. It’s tempting to send her to nursery. But nowadays, you have to keep at home for at least a day after they’ve been poorly.
So now I’ve got two of them to amuse for 11 hours! I really don’t know how my daughter does it. Much as I love having Rose and George, I’m on my knees by lunchtime. I’ve also run out of things to do. We’ve coloured and traced and cut out and completed three and a half jigsaws. It’s raining so we can’t go out for a walk. So I get out the play bricks for them to build a tower and nip into the kitchen to put on the kettle. I’m only out of the room one minute but there’s suddenly a terrible scream. I go rushing back in so fast that I swear my feet get there before my head.
“He hit me,” howls Rose.
“I wouldn’t let him have the blue brick.”
No need to ask if this is true. George looks as guilty as if he’s in the dock.
“You must not do that,” I say in a much firmer voice than I normally use.
He looks at me, his bottom lip wobbling. Silent tears fall down his cheeks. I feel terrible. Is he still going to love me? But I have to make him realise what is right and wrong. No wonder they call it tough love. Discipline has changed so much since our day. We used the “naughty step” although I could never persuade any of mine to actually go on it. But apparently that’s not always approved of nowadays either.
“Why don’t you just rationalise with them?” asks my husband who has popped round briefly to see how we’re doing.
“With a two-year-old?” I question.
He shrugs. “You’re right. If it doesn’t work with the politicians, it’s not going to work on a toddler. Must dash. I’ve got a few jobs to do at home.”
It’s nearly 4 o’clock in the afternoon and I’m seriously flagging. So I ring a neighbour’s daughter who is studying childcare. “Do you think you come round for two hours just to help me,” I say pathetically.
Bless her. She’s over in five minutes.
Instantly the atmosphere changes
It’s such a relief to have another adult in the house. One of us vacuums and empties bins while the other keeps an eye on the children. Then we swap over.
By the time the parents return, the house seems a haven of calmness.
Rose is also full of beans and the spots are disappearing. George is giving me big cuddles so I am hopefully forgiven for telling him off.
“Let me get this right,” says my husband when I crawl home. “You’re providing free childcare but you’re also paying someone to help you.”
That’s right. In fact, I’m thinking about employing a granny au pair until the grandchildren leave home.
“By the way,” he says. “I took one of Rose’s cakes back with me. It was delicious.”
“Ah,” I say, deciding not to tell him about the spoon licking. Meanwhile, I’ll let you know next week if he comes out in spots…
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