As I write this, I’m surrounded by chaos. Toys are everywhere. The bathroom sink has a pair of little George’s jeans and microscopic boxers from a little “accident” when we didn’t reach the potty on time. And the remains of breakfast is still on the kitchen table because there wasn’t time to clear it before the nursery school run.
It wouldn’t normally matter but today is a big day. It’s the first time I’ve hosted a play date!
Regular readers might remember that little George and I were invited to one a couple of weeks ago. And now it’s our turn to return the favour.
Let’s face it. It doesn’t look good. If a so-called experienced granny like me is in a mess, what message does that send out to young mums?
“It’s really nice to know that I’m not the only one,” says my guest when she arrives. “I didn’t have time to tidy my place before I left, either. We all try so hard to be perfect. But it doesn’t matter providing the children are safe and happy.”
So many memories…
We have a lovely morning. George and I go to a lot of play groups, but this is the first time we’ve had someone back on a one-to-one. In fact, it’s about 20 years since I last did this! For a minute, I become quite nostalgic thinking about my friends from all those years ago. So much has happened to us all that none of us expected.
Still it’s nice to know that age doesn’t make much of a difference. My young “mummy guest” is 30 odd years younger than me but we are still dealing with the same issues – especially as she works from home too.
We chat about juggling the pressures of working with childcare while her little girl and my grandson learn to share the toys.
The biggest challenge is the rocking horse which my first husband gave to the children before they were even old enough to get on! Now they are – and it seems both George and his friend want to ride at the same time. So we teach them to count to 10 in order to let each other have a go. Brilliant – we are helping them play and educating them at the same time!
Quite a week
Meanwhile, it’s been quite a week. I started with two days in London at my publishers, discussing the promotional events I’ll be doing for my new novel that’s coming out in May. My heroines are Poppy, a working mum and Betty, her live-in mother-in-law. The older I get, the more important it feels to write about older women.
At times, I feel I’m a live-in gran myself! Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful being round the corner. But I’m also aware that there is a fine line between helping and being in the way. The trouble is that I love being with my grandchildren so much, that I can’t stay away!
We are also always leaving things at each other’s houses. “Oh,” I exclaimed the other week when searching for Rose’s jacket under the stairs. “So this is where my head muffs ended up! I’ve been looking for those for ages.” Meanwhile we have a lost property pile of children’s clothes at our place.
I came back from London with a bit of a cold and sore throat. I don’t know about you but all this talk about Chinese flu makes me fearful. Not for me but the children. “There’s not much we can do about it,” points out my husband who’s sporting a sore throat himself. He’s one of those rare men who never complains about being ill. But he’s never had little ones of his own. It’s hard to describe the intense anxiety as well as joy that comes with having them.
So instead, I’m trying to focus on positive things such as improving my jigsaw skills. However, I’ve never had that kind of brain and my little ones are much better than I am. “No, Gan Gan, that bit goes here,” instructs my four-year-old granddaughter patronisingly.
“Goes here,” repeats two-year-old George. It’s amazing! Until recently, I was quite worried about his speech. But in those two days that I was away in London, it’s come on in leaps and bounds.
He is now putting two and even three words together. It’s a reminder that every child is different. They all reach their milestones at different stages.
One of the joys about being a gran is rediscovering the funny things that children say. When I collect Rose that day from nursery, the sky goes black and a downpour starts. “I like the taste of rain,” she says as we raced back to the car, soaking wet. She’s right! There is something wonderfully fresh about it.
The other thing I’ve learnt as a granny is that you can’t do everything. When my lot were little, I thought that was still possible. In fact, I will never forget the time that I received a phone call from a Mr Brown while my three children were running round me in circles. At first I mistook him for the plumber because my daughter had flooded the bathroom by washing her dolly in the basin. Then I thought he was the magician I’d booked for my youngest son’s birthday party. “Actually,” he said, “some people call me both a magician and a plumber! In fact, I’m a gynaecologist. I believe you rang my secretary concerning a medical article you’re writing!”
It goes to show that you don’t always get it right when you multi-task! So when George had his midday nap the next day, I didn’t dive for my computer to catch up on emails or check my last chapter. Instead we went for a walk down to the sea. It felt like I was playing truant. But as I watched the sun glisten on the waves, I knew I’d done the right thing.
Crumbs, I’d better get back
On the way back, I thought I buy a couple of muffin cakes as a treat for my granddaughter when we pick her up from nursery. But I’d forgotten it was dance class afterwards!
“Oh no,” says the teacher looking at the pile of crumbs on the stage floor, rather like Hansel and Gretel’s trail of breadcrumbs. “Who did that?”
“Gan Gan got them,” chirps George.
All eyes turn on me. I’m in the doghouse!
What was I saying a few minutes ago about wanting him to increase his vocabulary?
“How was your day?” says my daughter that night. She usually arrives back home after her husband takes over from me, so we tend to de-brief on the phone later.
“Great,” I say.
“I heard about the chocolate crumbs in the dance class,” she says.
Oh oh. So my grandson had ratted on me again.
“Actually it was Rose. She also told me why they had to change her dress at nursery. Apparently she’d been sitting on chocolate buttons in the car on the way.”
Ah. I thought I’d got away with that one. “She spotted it in the car,” I tried to explain. “I said she couldn’t have it but she insisted. It was only one of those mini-packets.”
“Mum! You’d never have allowed us to have chocolate before school.”
It’s true. But Rose is very insistent. I couldn’t face a pre-nursery argument. Besides, I want her to love me.
“You’re just going to have to be stricter, Mum.”
She’s right of course. From now on, I’m going to have to watch my step…
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