“Mum,” says my daughter. “I’m sending you back to school.”
What? I know my maths isn’t very good. In fact, I’ll be absolutely hopeless when Rose needs help with her arithmetic homework. But is it honestly that bad? I’m one of those people who still wake up with a sweat in the middle of the night, having dreamt I haven’t prepared for an exam. Ridiculous really, given that I’ve always been the conscientious type.
“It’s not that, Mum,” says my daughter. “It’s your reading.”
What is she talking about? Words are my living. After all, I write novels (when I’m not looking after the grandchildren).
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Mum,” says my daughter giving me a hug. “But you’re not teaching them to spell the right way. I’ve heard you! You need to learn how to do phonics.”
We’ve actually been here before. Nearly a year ago, my daughter sent me to an hour-long introduction course to this complicated subject. In my day, we learnt to recognise the letters through their shapes which worked perfectly well for me. In fact, I was apparently reading by the age of three. Now it’s all about breaking the words down into sounds, pronouncing letters in – what seems to me – a really weird way. Apparently, these are modern “strategie”’ for reading and writing.
That introductory course seemed useful at the time but it didn’t stay in my head. Now my daughter has discovered a children’s weekly phonics activity group.
“It will also be good for George’s speech,” she points out. True. Although he’s been chatting much more in the last few weeks, it’s still not totally clear – even though George himself seems to know exactly what he’s saying.
Off we go…
I have to confess to feeling slightly nervous as George and I drive to a rural village hall, half an hour away from our home. Am I going to be the only new kid on the block? But everyone is incredibly friendly, including the young bouncy teacher.
“Hello, George,” she beams handing him a laminated card with his name on it. We take our seats on little coloured circles and off we go. My first lesson is an introduction to the letter “P”.
I pronounce it in the way that you do for the veg. But apparently you’re meant to do it as if you’re blowing out a candle. It’s hard to describe without you seeing my face but it’s a sort of soft puff.
“Try it,” she urges, seeing my astounded expression.
She then produces a bag full of P things like pegs, pads (notebook variety) and a mini pail.
After some initial hesitation, George joins in like he’s an old hand. We also do lots of singing and dancing. By the end, I feel as though I’ve had a workout physically as well as mentally.
There’s only one other granny in the group and she is the mother of the teacher who’s looking after her toddler. But I don’t feel out on a limb. Everyone chats to me afterwards and it turns out that three of them know my daughter. It’s just as well I was on my best behaviour and didn’t ask too many embarrassing questions – these things get reported back!
On the way out, I noticed that there is a split across the knee of my jeans – I must have got more carried away with that phonetic dancing then I’d realised!
As soon as we get home, I decide we should do some homework to make sure the letter sounds stay in our heads. So I cook peas to go with George’s favourite lunch of macaroni cheese. “P,” I go as if I’m blowing up one of those birthday candles we were told about.
“Pah,” goes George spitting a pea across the kitchen floor. The dog promptly leaps up from his basket and devours it.
“What an earth are you doing?” asks my husband coming in.
So I explain…
“New-fangled nonsense,” he grunts.
“That’s not true,” I protest, with the enthusiasm of a convert. “It’s the way they do it nowadays. You have to get ahead with the times.”
He pretends to harrumph and goes back to his newspaper which he is definitely NOT reading phonetically.
Meanwhile, George is clearly on a high after the success of his lesson. He’s racing round our house after lunch with no sign at all of being sleepy. Oh dear. If I don’t get him to have a nap, he’ll drop off too late in the day to go to sleep. It will also mean I can’t write on my laptop which I usually do when he’s having a nap.
So we go for a drive along the seafront. When it’s not a granny day, I always take our dog along here first thing. When it is a granny day, I have to ask someone to walk him (my husband’s mobility is still limited after his operations). When the children come home in the evening, I then go for a night time jog to say goodnight to the sea.
My grandchildren also love it even though they’re lucky enough to have grown up with the coast on their doostep. “Sea, sea,” calls out George from the back of the car.
We drive and we drive. He’s still not sleeping.
Then I hear a “wee wee” announcement from the back of the car. It’s his third wet accident today! I’ve run out of clothes and there isn’t time now to go back to the children’s house for spares because I need to pick up Rose from nursery. The only thing I can find in the changing bag is a pair of 7 to 8-year-old girls tights. (My grandaughter has long legs and besides, sizing seems very random.) What with that and my split pair of jeans, we make a right pair as we queue up at the school gates. George looks like an extra from Robin Hood and I appear to be a middle-aged punk!
Rose is full of beans when she flies into my arms. They are going up to London tonight for the weekend to see my first husband and his wife and celebrate great granny’s 90th. (Our grandchildren are lucky enough to have six grandparents who all get on.)
Meanwhile, my granddaughter has obviously been learning about the months of the year because she’s asking me some rather complicated questions. “Why isn’t it January any more?” she demands from the back of the car.
“Because it’s February,” I say.
“But last week it was January.’
“I know but these things change.”
“I’m going to have two birthdays this year. I’m not going to have one at Christmas anymore. It’s going to be the summer.”
“It doesn’t quite work like that,” I say, “unless you’re the Queen.”
“It’s Mummy’s birthday soon. She’s going to be 34.”
“I know,” I say. “I can’t believe it.”
“Were you alive when she was born?”
“I certainly was.”
“How old are you, Gan Gan?”
“It’s not really polite to ask a woman her age,” I say.
“It just isn’t.”
We’re at home now so I’m able to fob her off by playing with a present from the Welsh grandparents. It’s a wonderful natty little red sports Cindy car. In fact, I feel rather jealous. I’d always wanted one at that age too. I only had the doll! Still at least I can make up for it now. That’s one of the great things about being a grandparent. You get down on your knees to play, even though there’s a stack of important things to do at home like open the post, check on emails and finish a chapter.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to settle George and Rose down after a hectic day, give them a snack, help them make a birthday card for great granny (whoops – there’s glue and glitter on the sofa!) and also tidy the house. This morning we all left muddy footprints on the carpet because I had to dash back to get something for the school run and forgot to take off my boots.
How am I going to get it all done in time before they return for their night drive to London? It’s funny how an eleven hour granny day can suddenly go really fast at the end.
Then the phone rings
It’s my eldest son who lives in Spain. He is known as “Uncle Wow” because he is so good at playing with them when he’s home. Now he’s on FaceTime.
“Can you chat to them while I vacuum?” I ask.
“It’s remote control parenting, Mum,” he jokes. “It reminds me of how we used to run riot at home while you wrote stories on your typewriter at the kitchen table.”
Oh dear, was it that bad? When I look back, I can’t help thinking I could have done it all so much better.
“Rubbish,” he says. “You’re the best mum in the world.”
“No,” says Rose firmly. “My mummy is.”
As soon as my son rings off, the phone rings again. It’s my 96-year-old father who can’t get the hang of his new computer. So I call the shop to see if they can help.
Meanwhile, my husband rings to say that a big box of books has been delivered from my publishers. I need to sign them and send them out to readers. It’s all part of the promotion of my new novel. So exciting!
Then the children come home and I help them tog up Rose and George in pyjamas for the four-hour drive ahead.
“The Queen lives in London,” announces Rose excitedly. “Do you think we’ll see her?”
They’re off. I miss them already. I also feel fit to drop through exhaustion but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Meanwhile, I’ve got some phonics homework to do…
Jane’s next book…
It started with a kiss. And ended with murder. I Made A Mistake by Jane Corry (Penguin), is out May 28. You can pre-order it at http://bit.ly/IMadeaMistake or https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Made-a-Mistake/24376830