It’s half term and I have a whole week off without the grandchildren. Don’t get me wrong. I love every minute of being with them. But we all need a break.
I have granny friends whose children are not teachers and don’t have the holidays off. To be honest, I’m not sure I could manage that. In fact, I’d be on my hands and knees with exhaustion!
Besides, like many of us, I’m still a working gran. At the moment I’ve just finished the first draft of next year’s novel which needs to be delivered to my publishers by the end of June. Half term has come at a perfect time for my revisions. So I take myself off to Spain.
Yes – I know what you’re thinking. It’s alright for some! In fact, I will also be teaching a group of students to help them write their life stories.
“I want to write down some memories for my grandson,” says one.
For the next generation…
Personally, the older I get, the more I realise how important this is. I can’t be the only one who only listened with half an ear to my mother’s stories. Sadly, she’s been long gone and I can now only recall snippets of family anecdotes to pass on to the next generation.
I wonder what little Rose and George will recall when they’re growing up? I can just see it now. “Wasn’t it fun when Gan Gan used to bribe us with chocolate buttons,” they’ll say. Or “Do you remember how she’d always put on her lipstick in the car before the school run and then turn round and pretend to put it on us?” (Both true.)
By the end of day two in Spain, I’m getting really homesick for my little ones. But they are having a high old time travelling around the UK and seeing the other grandparents. Thank heavens for WhatsApp!
“We’ve been making pizzas,” says Rose excitedly, flourishing a wooden spoon at me on my mobile phone. “You can come and help us if you like.”
“I won’t be able to get there in time, I’m afraid,” I say.
“We can wait for you,” she chirps. “Don’t worry. I’ll save you a slice.”
As always, when I’m away, I can’t help homing in on other grandparents with children. “How old are yours?” I ask one couple by the pool.
“Four and two.”
“The same age as mine,” I reply excitedly. It’s like belonging to a club. And for some reason, I feel the need to show I belong.
Meanwhile, I’m getting a lot of work done
It’s amazing how much you can write when there are no interruptions. But I do miss the feel of those little arms around my neck. So I can’t resist calling the next day. “We can’t chat, Mum,” says my daughter breathlessly. “We’re on the M4 and George has just announced he needs a poo. The next service station is in twenty minutes.”
I can’t help being on tenterhooks. Then my phone flashes up with a text. Got here, But George can’t perform. He keeps saying, “Gone now.”
This makes me chuckle!
I take Sunday off and go to the local market. What amazing colours, noises and smells. I walk past a man selling children’s toys. He is demonstrating a transformer truck which operates on batteries – included for once – which is pretty impressive. Of course I can’t resist but if I get George something, I must do the same for Rose. I’m also mindful of the fact that my daughter has firmly instructed me not to bring anything back because the house is too small for any more toys.
What’s the point of being a granny if you can’t spoil the children even if it does mean breaking a few rules? Unfortunately, the only thing I can find for Rose is a doll on a swing. The latter also sings when you press the button, which takes some finding as the stallholder and I can’t speak each other’s language and we’re both clearly hopeless at technology. (We eventually locate it under her dress.) It has to be said that the doll has very scary eyes but it’s better than coming back without anything.
When it’s time to return, I find myself boarding in front of a young couple with a toddler, a pushchair and exhausted expressions. “You go first,” I say. We fall into conversation on the plane and I feel for them when the little one bursts into tears on take-off and continues to yell for the next two and a half hours.
“I once took my three children on a nonstop flight to Australia,” I say, trying to speak over the yells. (It was during the days when I wrote about family travel for a national newspaper and I’d been asked to do a piece on long haul flights with small passengers.)
“Goodness,” says the husband clearly shocked. “I can’t even imagine taking three children to the supermarket.”
The funny thing is that when I look back, I don’t know how we did it either. Maybe that’s why they invented grandparents. It allows us to do it all over again but with time off for good behaviour and hopefully a bit more savvy.
I get home late at night. Naturally, the first thing I do the next morning is to race round to see my babies who are also back from their travels. “What have you brought us?” asks my grandaughter, keenly eyeing the bags I’m carrying.
“Rose!” says her mother.
“No,” I say. “It’s fine. She’s just excited.” (So am I actually, I love giving presents!). “Let’s open the boxes, shall we?”
Rose isn’t as bowled over as I thought she might be when she sees the doll. She’s more interested in George’s gift. “It’s the eyes,” says my daughter apologetically. “They are rather scary, aren’t they?”
While the children tussle over the transformer, my daughter and I have a catch up. So much has happened since we saw each last week. For a start, Rose can write numbers! How cool is that? And – just as eventful – George’s sentences now have three or more words in them.
I feel I’ve missed out.
“Butterfly kiss,” demands Rose as I leave.
This is another of our traditions. My mother taught me. It consists of putting your eyelashes against the other person’s cheek and fluttering them. Then naturally, I have to do the same with George and also my daughter. I must remember to put that in my life story when I get round to writing it.
“Come over later,” I say. Even though my daughter and son-in-law only live round the corner, we don’t always meet up for Sunday lunch. In Spain, most families seem to do that and I think it’s a lovely idea. My husband had been to the supermarket before I came back which was just as well.
We have a great time, enjoying time together and planning the week ahead. “Would you mind looking after the children next Saturday?” asks my daughter flicking through her diary.
Oh dear. That’s my tennis afternoon. Am I being selfish?
“You need your time,” says my daughter. “They’ll just have to come with me.”
Instead, I suggest having them while she goes to the doctor for a blood test on another day. Small children and needles are not always a good idea.
I spent the rest of the day walking the dog on the beach, chatting to my 96-year-old father on the phone, picking up garden debris from the storm, doing my admin and transferring my novel from my memory stick onto my main computer. By the end of the evening, I’m exhausted.
Already, Spain is a distant memory.
“Come and sit down,” says my husband. I really ought to spend some time with him but I’ve got one more job. The car is absolutely filthy from the school run before I went away, with rice cake crumbs and goodness what else all over the seats. There wasn’t time to clean it before and if I don’t, we might get mice. No joke. It’s happened before.
Mission accomplished. I settle down in front of Call The Midwife and go to bed early. But I have a nightmare. It’s about a doll with scary eyes driving a dirty car. Maybe that could be the plot for my next novel…