I turn up for my granny day at 7:30am to find a glamorous witch opening the door. It’s my thirtysomething daughter who is dressed up as the heroine in Julia Donaldson’s wonderful Room On The Broom book. I almost failed to recognise her. Then I twig. Of course – it’s World Book Day. My daughter is a teacher and her school, like many all over the country, is encouraging pupils and staff alike to dress up as fictional characters.
This includes my 4-year-old granddaughter Rose who is obsessed with Belle in the cartoon version of Beauty and the Beast. “No,” she said, bursting into tears last week at the idea of going as Sophie from The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr. That way, she could wear a pretty outfit from her wardrobe and carry a toy animal. “I want to be Belle!”
“You know,” I said to my daughter, “your grandmother made me go as a fairy prince to the Lord Mayor’s fancy dress party back in the early 60s. It was because she had a black velvet cloak to hand. I’ve spent the last 55 odd years being upset because I wasn’t allowed to go as a fairy princess.”
She took the point…
After several hours of scouring the net and local shops, she tracked down a lovely yellow all-frilly Belle costume. “Look, Gan Gan!” she beams, twirling around.
“Beautiful,” I say. I can see her self-confidence blooming before my eyes. So important at this age!
Isn’t it funny how grandchildren’s experiences can take us back to our own childhoods? I never make the children eat what they don’t want because I still remember being forced to consume mince swimming in gravy. Maybe that’s why I steer clear of meat now – and avoid black velvet cloaks!
Meanwhile the children are chanting “My mummy is a witch” all the way to school. When we get there (after having to cover up the Belle dress with a raincoat because – yes – it’s belting down again), there’s a host of other book characters ranging from Thomas the Tank Engine to at least three Cinderellas. I take my hat off to the mummy who made the first. George burst into tears because he’s wearing denim jeans. I tell him that our modern day family princes probably wears the same thing on their days off. He continues to howl.
To cheer him up, I’ll take him to the local supermarket. George loves pushing a trolley around! I pile into it packets of seedlings because I’m determined that this year I will become the gardener I’ve always wanted to be. The truth is that I have black fingers. Whatever I put into the ground, either fails to come up or threat or shrivels.
Still, I live in hope partly because I’m determined to concentrate on the positive with so much bad news around us. In fact, children are the best medicine for this. They come out with such funny things as I discovered when we got to our house after the supermarket.
“How about going to the gym?” I say to my husband.
He reluctantly looks up from his newspaper. “Really?”
“The physio recommended it,” I remind him as if he doesn’t already know this.
“Have fun,” pipes up George.
“Are you teaching him to be sarcastic?” asks my husband.
Of course not.
It’s show time soon…
My granny Thursdays are always a rush because after school, it’s back to our place for a quick snack and then on to Rose’s dance class. Fever pitch is rising because they are practising for their show next month. The teacher needs a medal! Somehow, she has cajoled a group of three and four-year-olds into a ‘singing in the rain’ routine and various other steps. Grandparents and mums and other carers are allowed in at the end of each lesson to see how they are progressing. It had to be said that my granddaughter’s concentration wanders! I like to think that when she stops and has a little daydream, she is storing up memories for all the stories she’s going to write in years to come.
I can’t help laughing at some of the things that George does too. When I arrived for my second granny day this week, he runs up to give me a big cuddle. But when I bend down, he knocks my chin instead and I instantly feel a lump coming up on my lower lip. Ouch!
“Sorry, Gan Gan,” he says, giving me a big cuddle.
“It’s fine,” I mumble.
How can I possibly tell him off for giving me love?
But try as I do to be positive about everything, there’s no doubt that the numbers at our local playgroup groups are shrinking because of the you-know-what virus. Our song and rhyme toddler group is only half-full this week. “I think it’s because no one comes with a cold any more, just in case it’s more serious,” says one mum.
Meanwhile, I’m also still trying to keep track of the other children in my lives. The 29-year-old “baby” who lives in London is never around when I ring him. Then I get a call. But it stops. I ring him back.
“Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to ring.” What happened to my youngest who was only George’s age last week – or so it seems?
My eldest who lives in another country is far more diligent at keeping in touch. I speak to him every day. Maybe I’m just one of these people who can’t let my children go. But at the same time I’m aware that we all need our own lives. That’s why I’ve given my husband an “away week pass” to visit a friend. I’m saying this tongue in cheek. Of course he doesn’t need my permission! Everyone needs some space. Especially in a busy family like ours.
A matter of timing
On a different note, I’m still trying to get my timing right in my granny life. I either seem to arrive just before the school gates are about to shut electronically – this is something new in the state system which didn’t exist in my day – or we get there too early and have to wait in the rain outside the closed gates.
One of the things I do love about collecting the children is that I get to know other parents. It’s amazing how my granny life has extended my social circle. “Would you like to come for a play date next week?” asks a friendly mum.
I’d love to, I say, but I’m afraid we already got one. Being a granny has reduced my own social calendar but widened it in other directions!
“Goodness,” said one of my granny mates as we pass in different directions. (She’s running late.) “That’s quite a shiner on your lip.”
“George bumped it when he said hello this morning,” I explain.
She nods. “I’ve had a few of those myself. Rather sweet, isn’t it?”
I’m not so sure about that. It’s jolly sore!
When we get home, both children start to squabble over whose turn it is to press the doorbell first. “It’s me because I’m the eldest,” says Rose firmly.
As an eldest myself, I know it’s not that easy being first in line so I let her have the honours. This results in a big shouting match between her and George. Oh dear. The children are tired and so am I. What with their growing-up hormones and my post-menopausal ones, we make quite a match!
Luckily my husband comes round with the dog to say hello.
“Grandad!” they both say excitedly.
Calm is instantly restored.
I’m beginning to wonder how I’m going to manage without him.
That night, a friend rings. “I wondered if I could come and stay for a bit,” she says. “I’d love a few days by the sea.”
“Perfect,” I say. “But I’ll be looking after Rose and George.”
“That would be lovely.”
My friend doesn’t have grandchildren. I wonder if she knows what she’s letting herself in for. I’ll tell you all next week!