I’ve decided to pretend that we’re on a long cruise. My husband has been suggesting this for ages but I’ve always said I couldn’t leave the grandchildren for more than two weeks.
But now we’re in lockdown. So if I pretend that we are on board without a choice in the matter, it somehow feels a bit easier.
After all, we all have our different ways of dealing with this separation.
While on this imaginary cruise of mine, I FaceTime the children at least twice a day. But it’s not always easy to find the right time. Take this morning when it was clear from the toddler tantrums that George was after one of Rose’s toys.
“I’m really sorry, Mum, but can we ring you back?” asks my daughter. Of course. I have to say that I really admire the way in which they and millions of other little families over the country are coping with the situation.
When they call later, I am putting my face on.
“What does that mean?” asks little Rose.
So I give her a step-by-step make-up class on my phone screen. It takes me back to when I was 13 and a much-loved aunt taught me to put on mascara.
“This is called foundation,” I now tell Rose. Her eyes widen with longing. “It’s got a special sun cream to protect my skin.”
My little granddaughter pats her cheeks in mirror imitation. Then I realise we are meant to be discouraging touching our faces. “Actually,” I say quickly, “we’ll do this another time.”
I’m also sending mermaid stories from my iPad featuring Rose and George by name. The copying and pasting pics is more difficult than I thought.
I thought I could do it on WhatsApp but my techie skills aren’t up to this. And when I used Word, the pictures didn’t come out. So instead I’m sending each page as a separate email to my daughter and son-in-law.
The idea is for me to read the story to Rose and George at the end of the day. But again, I don’t always hit the right time. They’re either sleepy or fractious or more interested in doing something else. Until the “C” word, I’d seen them every day of their lives apart from the odd holiday.
I begin to worry that it might affect our close bonds.
“Nothing can do that, Mum,” says my daughter kindly.
I hope not. I’m even – and this is a terrible thing to say – feeling a little jealous of my husband whose jokey on-screen presence seems more interesting than mine. Perhaps I’m just trying too hard.
“Just send them pictures to show what we’re doing,” he suggests. So I video the dog and also the little seeds that I planted the other week. Miraculously they’ve come up. I’m not a natural gardener so I feel quite chuffed.
Then the phone rings…
“We’re going to be walking past your house,” says my daughter. “Shall we wave from the road?”
It’s more than the recommended government distance but even so, I hesitate even though I’m desperate to see them. Surely the children will want to know why they can’t come running in as usual, each one clamouring to press the doorbell first.
But they both stand there, next to their parents, waving sweetly. It’s as though they know that my cruise ship can’t dock quite yet.
What will they make of it all this in years to come? Perhaps they’ll have hazy memories as I do of the miners’ strike in the 70s when we had to sit school exams by candlelight.
“We are getting ours to keep daily diaries,” suggests the granny friend who has all her grandchildren and their parents under one roof. But Rose is only just learning to write! Instead, my clever daughter is keeping a folder of all the crafty bits. She’s also set up an Instagram blog featuring the various artistic creations she’s made with George and Rose. One of my favourites is a fairy garden made from a wooden crate. I’m really proud of her, for keeping the children busy. Then again, we all have to show Mother Courage at times like this. And that includes us grandparents.
Meanwhile, my son-in-law has built a tractor out of boxes and is encouraging them to learn the piano. “Listen to this!” chirps Rose during our evening FaceTime session. Strains of Lavender Blue come wafting over the airwaves. I clap and she beams. My daughter is right. We just have to go with the flow and relish these impromptu moments.
But I still can’t help worrying about the impact all this is going to have on our children. Rose is definitely missing her friends especially her best mate at nursery. So their mums put them on the phone to each other. They have a little chat (so sweet!) and then Rose goes off to draw her friend a picture.
One good thing about all this is that many of us are reconnecting or cementing relationships now there’s more time. I get a message on Facebook from one of our favourite teachers from the children’s school days. It gives me a lovely warm feeling
Yet there is no doubt that all this is challenging both our parenting and grandparenting skills. Apparently when Rose went to bed last night, she stood at the window, gazing out into the evening sky. “When is the world going to get better?” she asked.
Sometimes there are no answers. It’s one of the hardest lessons in life. Yet there are also ways to make it easier. Like courage and kindness. I am determined to remember this when my granny days hopefully return to normal and my cruise ship finally stops.
Meanwhile, do carry on sending me your experiences about being a grandparent during the coronavirus. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.