Family is a funny thing, isn’t it? Some relations show a lot of emotion and others don’t.
I’ve always belonged to the first camp. But just because people aren’t always the huggy type, it doesn’t mean they love their nearest and dearest any the less.
Take my 96-year-old dad. Even when he was younger, he wasn’t a hands-on grandad. As he’s got older, he’s been understandably more concerned with immediate things like his own health. Whenever my daughter and son-in-law have offered to make the 300-mile journey with his great-grandchildren, he has put them off because he and my stepmother haven’t felt well. Or because the “weather is bad”. So he’s only ever seen them once since George was born two and a half years ago.
But now things have changed with the corni virus, as I call it. (Readers of my Facebook page will know that this is the name which an elderly relative has given it. I’ve adopted the term because it makes it seem less scary.)
My father now asks far more questions about little Rose and George then he did before. “I’d like to speak to them,” he suddenly announces to me this week during one of our daily Spacetime conversations. (Of course I mean Facetime. The older members of my family seem determined to call everything by a different name.)
Timing is everything in a household with little ones as you may well know. So arranging a phone cool with a nonagearian who is only free between the hours of 10 and 12 in the morning (during the rest of the day, Daddy is napping or eating or watching films) and two under-fives who have usually been up since 6am, isn’t a piece of cake.
“I’ll get them to Facetime you,” I say.
“What’s wrong with Spacetime?” he demands.
“That’s what I meant,” I say, taking a deep breath. “If you put the phone down at your end, I’ll ring them and then they can call you.”
Two minutes later he rings me…
“Are they with you now?”
“No Daddy,” I say. “We’re not allowed to be in the same house as them because of social distancing. And I’m still trying to get through to them. They haven’t picked up yet.”
“But why haven’t they?”
I finally get hold of my daughter. “Of course, Mum,” she says when I ask her to ring her grandfather. “Can it wait ten minutes? We’re in the middle of releasing butterflies in the garden.”
What? Then I remember that my daughter and son-in-law have been teaching the children about the life-cycle of the butterfly. They’ve now grown out of their pupae stage and have developed fully fledged wings!
I ring my father back. “They’ve got butterflies,” I say. “And…”
“Butterflies? Are they worried about something?”
Sometimes it’s too hard to explain. “Don’t worry. They’ll call you soon. I promise.”
All goes quiet on the phone front. I cross my fingers. I also feel quite nostalgic. My mother who died when she was 56 would have so loved to have known her great grandchildren. Then I call him. “Did you have a chat?”
“Oh yes,” he says enthusiastically. “It was lovely. They were running all over the place. Grown up a bit, haven’t they?”
They certainly have.
In fact, we all have. If you had told me, at the beginning of March, that I wouldn’t be able to cuddle my grandchildren for several weeks, I would not have believed you. Until six weeks ago, I’d seen them every day since they were born, with the exception of the old short holiday break.
Many of you will be in the same boat.
Maybe, like me, you find yourselves making more and more adaptions to this new routine as the days goes by. For example, my daughter and I have agreed that our “wave through the window” visit in the afternoon doesn’t work. If anything, it makes the children more upset and also me.
So instead, they come past our house once a day where it’s easier to stand from the road at the right distance and chat. The absence of a dividing glass pane makes it feel more natural.
Today, when they ring to say they’ll be there in five minutes, my husband decides to get dolled up in fancy dress. Or should I say, his own version of fancy dress! He puts on his homemade mask made out of an old T-shirt and then weaves his dog-walking scarf round his head like a hat with a pile of bananas on top.
“Grandad’s being silly,” I call out to the children who are staring at him from their double buggy.
“No he’s not,” calls back Rose defensively. “He is being funny.”
Gifts of love
We also leave little presents for each other, wearing gloves of course. The children have made me a paper wind sock – or “windy sock” as two-year-old George calls it – with colourful streamers (pictured below – check out Bish Bash Bosh Creations for other colourful crafts to make with the younger members of the family). I’ve got Rose a flowery notebook for her to write her little stories in.
The next day, I find a little buttercup on my doorstep. “Rose left it for you,” texts my daughter. “She picked it during our walk today.” Meanwhile, Grandad is busy disinfecting George’s collection of toy tractors from our grandparent toy box so he can give him one on the next visit.
It’s all a lesson in going-with-the-flow. I’ve learned not to be offended if Rose would rather finish her program then come and talk to me on the phone. I tell myself it’s a sign of progress because they are adapting too. What was abnormal five weeks ago, has become the norm.
I’ve realised something else too. I’ve been concentrating on the grandchildren so much that maybe I haven’t given my daughter enough time. She is a young mum. It’s a scary time. I want to put my arms around her but I can’t. So instead I sent cheery notes. Online. of course. As Claire Rayner once said when I interviewed her for a woman’s magazine, “all things must pass”.
Then my phone pings just before I go to bed. I chuckle. “What is it?” asks my husband. I hand over. It’s from my daughter.
“For all the grandparents, missing their grandchildren,” it says. “Don’t worry. When this is over, you can have them for a month. With love from a very tired mum.”
Apparently, this message – and variations of it – are going round the net.
“Great idea,” I say to my husband.
“A month?” he says. “Honestly?”
Yes, I say. Then I go upstairs and place Rose’s little buttercup very carefully inside some tissue paper. I put it in a book of sayings which belonged to my mother next to my bed. And I enclose a little note, with the words, “A present for Gan Gan from Rose, age 4, during the coronavirus. 2020.”
One day, maybe when she’s a mum herself, it will remind my little granddaughter that love can never be broken.