I’m swimming on the carpet when the phone rings. That’s right! Swimming. It’s part of one of my online exercise classes. Well, a granny has to do something to fill the day when she is no longer looking after the grandchildren.
Of course I also have my novel to distract me. I don’t suffer from writers’ block thank goodness. But after a couple of hours on my chair, I do get writers’ stiff bottom! Normally, I get my exercise by running after little Rose and George. I like to think I’m pretty fit but even though they’re only four and two, they’re faster than I am!
Anyway, back to the phone…
It’s my daughter. “We’ve been trying to get hold of you on FaceTime,” she says. “Where have you been? I was worried.”
How sweet. My three grown-up children are always checking up on me. It’s as if they expect me to be doing some rebellious hike instead of staying inside. (I’m not doing the first unless you count the mileage on the carpet!)
The real reason I didn’t pick up the phone immediately was that the other day, I was playing around with the sound settings on my iPhone. All I wanted to do was to block out that terrifying fanfare which blasts out every time there’s a big news item. But in so doing, I’ve managed to turn off various other sounds such as Facebook and FaceTime and goodness knows what else.
“We’re ringing because we’re right outside the house,” she says. “Rose has got something for you.”
My babies are here? That’s the best news of the day. Immediately I abandon my carpet swimming and dash to the front door. Four-year-old Rose is putting a card by the wheels of my car at an appropriate distance between us. “I made you a mermaid picture, Gan Gan,” she says.
My throat swells with emotion…
“Thank you so much,” I gulp.
Usually when they’ve gone, I feel a little flat. All I want to do is cuddle them. And I’m sure you feel the same about yours. But when I heard the news on Sunday that family households are still not allowed to mix, I actually felt a sense of relief. We simply can’t risk anything. If I gave the virus, unwittingly, to my little family round the corner, I would never forgive myself – especially as my daughter has low immunity.
Maybe I need to take a leaf out of my 96-year-old father’s book. “In my day, we just had to get on with problems,” he is always saying during our daily “space-time” call as he calls it. This week, we’ve had some particularly moving conversations, about VE day. He told me things I had never known before such as his “jaunt up to London with the lads” as a 21-year-old apprentice to hear Churchill’s speech.
It all confirms what I know in my heart. That if we want to be good grandparents, we have to stop wishing for what we can’t have right now. After all, the only thing that matters is that we’re all healthy.
But I do worry about my daughter and son-in-law…
Like many other young couples, both are still working – one remotely and the other on site. (When my son-in-law returns at the end of the day, he takes his clothes off in the backyard and goes into the house to wash.) And they have to do this without my usual granny help.
Neither get much sleep because two-year-old George keeps waking with bad dreams. This is apparently quite common amongst small children at the moment because their routine has changed.
So what can we do as grandparents to support our little families?
A psychologist friend says the best thing is to be positive. “Even adult children still want to know that their parents are strong and that the world will be all right,” she says. “So even if you feel low, don’t tell them that. If they are telling you they feel upset, remind them that it’s normal to have good and not so good days, even when the world is normal. With grandchildren, try to do as many joint online activities like baking or painting a picture. Younger children don’t always have the concentration to talk but doing something constructive will engage them.”
Good advice. Meanwhile, thank you so much to all the grandparents who have got in touch to share their stories. One reader emailed to say how much she identified with the granny I mentioned last week who can’t hold her new grandchild. Her daughter has just given birth to her second granddaughter and she said it helped to know that she wasn’t alone.
One grandfather whose grandchildren are aged 9 and 11, sent me an email to say that he has been putting together his own daily news sheet with regular updates about the virus. “I want them to have an accurate historical account of what actually happened in 2020,” he said.
Another idea from a reader (whose grandchildren range from 3 years to 15) is to email a daily picture diary to show what she did that day. “I’ll have shots of the garden or the dog or my bicycle or anything that shows what I’ve been doing,” she says. “I put funny little captions below. They seem to like knowing what I did rather than me just asking them what they’ve been doing.”
If you’ve got an iPad you could also go to the Doodle App and send them a home-drawn picture. I’ve been doing that with my two. It’s actually quite addictive!
Another gran shared this idea. “I’ve been planting seedlings at the same time as my grandchildren. We compare notes about their height. It’s become quite competitive!”
Humour can also bring us together
One reader exchanges jokes (clean ones!) with her 9-year-old grandson. “I cheated a bit by getting inspiration from old Christmas cracker jokes,” she confessed. Another did a karaoke session with hers on FaceTime! “We all fell about laughing,” she said.
Or how about doing your own Desert Island Discs? Simply pick five songs and tell your grandchildren why they are important to you. If you’re techie enough you could send the music link or get the parents to play it to the grandchildren.
I have to say that it’s harder to engage on screen with small ones because of concentration levels. But one of my friends always reads a short bedtime story at night. Another sings a nursery rhyme. A third in our usual granny group has started doing a very simple family tree with pictures of her grandchildren’s relatives.
If you’ve got any ideas on how to keep in touch with your grandchildren, I’d love to hear from you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So let’s keep on going. It’s not easy being part of a generation that has to stay strong for the younger ones. But we can do it. And remember, we’re not alone.
Meanwhile, I’m back to my carpet swimming. See you next week!