Sea Change

Elegant 50-something grandmother, smiling, in sunhat and white shirt, beautiful Majorcan villa behind with red bougainvillea flowers

Laura was a virtual stranger to her son’s stressed-out little family… but could she work some Majorcan magic?

Laura had always dreaded losing her son to the woman he married, and to her mother. Friends had warned her that’s what would happen, and it had.

In Adam’s case this was perhaps less surprising given that he and Sophie had moved to Brighton, hundreds of miles from Laura in Yorkshire but only a short drive from Sophie’s parents.

Battle lines had been drawn the moment Laura and Sophie met.

Her future daughter-in-law struck Laura as being wrong for her son. Busy with her own chocolate-making business, Sophie seemed a touch too controlling, not as caring as Laura would have liked.

Adam told her afterwards that Sophie had found her distant. That wasn’t how she had meant to come across at all.

Laura accepted the infrequency of their visits until the grandchildren came along.

Sophie and Adam were “too busy” to travel north as a family much and had no guest room. Adam did his best to organise sessions on Skype, but they weren’t the same.

Lottie was nearly seven now, though Max was only months old, a much-wanted baby after years of heartbreak, miscarriages and IVF.

Laura had only seen Max once when she travelled south to see him straight after the birth, and Lottie barely knew her.

On the other hand, Adam often mentioned how frequently they saw Sophie’s parents, how Jenny, her mum, was so devoted to the children.

When she heard Adam and Sophie had invited Jenny on holiday in Majorca, the cut went deep.

Jealousy, anger and hurt competed in Laura’s breast.

Adam had been apologetic. “You know what it’s like with a new baby, Mum. Soph wants her own mother to help with Max, and Lottie’s being difficult. I’m too busy really but Soph needs a break.”

Laura had lied and said she understood, then went back to planning a road trip in the Scottish Borders with Mike, a graphic designer she had met at her book group.

She was waiting to see how things developed before telling Adam of his existence.

Only days before their holiday, Adam called. Laura knew immediately something was wrong.

“It’s Jenny,” he said. “She’d just put Max to bed, then tripped over the Spy Squad Barbie Lottie left on the stairs.”

The envy Laura felt at the idea of Jenny putting their grandson to bed receded under her concern.

“Is she all right?”

“She’s fractured her kneecap so her whole leg’s in plaster.”

Adam paused for a second to let the enormity of this disaster sink in.

“She can’t move.”

Laura was suitably sympathetic.

“The point is…” He hesitated. “I… that is, we… were wondering if you could come to Majorca with us?”

The old stone farmhouse was hidden away, sheltered by mountains that rose up behind it and surrounded by almond and orange groves.

The sense of peace was absolute.

The sun shone from a cobalt sky with shade provided by a vine-shrouded pergola over the outside table and umbrellas by the pool.

Thanks to the thick walls, the interior of the house stayed cool. Laura’s room was down a corridor, away from the others, complete with its own patio.

Mike had agreed to postpone their trip to Scotland although, given the family tensions in Majorca, Laura was half-wishing he hadn’t.

So far she had only been allowed to hold Max once.

Sophie clung to him with all the anxiety of an unconfident mother.

Adam had brought his laptop and disappeared whenever he could, dealing with “an important company takeover”. Neither of them had time for Lottie.

Laura was puzzled why they ever thought this holiday would work. Would Jenny have made such a difference?

On day one, Lottie lost her rag twice before lunch – once when she wasn’t allowed an ice cream; another when Sophie was feeding Max and couldn’t help her into her swimsuit.

When Laura tried to help, she got kicked on the shin.

On day two, she and Lottie went to the pool while the others stayed in the shade at the house.

“My other granny can dive.”

“Can she?”

Laura eased herself down the steps into the water.

She pushed off and lay on her back feeling the sun on her face.

If she heard Saint Jenny’s virtues mentioned once more, she wouldn’t be accountable for her actions. She closed her eyes.

“Yes, she taught me to swim. Look!”

Lottie leaped into the pool, landing inches from Laura and sending water sluicing over her face. Laura grabbed the nearest lilo, doing her best not to choke or say anything she might regret.

After lunch, Sophie asked Laura to take Lottie to the supermarket. “We need some more nappies.”

“But you said you’d go swimming.” Lottie was outraged.

“I can’t, Petal. Max needs feeding again and then I’m going for a nap.”

“Max always needs feeding.” Lottie looked at her father who shook his head. “And I don’t want to go with her. I wish Granny was here.”

Laura reminded herself again that Lottie was only six.

“But I’m your granny, too,” she said.

“But you’re not the same. Daddy, will you come?”

“I’m going to look after Max while Mum’s sleeping,” said Adam. “And then I must answer some emails. After that, maybe.”

Laura decided not to mention her plan to spend the afternoon reading.

The hire car was like an oven.

Sweat stuck Laura’s back to the plastic seat and sent her sunglasses sliding down her nose.

She glanced across at Lottie. The child’s eyes were brimming with tears.

Laura made a snap decision.

“Tell you what. Let’s go to the beach.”

The little girl turned to her, surprised.


“Why not? We can do some shell-hunting.”

“And some swimming?” The little face brightened.

“Yes. If you don’t mind swimming in your pants.”

“Will you?” Her eyes were wide with curiosity.

“We’ll see. First, we’ve got to find the beach.”

Laura reached behind her for the map on the back seat.

The cove was empty apart from a group of people who arrived on a tender from a yacht moored a little way out.

Laura and Lottie walked across the sand to a flat rock in the shade.

“This’ll be our base. Got your hat?”

Lottie nodded and pulled the brimmed cotton hat down hard on her head as Laura rubbed sun cream on her legs.

“Got your T-shirt?”

Lottie laughed. “I’m wearing it!”

“Then you can swim in it too. You don’t want to get burned.”

Lottie looked dubious, then astonished as Laura stripped off down to her underwear.

“Right, let’s do this… Last one in’s a noo-nat.”

She held out her hand, and after a second Lottie grasped it. They ran together into the crystal-clear water, splashing and shrieking.

By the time they were ready to come home, they had found a collection of shells and a rusty bicycle bell, and had a photo on Laura’s phone of the lizard they failed to catch.

They were so busy discussing the animals they had both seen on Planet Earth that they only just remembered to stop for the nappies – and an ice cream.

“Where have you been?” Sophie was standing with Max under the blaze of red bougainvillea surrounding the front door. “We’ve been worried sick.”

Her eyes were ringed with exhaustion.

“We went swimming.” Lottie ran up to her mum, the bicycle bell in her hand. “And I got…” She held it out.

“What are you going to do with that rubbish?” Sophie shifted the baby’s position in her arms.

“Put it on my bike.” But the joy had gone from Lottie’s voice. “Granny swam with no clothes on!”

“I’ll just put these nappies in the bathroom for you,” said Laura quickly. “And I thought I’d start on supper.”

“Actually, Mum, we thought we might go out.”

Adam came round the corner of the house. His shoulders and nose were burned scarlet. “I may have to fly home for a couple of days.”

Sophie clutched at his arm as if he was the last life-raft on a sinking ship.

Laura remembered how frightened being on your own with a newborn made you feel.

Bringing up Adam as a single mother after his father had left had not been easy either.

“That’s fine,” she said. “It’ll all keep till tomorrow. Where are we going?”

“Actually, we wondered if you’d look after Max and Lottie. We won’t be late.”

“Unless you feel it’s too much,” Sophie said quickly. “Mum would do it if she were here, but…”

“We’ll be fine, won’t we, Lottie?”

When Lottie nodded, Laura was as thrilled as Sophie seemed surprised.

When Sophie and Adam returned, Max was sound asleep and Laura was reading Lottie a story.

They said good night and went straight to their room before she and Lottie could tell them how they had lain on the grass in the dark, listening to distant goat-bells, seeing how many stars they could count and watching out for the shooters.

During the following couple of days, Adam shut himself away to seal the deal. He might as well have been in London.

Sophie looked increasingly desperate as she rocked her wailing baby, refusing to let him go.

So Laura took Lottie exploring until the morning she suggested Sophie and Max came too.

Sophie’s eyes widened at the absurdity. “I don’t think so.”

“But we know a beach where you can sit under a pine tree in the shade,” Laura countered. “It’s bliss.

“Lottie’s dying to show you how she can swim under water.” A skill perfected under Laura’s patient tuition. “I’ll help you.”

Lottie’s eager face was the deciding factor.

Max lay under a tree on a blanket, cushioned by a bed of pine needles made by Lottie, gurgling as he watched waving branches against the sky.

Sophie was persuaded to leave him with Laura and go into the sea with Lottie.

As they played, her tight, unhappy expression began to relax.

Eventually she ran out and flopped on her towel.

Within minutes she was asleep, but woke when Max started to cry.

Laura got there first and picked him up.

“Why don’t you go back to sleep?” she suggested. “We’ll look after him.”

She held her breath. Would Sophie trust her?

Then, with a whispered “Thank you,” Sophie lay back and slept.

At Gatwick they said goodbye. Lottie held Laura’s hand as if she would never let her go. Max beamed at her. Adam and Sophie kissed and thanked her.

As she walked away towards her platform, Laura heard her name being called. She turned to see Sophie running after her.

Gone was the pale, exhausted new mother of two weeks earlier. In her stead was a tanned, relaxed young woman who, to Laura’s astonishment, flung her arms around her.

“I’ve been an awful daughter-in-law,” Sophie said. “I never gave you a chance.”

Laura hugged her back.

“I haven’t been much better.”

“You’ve been fantastic. Can we come and stay at half term? Lottie’s bursting to see the adventure park you told her about.”

As Laura got on her train, she couldn’t stop smiling.

Everything was going to be different from now on.

She might even tell them about Mike.

We’re sharing another lovely escapist holiday story from our archives, every Monday and Thursday during June. Look out for the next one!