The new normal seems to be racing along with fresh developments every day. And each one has its own impact on family life.
I know, from the lovely emails you send, that I’m not the only one to be both excited and also anxious by this.
Last Thursday, both my grown-up boys came to stay. The youngest was only here for a long weekend as he had to get back to work. My eldest is here for several months until he can return to working abroad.
Of course, I’m over the moon. In fact, I cried when they came. Yet at the same time, I was really worried about whether they might be potentially infectious for my grandchildren and the rest of us.
We’re being cautious…
My youngest son and his girlfriend had been kind enough to do a test just before they came down – even though I hadn’t asked them to. Both were negative. My eldest son had been quarantining in London and came down in the car with his dad. So on paper, it should be alright. But even so, it was a huge step for us as we’ve been so incredibly cautious.
“We don’t have to visit,” say my boys in the preceding week. But how could I possibly ask them to keep away? They might be 29 and 36 but they are still my babies.
And this leads me on to something else which many of you have written to me about, asking to remain anonymous. Our love for our grandchildren is unfathomable. Most of us would do anything for them. So at times, it almost makes me feel guilty about my own children. Of course I love them just the same but in a different way. Yet I feel particularly protective of little Rose aged four and George, two – especially when they are in my care.
As soon as my boys arrived, we went straight round to my daughter and son-in-law. The boys immediately began playing games with their niece and nephew. The strange thing is that after a few minutes, all my worries went. They had met now. They’d socialised. It was done.
Naturally, I was there, hovering by their side squirting hand sanitiser onto their paws at every available opportunity. But in the end, there is only so much you can do, realistically.
“I agree, Mum,” says my daughter. So does my son-in-law.
We have a lovely long weekend. I cancel my long-awaited hair appointment for highlights so it doesn’t eat into the Friday. (I have to wait until September now to be an all-round blonde but it’s worth it to have that family time.)
Instead of having my foils done, I organise a family picnic on the beach. “Please throw the ball to me, Uncle Wow,” demands Rose. This is their name for my eldest son because they think he’s amazing.
“Horsey ride, Uncle Charlie,” pleads George. (That’s their nickname for my youngest son because they couldn’t pronounce his real one when they were even smaller.)
My daughter and I look at each other. We both know what the other is thinking. Yes – they are all touching the same ball. But we will wash their hands straight afterwards. Right now, we all feel more relaxed than we have for months. This has to be doing our mental health some good – including the children’s. Little Rose and George have desperately missed their uncles. And my grown-up boys need to know there is a home they can come back to.
In a strange way, having them with us has also helped me with my own fears. I have only been into one shop since lockdown finished. Now I feel I’ve crossed a boundary. It makes me feel braver about going into other shops, providing I have my mask and sanitiser.
Talking of masks, my husband has put in another bulk order. It arrives on the Saturday morning. One packet has butterfly motifs and the other dinosaurs. “I thought the children might like them,” says my husband.
When they all come over for Sunday lunch, they try them on. “I love them, Grandad,” says Rose. Clearly she thinks it’s all a game.
Suddenly, I have to leave the room. My eyes have welled up with tears. “It will be alright, Mum,” says my eldest son giving me a hug.
I think of how my grandparents must have felt during the war when everything was still uncertain for their children (my parents). So I take a deep breath, say a prayer and go back to join them for a game of shops. I bought them this just before lockdown and they never had a chance to use it. Now they fall on this as well as old toys which we had kept in their usual special spot in the sitting room, as if they are old friends.
“Here’s my bus!” calls out George excitedly. This is one of those toys that makes various noises when you press the buttons. During isolatiom days, it had an uncanny habit of coming on when no one was touching it. This used to really upset me because I had the toys but not the children. Now it is wonderful to see them playing.
Then Rose makes a discovery
“I’ve been looking for this everywhere,” she declares, brandishing a small pink and cream unicorn.
Oh dear. The truth is that she left this tiny figure behind at our house during one of my granny days pre-lockdown and I’ve kept it by the side of my bed to give me strength. It was my way of telling myself that one day Rose would be able to be in our house again. And now she is. Once more, I have to fight back my tears of joy.
But the clock is ticking. Before we know it, it’s time for me to drive my youngest son and his lovely girlfriend back to the station. I fuss around them like a mother hen before their departure, gathering food and drink for the train journey.
At the same time, I try very hard not to nag about things that mothers nag about. I almost succeed!
Of course, I stand right outside their window on the platform side, until it’s time for their train to leave. Then they hold up their mobile phones. They’ve written something on it. It says Thank You with hearts after it.
The house seems quiet
When I come home, I want to go straight round to my grandchildren’s house. But I also know they need family time to themselves. A granny’s place is to be there when she is needed and not interfere.
I can’t face tidying my youngest son’s bedroom yet. It’s still too raw.
The house feels terribly quiet even though my eldest is still here. At least I thought he was. Where is he?
“Out for a run with his sister,” says my husband. “Then he’s going back to help with bedtime for the children.”
That’s wonderful. Suddenly, I can see a whole future ahead with our new household bubble. My eldest will be able to spend more time with the little ones. They will forge happy memories after these difficult months and it will hopefully make us all stronger for the future.
But my heart still feels half empty without my 29-year-old baby. “I was thinking,” says my husband. “Shall we drive up to London in three weeks to see them?”
It will be 300 miles each way. I’m not a long-distance driver and have a phobia about motorways. “I’m happy to do it,” says my husband.
“That would be wonderful,” I say.
Then the phone rings. It’s my daughter. “You know you said Rose could come round for a sleepover after lockdown,” she reminds me.
I’d almost forgotten.
“How about next weekend?” she suggests.
“But can you make sure she’s in bed on time instead of 10pm like the other night?” she asks.
Ah, yes. That happened to be my daughter and son-in-law’s wedding anniversary. Rose was still awake when they left but promised to go straight to sleep. Yet downstairs, where I’d just started watching a film, I could see from the monitor that she’d got out of bed so I went up to check. She was standing there ready for me. “Could I have another story please,” she said, “and maybe a little biscuit in bed?”
How could I refuse? By the time her parents came back, we had got through eight stories and were writing our own about mermaids and dragons. The biscuit barrel was also half empty.
Still, I had cleaned her teeth.
“Of course I will,” I now say to my daughter, crossing my fingers.
If you can’t spoil them after lockdown, when can you?
Jane’s new book… out now!
Hope you don’t mind me mentioning this but my new Penguin thriller launched at the end of May! It’s called I MADE A MISTAKE and is about Poppy, a mother of teenagers and her live-in mother-in-law Betty who is a young 70 year old. The two of them are like mother and daughter. But each has their love secrets. Betty’s go back to the 1960s. It’s on sale at supermarkets, bookshops and online. Here’s the link.