“I’ve brought you a present,” I say when I arrive at my grandchildren’s house one day last week.
“That’s very kind, Mum,” says my daughter sweetly. “But you really don’t have to.”
I know I don’t. But I want to! Months of not being with them makes me want to spoil four-year-old Rose and two-year-old George as much as I can.
In fact, this present was something I’d bought before lockdown. I just hadn’t had a chance to give it to them. It’s a pair of children’s plastic tennis racquets and a ball in a neat little see-through cover.
I love playing tennis myself (although I’m only middling). And judging from certain celebrity tennis families, it’s never too young to start! There’s no net, but never mind. We can just hit the ball to each other.
“Whoops,” I call out as we get going. “Mind your sister’s head, George!”
My daughter looks worried. “We’ve already had enough bumps and scrapes during lockdown. I’m not sure I can cope with any more.”
I do take her point. I used to feel this way when I was in charge of them for 22 hours a week before the corni virus arrived. In those days, I was always relieved to hand them back safe and sound. In fact, one of my most terrifying memories is of Rose (then aged one) slithering out of my grasp in the swimming pool changing room. I rushed her straight to the GP but thankfully she was fine.
Just helping out – not in charge
The strange thing about this new normal is that I’m now “helping out” my daughter (who gets hit for six after her fortnightly arthritic injections) rather than being fully in charge. In some ways this is a relief because I’m not solely culpable. Yet in others, I rather miss those days when the children and I could break the rules like eating tea on the sofa in front of Shaun the Sheep.
But I’m also concerned about my daughter. All these months of restricted social contact have taken its toll. Like many young mums (and the rest of us), she’s exhausted. I understand her concerns.
“Let’s play something nice and quiet, shall we?” I suggest.
“No,” say Rose and George in one breath.
So we compromise. I teach them to play French cricket instead while encouraging my daughter to have a little rest.
“You have to throw the ball at my ankle,” I say. “Then I have to stop you getting it by putting my racquet in front.”
I have to say that they’ve got an eye! I don’t know about you but I get real delight from discovering that they like the same things as me. Even if my ankles are a bit bruised!
Books are another shared passion! In fact, I had a huge clear out of my study during lockdown and found a lovely Alison Uttley Little Grey Rabbit’s Birthday and a counting story which I’d kept over the years. Some of the pages are a bit torn but that’s all part of their history.
The holiday issue…
I feel so lucky to be with “my babies” again! Sometimes I look back at those times of waving through the window and doing virtual hugs in the air, as if it was all a bad dream.
Yet I also know from your postbag and our own emotions as a family, that we feel unsettled. What will the second wave bring? Should we go away on holiday? How can we amuse the children without being able to go to the usual places like the ball park or the local miniature train ride which is temporarily closed?
Of course, the answer is that there are plenty of other things to do. My daughter is brilliant at making things from shells and seaweed and used egg cartons and – well almost anything. It’s simply a question of getting used to this new normal.
The holiday issue however, is something else. This weekend, my little family should have been going abroad. But my daughter’s doctor has advised her not to fly because of her low immunity due to her arthritic drugs. She’s spent hours on the phone and internet this week, trying to get the money back. But no luck. That’s £1500 down the drain.
She could move the flights to next year, but that would be another £500 in “flight changes”. It’s too much. Besides, who knows what the situation will be like next year? And the insurance company says it’s unlikely she’ll get a refund even with the doctor’s letter.
It seems like a small matter in view of the terrible things that have been happening. But they are understandably disappointed.
How safe is it to have an ice cream?
Still, we’re very lucky to be by the sea. What a lovely place to have a staycation!
The only problem is that our local beach is getting incredibly busy with holidaymakers. The best time to go down is early in the morning. Even in the evening, it’s packed with teenagers and camp fires.
So we head for another beach which is a few miles away, with more space to self-isolate. Of course we bring the tennis racquets and we also make sandcastles. These are the memories of which childhood are made.
I have a flashback to our annual trips to the Isle of Wight where my Godmother lived. My sister and I would buy flags to put on our castles and had a Donald Duck swimming ring each!
Then the sound of a tinkling bell cuts into my memories. It’s the ice cream bike!
“Pleeese could we have one?” pleads Rose.
George jumps up and down with excitement.
In pre-virus days, I wouldn’t have hesitated. But how safe is it?
“I’m sure it will be all right,” says my daughter hesitantly.
Perhaps I should say here that I haven’t been food shopping since the virus started. My husband does it instead. This is a big deal for me.
So I make my way across the sand and queue up, two metres apart. The queue suddenly gets bigger behind me and I start to feel nervous. The young man in charge only has a glove on one hand but I watch him carefully and he isn’t touching anything with it.
My heart starts to beat as it comes to my turn. I choose tubs instead of cornets because I’m not sure about holding a cornet. Then I can’t remember the order. Was it two chocolates and a strawberry and a caramel or two strawberries and two chocolates? Thank goodness he takes credit cards. I’m not sure I could cope with touching change.
I wend my way back, holding the tubs and trying to avoid the seagulls which are swooping overhead.
I’ve just crossed a significant border
“Thank you, Gan Gan,” cry Rose and George. But I’m exhausted! I feel as though I’ve just crossed a significant border. And I have! Maybe I needed to do this. At some point, we all have to make some small steps forward.
“That was a great day, Mum,” says my daughter when we get home. “Thank you.”
The pleasure was all mine! I want to pop the day into a photograph frame and keep it forever.
That reminds me to tell you something! I’ve found this great app on my phone where I order prints for £6 a month and then put them into an album. It seems particularly important during this time.
Then I see the big Amazon box by the door. “What’s that?”
“Didn’t I tell you?” says my daughter. “I found a cheap tent on the internet. If we’re going to have a staycation, I thought we could all go camping. In fact, we’re going to put it up tomorrow night and try it out. Do you want to join us?”
Now there are some childhood memories which I’d rather forget. And camping is one of them! I still recall sleeting rain while trying to drive in pegs during my Guide days and then shivering all night in a thin sleeping bag.
In fact, when married my second husband (a keen camper), I almost had a No Sleeping Under Canvas clause inserted into the wedding vows.
“I think I’ll pass on that one, thanks,” I say.
There’s only so much that a granny can be brave about…
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.