“We are having a sleepover at Gan Gan’s,” chants my four-year-old granddaughter Rose.
A few weeks ago, when households weren’t allowed to visit, this would have been impossible! Now I am as excited as she is.
But the truth is that I’ve always been a bit nervous about having my granddaughter over for a sleepover. Our house is tall, with winding staircases. It was built in the days when the word “childproof” hadn’t been invented.
In fact, that’s why Rose has only ever stayed over twice. After all, we are just round the corner from each other. It’s safer for me to sleep there overnight on the odd occasion if they were going out late.
And when my daughter gave birth to little George, I was there for four nights in a row. I rather enjoyed it actually. It was like playing house!
But when Rose was three, she kept asking if she could spend the night at our place. So we had a stairgate fitted to the door of her mummy’s old bedroom. I was so nervous about leaving her alone that I ended up sleeping on the floor next to her.
That was a great success so we repeated it. But the second time didn’t go so well.
“I want Mummy and Daddy and George,” she sobbed when it came to lights out.
I tried everything. Me sitting next to her in bed. Stories. More stories. Hot chocolate. But in the end, I called my daughter who came round to soothe her. Oh dear. I felt such a failure!
Lockdown changed all that. We started to talk about all the things we were going to do when the world got better. And suddenly sleepovers with Gan Gan and Grandad were at the top of Rose’s list!
And now it’s allowed! Except this time, they’re all coming over.
Well, not quite all. My son-in-law has been invited on a camping stag weekend. It’s really important that he goes because they won’t be able to go to the actual wedding. This is because it’s in Ireland and the quarantine restrictions on either side are too complicated.
Everyone is gutted about this, especially as Rose and George already have their special outfits. (George was going to be the ring bearer!)
“Why don’t the three of you stay with us when he’s away?” I suggest.
“Brilliant idea,” says my daughter.
Rose and George are really excited about sleeping in the same room as Mummy.
Even more exciting, Uncle Wow – my eldest – is home now after being in Spain for four years. So my daughter will have some quality time with her older brother. As those of you with grown-up children know, this is a rare treat.
From my point of view, I’m less worried about the safety side as my daughter will be with them in the same room and the stairgate is still in place.
“We’re here!” calls out Rose.
My daughter is lifting several cases and bags out of the car.
“Goodness me,” says my husband who has never had children of his own. “How much stuff do they need for one night? And what on earth is that? A dinghy?”
Actually, it’s an inflatable air bed for George, which sits on the floor at the foot of the bed. He looks incredibly comfortable. I’m tempted to get one myself!
Rose is dancing around, enchanted with the novelty of it all – especially as the room has a bathroom of its own. (I went round very carefully before they arrived, taking out anything which might be edible or unsafe.) There are also pictures of her mummy when she was little, plus a pretty sign by the bed that says The Princess Sleeps Here.
Bath time, I have to say, is pretty manic. Rose raids all the goodies which I’ve left out for them, like fun soap and bubbles. Then she comes into my room and picks up my Chanel spray.
“Just a little,” she pleads. How can I resist?
After that, George has to have some “man spray” so he doesn’t feel left out!
Rose comes downstairs to play the piano with Uncle Wow while my daughter attempts to settle little George upstairs. Amazingly, he goes out like a light.
“That’s because he’s been running around the garden all afternoon,” says my daughter. I’d forgotten how I used to encourage her and her brothers to do that, simply to wear them out for bedtime!
Then it’s my granddaughter’s turn to go to bed. But she’s not so keen. We have to whisper the bedtime stories so as not to wake up George.
Then I have an idea. “Do you want to see my treasure box?” I suggest.
Her eyes light up. “Yes please!”
This contains special things from my childhood. There is a blue Pony Club rosette and old bits of jewellery which I allow her to try on.
Oh look! There’s the gold bracelet which my godmother gave me when I was roughly the same age as Rose. It fits her perfectly. And – yes here it is – a blue butterfly mask which my mother once painted for me to wear at a fancy dress party when I was small.
“Would you like to keep it?” I ask.
“Yes please,” she says, her eyes round with wonder.
It’s gone 8pm now and she’s still not sleepy.
“Can I come downstairs with the grown-ups?” she pleads.
“What do you think?” I ask my daughter.
“I think she’s allowed some special Gan Gan time, Mum. After all, it is a sleepover…”
Eventually Rose dozes off. It feels so wonderful to have the two of them under my roof. Correction. Four. Two grandchildren and my daughter and eldest son.
We ring the baby – the night owl – who lives in London.
“I wish I was there too,” he says.
Then we actually settle down for a family evening. I feel so lucky. If I’d known when they were little how rare these times would be, I wouldn’t have been so anxious to get my own three to bed on time.
Now I look across at my little girl sitting next to her brother and I’m so grateful that they have this time together. My sister and I live hundreds of miles away from each other and I wish we were nearer. But I suppose that’s families. We dip in and out.
The important thing is to grab those moments when we have them.
In the morning, I wake up to the sound of little voices. My heart rises. It’s like hearing little birds sing!
“We didn’t want to wake you,” says my daughter kindly when I go in. It’s just after six. Actually, I’m an early riser so it doesn’t matter. Besides, we’ve got a lot of time to make up for after lockdown.
We tiptoe down to the kitchen where Grandad has bought goodies for breakfast like chocolate croissants.
“Yummy,” says Rose.
I’m tempted to miss my morning swim to stay with them but they all tell me to go. So I do. I splash across the bay and back in record time to be back for an after breakfast walk. We take our dog and my grandchildren take it in turns to throw the ball.
But all the while, I keep thinking to myself. What if there is a second lockdown? What if we are stopped from merging households again?
I know I mustn’t think like this. But it’s hard not to.
“Can we do this again?” I ask my daughter.
“That would be lovely, Mum! Actually, do you think you’d be able to have both children on your own next time? It would be lovely for us to catch up on some sleep.”
“Of course,” I say. But I have to admit that I’m a bit nervous. It was so much easier having my daughter there too.
Our roles seem to have reversed. When she was a little girl, she relied on me. Now I rely on her much more when it comes to telling me what the children do and don’t like.
Meanwhile, a big day is approaching. My 96-year-old father has been extremely agitated during the last few months. Even when lockdown was eased, he didn’t want us to come over. It’s a five-hour drive and he’s worried.
I also have to persuade him that the government has now allowed us to visit.
“Are you sure?” he asks.
My eldest son is going to drive us down. He and my father spent a lot of time on FaceTime when he was in Spain and have become very close. We don’t want to stay overnight at a hotel, as I’m worried about my husband who is recovering from spinal surgery. So off we go!
When we finally get there, my father and his wife are sitting in a back room looking out onto the garden.
“You can sit on the bench,” he says, “and we can call out to each other.”
It’s not easy because they are several foot away and he is hard of hearing. I’ve brought a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates. They don’t want me to go near to give them, so I have to put them on the ground. Then I’m worried about them falling over when they pick them up.
We chat for an hour but they only want to discuss the virus. I try to reassure them and also distract them by talking about little Rose and George, but their concentration isn’t there.
They only want us to stay an hour because they’re tired. So my son and I then make the five-hour journey back again.
I’m glad we went, despite the fact that I’ve got “passenger cramp” (even though we took breaks). But I think that next time we really will have to stay the night somewhere.
The first thing I do the next morning is to run round to the grandchildren. Rose and George fling their arms around me. I get down on my hands and knees and play fairy gardens with them.
Meanwhile, the edits of my new book have come in. This means I’ve got to spend at least half a day working on them. But I don’t want to lose this precious time with my grandchildren. So instead of working in the mornings, I’m going to do so in the evening.
This virus really has made us reassess all our priorities, hasn’t it?
Then the news comes through about households in the north not being able to meet up. I begin to feel agitated. What if this happens to us?
“You know,” says a friend who is a counsellor as well as being a granny herself. “We can only do so much.”
As I write this, my “babies” are in Wales, visiting two of their other grandparents. I’m in charge of the cats. When I go into the empty house to feed them, it feels odd. I can’t wait for them to come back tomorrow night.
But I also know how important it is for them to have this special time with family. I’ve already had some lovely, shining faces on What’s App.
Memories are made of this. One day perhaps, Rose might have children to pass on the gold bracelet and butterfly mask.
“Gan Gan gave them to me when the world started to get better,” she might say.
This gives me hope….
Have you given your grandchildren things from your childhood? I’d love to read your stories. Do join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter linked to this post.
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.