“Are you sure I don’t have to wear a mask?” I whisper to my daughter as we join the queue.
“Don’t worry, Mum,” she says. “We’re social distancing and we’re outside.”
That’s true enough. No one else is masked up. But we are all standing on chalk pink and white daisy “stepping stones” with the appropriate metre space in between.
Yes, that’s right. I am here with my daughter to pick up little Rose from her first day of full-time school.
Goodness, this is scary! I’m feeling as nervous as if it’s my own first day! It also brings back memories of collecting her mummy and brothers at this age. Will my little granddaughter have liked it? Did she have had anyone to play with? Does every single generation worry about this? Why am I the only gran in the queue?
All the other girls around us are roughly my daughter’s age. They seem so capable and grown-up. Some have started going back to work again in proper offices. Some are full-time mums. Some are working from home as I did when my eldest was born.
If I was a new mum starting on the school run all over again, I’d make sure I was on time. I’m ashamed to say that in my day, I was always trying to finish a writing deadline and would then get stuck on the road behind a flock of sheep. (In those days, we lived in the middle of nowhere.)
Now we’re here fifteen minutes early!
I feel like a fish out of water…
I find myself blabbering on to one of the girls next to me about what it was like when I was a working mum and interviewed celebrities like Davis Essex and Julie Walters.
I realise halfway through that I’m beginning to sound like an older member of our family who constantly talks about her 1960 heydays. Maybe it’s because I feel, to be honest, rather like a fish out of water. Everything has changed since I was a young mum. And the virus has accentuated this with all the debate about schools going back.
There’s a stirring from the top of the queue! We’re a being asked to move along. So we follow the one-way system round the village school. It’s really lovely with allotments to teach children how things grow and words on bunting to help with reading. In fact I wouldn’t mind being here myself!
“There they are!” says someone.
My heart is beginning to race. A little line of small children is slowly winding its way out from a building ahead of us. “I can see Rose,” says my daughter with excitement in her voice. So can I!
But we have to wait. It’s all very organised. A child comes forward one by one, supervised by the teacher. When it’s Rose’s turn, she runs into her mother’s arms. The two of them hold each other as if they’ve been parted for four months rather than four hours. “Mummy!” says Rose.
Then she sees me and stretches out an arm. “Gan, Gan!”
After that, it’s like 20 questions. At least it is from us. Who did you sit next to? Did you eat your packed lunch? What did you do?
Is it my imagination or does Rose seem shyer than usual? But as we get into the car – it’s too far to walk to school from their house – she opens up. “We read the Gruffalo story,” she chirps.
Really? That’s one of our favourite books. Surely a good sign!
Now we are driving on to collect George
Thanks to corni virus rules, Rose and I wait in the car while mummy goes in. I want to ask more questions about my granddaughter’s day but I’m also aware that perhaps the least fuss, the better.
“There they are!” she crows suddenly.
George comes into sight, clutching Mummy’s hand. I get out of the car to give him a cuddle. “I cried,” he declares, beaming.
Well he doesn’t look very sad!
“It was only for a bit apparently,” says my daughter. “They were wonderful with him. He was fine after that.”
Hooray! So we go back to my place and celebrate with home-made pea and mint soup. The children are shattered. Almost as much as us adults! Apprehension can be exhausting, can’t it?
“Perhaps we should put the television on to give them a little rest,” my daughter suggests.
Good idea. At least, it would be if I knew how the television worked! My husband has bought one of those high-tech things which I find impossible to operate. Why can’t it just have an on/off switch?
So we have to ring him for instructions. He’s actually waiting in the hospital car park for his CAT scan. Before you accuse me of being a negligent wife, I didn’t go with him because it wasn’t allowed, thanks to the virus!
Luckily he hasn’t gone in yet so he can talk us through the operating instructions. It’s almost like being told how to land a plane. “I have told you before how to do it,” he reminds me.
Yes – but he does it so quickly, jabbing buttons on the remote control before I can see them as if he doesn’t really want me to do it. Does anyone else have a partner like that?
Thankfully, peace is restored with Peppa Pig
“Honestly, Mum,” says my daughter. “I don’t know how you managed with three of us.”
Nor do I!
Meanwhile, there’s another big change in our lives. My daughter is going to take a bit of time from work until George starts full time school. I’m glad about that. I think she needs a break. Money will be tight but it’s worth it.
So instead of being a full-on Gran for twenty two hours a week, I’m going to be helping out with the children every day, rather like a “mother’s help”. I’ll be on hand for helping out with activity classes like prance and rhyme for George as well as the school run and tea and bedtime.
I’m really looking forward to it, to be honest. There were times, I have to confess, when getting up at 6.30am was proving a little tricky especially in the winter months.
It seems I’m not alone. “I love being able to dip in and out,” says a granny friend of mine. “You can be much more spontaneous. And you don’t have to be the bad guy either. If they play up, you just hand them back to the parents.”
I’m also hoping it will give me some time to have with my precious daughter. The older my children get, the more I’m aware of how important it is to give each one individual time. I have a picture of us actually having time for a coffee together with an uninterrupted conversation!
My husband needs a little bit of that too, especially with his spinal problems. We will know more on that score when the cat scan results come through next week.
Meanwhile, I’m trying not to panic too much about the latest rules on family gatherings. Christmas is a long way ahead. Anything can happen. Mind you, next weekend is Georges birthday. My daughter and her husband were going to be organising an outing for all six of us grandparents. But with their little family that would make a total of 10. So obviously that’s out of the question.
It looks like we might have different audiences at varying times. This could be rather tricky given the two of the grandparents live in Wales and the other two in London.
Still, safety has to come first. Our parents managed it during the war. Like them, we just have to get on as well as we can.
Meanwhile, I’m scouring the internet to find Rose a nightlight. She’s recently become scared of the dark and my heart goes out to her. I don’t like it much either. Ah! This looks perfect. My granddaughter loves mermaids and I’ve just found a purple one who glows in the night. So I press Buy.
I hope it helps. Does anyone have any tips on helping children about the night fears? If so, please get in touch.
Thanks also for your lovely messages about toys which your grandchildren and children have lost and found. I particularly loved this email from Wendy, one of our regular readers;
“My son David had a toy lamb, which we christened Scruffy, as he was originally white. But as they were inseparable, he became slightly dishevelled. My dad used to take David to the ‘office’ (local post office to collect his pension) every week. Somewhere on the walk back home, David lost his lamb. It was a catastrophe! David was distraught. The next day, my dad retraced his steps and found Scruffy in the gutter where it had lain all night. My mum washed it and it came up white again. It was known from that day on as ‘Snowy’.
“I loved your poem about your granddaughter starting school. I shall pass it on to my daughter. Our youngest grandchild, out of 4, has just started school. No more daytime term time childcare. We feel sad but grateful for all the precious times we have spent with them all and for all the lovely memories. Won’t miss the 6.30 alarm though!”
Thank you, Wendy! That’s the great thing about this column. We’re all in it together. So feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with grandparent questions and tips. See you next week!
Jane Corry is the author of the bestselling I Made A Mistake about a daughter-in-law Poppy, and her mother-in law Betty, who both have their love secrets. Published by Penguin, £7.99 in paperback and also available as an e-book and audio, narrated by Emilia Fox. http://bit.ly/IMadeaMistake OR https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Made-a-Mistake/24376830