“I’m scared,” I say.
“It’s alright, Gan Gan,” chirps my four-year-old granddaughter on the seat next to me. “This is fun!”
I know grandparents are meant to be brave and set an example. But this is different. I’ve done some challenging things in my time as a granny. That very first day when I was left alone with a five-month old Rose so my daughter could go back to work, was probably the most terrifying of my life. Not because anything awful happened but because it was such a huge responsibility in case it did. Then there was the day when I dropped her in the swimming pool changing room, aged 15 months. That was scary too although the lump on her head had gone down by the time we got to the doctors.
But now I’ve reached new grandparent heights in the fear stakes. Literally!
If you could see us now, you would know that we are in a tractor fun park to celebrate her brother George’s third birthday.
Right now Rose and I are sitting side-by-side on a digger scoop. I’m not sure if that’s the right technical word but that’s what it looks like. Behind us are my daughter, son-in-law, George and my eldest son. The equipment has being wiped down by staff in visors; we’re the right number of metres away from each other; and we’re outside. I am really not one for fairground rides but Rose pleaded with me to join her and I really couldn’t refuse. Whoops! We’re moving!
Turning three is a big thing. In previous years, Rose and George have had their birthday parties in a local hall. My daughter and her husband organised the games and we helped out. All three sets of grandparents would be there. But the rule of six has changed everything.
Still, there are legal ways and means! George’s birthday has morphed into an extended set of celebrations over the next few days, rather like the Queen’s. Today is the digger park. Tomorrow is an appearance by Spider-Man (more of which later). My first husband and his wife will be there for that. Unfortunately, the children’s Welsh grandparents aren’t able to travel but the children will visit as soon as they’re able to comply with all the various Covid restrictions.
It’s a pity as the six of us grandparents always enjoy chatting together. But we are just one of millions of families who are learning to live with the new normal.
Goodness! We appear to have tipped rather sharply to the left. “Hold on tightly,” I call out to Rose.
“I am,” she yells back. “This is cool, Gan Gan!”
Judging from the screams of laughter behind us, the birthday boy feels the same. George has always been obsessed by diggers and tractors. (Isn’t it funny how some children become totally fixated on certain things from a really young age?)
Then I realise something as we go around for a second loop. I don’t actually feel as scared as I did the first time round.
When we get off, George is beaming…
“Can I ride that please?” he asks, pointing to a real life-size digger, shovelling earth. This one definitely isn’t for me but I’m happy to take pictures.
“Isn’t it lovely to do something fun during this difficult time?” says one of the mums queuing up. (Like me, she’s wearing a mask, even though we’re outside, just to be extra safe.)
“It is,” I agree.
Then comes the last ride. “Come on, Mum,” says my daughter. “We’ll do this one together.”
Really? I’m not sure I fancy driving a digger over all those potholes.
“I’ll take the wheel,” she says confidently.
“Do you know where the break is?” I ask.
“Of course I do.”
Whoops! We’re reversing. “Please go straight ahead,” instructs the man in the visor. It takes me back to the days when she was learning to drive and I sat next to her for practice runs. Where did the time go? How can she be a mummy now?
Home for dinosaur cake
On the way home, George is so exhausted – in a happy way – that he falls asleep. So do I. This is going to play havoc with both our bedtimes! By the time we wake up, we’re at their place for green dinosaur cake made by my daughter. Once more, my mind goes back to all the birthday cakes I used to make over the years with my best friend, now sadly passed. Ever year, we would pick our designs from the My Weekly Australian cookbook. Each one tells a story in our family history. There was the year that I made the sweet shop cake the night before only to discover that it had collapsed during the night and I hastily had to make another. Then there was the football pitch which sank with a hole in the middle! We still talk about that one!
My husband, who couldn’t come with us to the tractor park because of his back, joins us. The children play outside in the garden. “Hello!” says George waving from the back door. Then there’s a yell and a crack. Oh no. He must have been standing on the cat flap which gave way, only for his little chin to come down on the top of the door.
Is he bleeding? No. Just a small cut on the inside of his lip. Phew! Once more it’s a reminder that in “grandchildren land”, everything can be fine one minute and then emergency stations the next. Is it just me or are all grandparents on edge? At least when the parents are around, it’s no longer our sole responsibility…
Then George starts opening some more birthday presents. Before long, the carpet is a sea of wrapping paper! In our day, we didn’t have nearly as many. Still, I remember my mother saying the same and my grandmother too. I wonder if Covid will change this? We’ve all become more aware of what is really important and what isn’t.
My husband and I have bought George a toddler-size chair with his name on it. Rose already has one from her third birthday. We’ve also bought her a little present too so she doesn’t feel left out. “Is it usual to give a gift to the unbirthday child?” asks my husband who doesn’t have children of his own.
“Sometimes,” I say. Actually it’s a practical present in the form of a mermaid night light. But Rose decides she’d rather have her brother’s chair. “It’s bigger than mine,” she declares. “So I’ll sit in it and then he can have mine.” There’s no flies on that one!
Oh oh. George has burst into tears again. No – he hasn’t had another accident. He’s just unwrapped a present from his Godfather. It’s a huge Spider-Man figure. “I’m scared,” he weeps.
What? George loves him on television. The irony is that his uncles (my two boys) have paid for a “special appearance”. Two local lads are making money for charity by dressing up as Batman and Spider-Man and “visiting” in a special car to help children celebrate their birthdays at an appropriate social distance. And they’re booked for tomorrow!
Then someone knocks on the door. It’s one of my daughter’s friends who’s come round with a present from George. I suddenly realise this is going to take us over the magic number of six so my husband and I beat a hasty retreat through the back door. We wait outside until the visitors have gone. It seems weird. But we have to follow the rules.
When we get home, I’m exhausted. I have to force myself to go on my evening run but once I’m doing it, I feel better. By the time it comes to bed, I’m out like a light.
The next morning my daughter rings…
“We had about four hours sleep,” she says. “The children couldn’t settle.”
It’s not surprising really. I’ve noticed – probably as you have with your families – that even though the virus has been part of our lives since March, it still feels new because everything is constantly changing. On top of that, Rose has started full-time school and George has begun nursery. Add to that the beginning of term plus birthday celebrations. And of course there’s Spider-Man. It’s too late to cancel. What will George do?
“I can’t miss this,” says my husband.
“We’re going to have to,” I say. “It’s limited to six.”
“Maybe we can try to drive past at the same time to get a glimpse,” he says.
In the end, we manage to position ourselves down the street, along with various neighbours who came out to see what was going on. Wow. What an amazing car! George was clearly impressed and all the adults were bowled over! Spider-Man and Batman were pretty hunky too!
“It reminds me of the time that my husband and I took our three to a film set to celebrate one of their birthdays,” says a granny friend. “They were terrified by a clown but we had a great time!”
“You know,” says my husband as we go home, “children’s birthday parties are much more exciting than when I was little. I’m quite envious. Do you think Spider-Man and Batman would come to my 68th?”
“Only if you’re a good boy,” I say.
A heart-warming message from one of our readers
Meanwhile, thanks to one of our regular readers, Gabrielle from Germany for her lovely emails. Gabrielle’s grandchildren live several miles from her and it has been difficult to travel because of covid virus. Recently however, she was able to visit them.
“I’ve just read your latest column and thought how true it is that when we’re with our grandchildren we’re whacked but, when we’re not, there is a hole in our heart. After I came back from Frankfurt I was sleeping so much! Now they would like me to come again so I’m returning more quickly than I thought in case there are more corona restrictions. It’s heart-warming to be welcome!”
Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from grandparents who live some distance from their families and can’t visit often. You can get in touch by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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