“Perhaps we should start stockpiling,” says my husband, reading the latest headlines.
“We’ve been asked not to do that,” I point out.
“I’m not talking food. I meant puzzles and games. If we do go into lockdown again, Rose and George will need to be distracted.”
He has a point. Or maybe he just needs an excuse! My husband didn’t have children of his own and I find it rather touching that he has now become as passionate about toy tractors as he once was about sports cars during his bachelor days!
Seriously, it might be a plan to stock up on colouring books and so on. Four-year-old Rose and three-year-old George always love coming over to our place and rifling through my special drawer where I keep their craft stuff. I only hope that we can continue to mix households in our area. But if we can’t, it will give me a stockpile of presents to put on their doorstep just as we did back in March.
“Don’t think about that now,” says my husband. “None of us know what lies ahead. We need to concentrate on the moment.”
He’s right. So I decide to follow his advice.
“What did you do at school today?” I ask Rose at the end of the day. I can’t wait to hear the answer. I’m so excited! It seems impossible that my lovely little granddaughter is actually grown up enough now to go to full-time school. And naturally, I need to know all about it.
“We had lunch,” she answers solemnly as we snuggle up on the sofa together in front of the telly.
“But what else did you do?” I say.
“Lots of things,” she replies, her eyes glued to the screen.
And then I remember. My three would often be the same after a school day. They’d clam up, as if they needed a little break before they divulged any information. Rose is probably tired. No one wants to be interrogated when all they want is a drink and a biscuit and to slob out in front of Paw Patrol. (One of my favourites!)
The trick, I seem to recall, is to be on standby for anything useful…
“It sounds a bit like interrogating a spy,” says my husband.
He’s actually not that far wrong.
So I stay silent. Five minutes later, Rose suddenly says, “I sat next to Phoebe.”
My ears prick up. “That’s nice,” I say. “Is she your friend?”
“Yes,” she says. Then she goes quiet again.
“I once read,” says my husband, “that the best way to prise intelligence out of someone is to distract them. Give them a job which has nothing to do with the subject you’re interested in and then slip in a question or two.”
And that’s when I get my idea. “Would you like to help me dust my dressing table?” I ask. Instantly she jumps up. “Yes please!”
Rose loves my dressing table. It’s full of fascinating bits and pieces. Apart from dried up mascara (must get a new one in case stocks run out!) and lavender face cream, there are also photographs of my mother and my mother‘s mother and of my children when they were little. I’ve also stored special childish scribbles and cards below the mirror.
In fact, there’s so much on it that it’s more like a portable memoir.
“What’s this, Gan Gan?” asks Rose, picking up a piece of paper with a stick figure.
“That’s the first picture your mummy did for me,” I say.
“We did some drawing at school today,” she says. “I also wrote my name.”
I’m not going to push this interrogation business any more. Besides, we are having too much fun testing out all the precious bits and pieces which have meant so much to me over the years. ‘Can I ring this,” she asks, picking up a tiny little Swiss bell which my paternal grandmother gave me years ago.
“Of course you can,” I say.
Then the doorbell goes. It’s my daughter, coming to pick her up. “What did you do at school today?” she asks.
She hasn’t been very chatty about that, I’m about to say. But wait. Rose is already bubbling away. Obviously she’s been saving it all for Mum!
Meanwhile, George has become even more clingier than usual. Whenever my daughter or son-in-law go out of the room, he bursts into tears. It’s hard to know whether this is a normal developmental stage (one of my sons did this at that age) or whether it’s because he’s started nursery school or whether he’s been affected by the uncertainty of the world.
A couple of days ago, I offered to toddler-sit when my daughter had to take Rose somewhere. It was heart-breaking. Before lockdown, my grandson would cling to me like a limpet. Now all he wanted was to stand at the window and wait for Mummy to come home. “It’s not you,” my daughter reassured me kindly. “He’s just unsettled by everything.”
But it physically hurts. I can’t bear to think that George and I might have lost our special relationship.
Still, this week, there were distinct signs of improvement
“I’m going to be brave,” he announced, his lower lip wobbling as he went in to nursery. The “brave” word almost made it worse!
“I felt awful leaving him,” said my daughter when she rang to tell me. “I just sat in the car outside. The staff were wonderful and said they’d ring if he didn’t calm down. But then a mum came out after dropping off her child with a message to say that George was playing happily.”
Does that ring bells from when yours were little? Me too. But it’s agony at the time, isn’t it?
Then we got an email which really cheered us all up. Yippee! Back in March, Rose and her little friends were all gearing up for the big Easter dance show run by a local teacher. My granddaughter and her friends had been practising madly; grandparents and parents had volunteered to do stage and hair duties; and then we all went into lockdown.
It was a huge disappointment. And even though us adults knew, of course, that it was nothing on the scale of tragedy around us, it was hard to explain that to a child.
But now, according to the email, Rose’s dance classes are starting again in socially distanced bubbles! It’s a sign that in certain parts of the country, life is still going on as normal. Yet at the same time, I desperately feel for those areas which are going into local lockdown, including the part of Wales where George and Rose’s paternal grandparents live.
Then I came across a great tip from a granny friend who lives near Manchester. “My son’s family live by the sea. My eight-year-old grandson posted me a small shell which he’d found on the beach. He said it was for me to look after until we saw each other again. It made me feel so much better.”
Isn’t that lovely? I thought I’d pass it on. It’s amazing how “lending” a loved one something special can help keep those bonds going.
On Sunday, it suddenly occurred to me that my son-in-law and daughter hadn’t had any time to themselves for ages. Before the virus, I used to babysit about once a month but we seem to have fallen out of the habit.
“Why don’t I come round for an hour while you go for a walk,” I suggested. “It’s a lovely bright sunny morning.”
Unfortunately, I was late, partly because my 97-year-old father rang just before I set off. I didn’t like to tell him I couldn’t chat even though we speak every day. When I eventually got to my grandchildren’s, my daughter was drying her hair and getting ready as if she was going to a party. “This is so exciting, Mum,” she said. “Thank you.”
I felt bad I hadn’t suggested it before. But do you know the best thing? George had a few tears in his eyes at first but then he snuggled up to me on the sofa with his sister on the other side of me. We got through a pile of books about dinosaurs and then another on the lifecycle of the butterfly. (Having grandchildren is doing wonders for my general knowledge!) After that we did some drawing. All without a tissue in sight! Then we heard the key in the lock.
“Did you have a lovely time?” asks my son-in-law.
“Yes,” beams George. “I only cried a little bit.”
I think we might just have turned a corner!
“I had four biscuits,” declares Rose brightly.
“You promised not to tell Mummy,” I protested.
My daughter gave me a hug. “Nice to see some things are getting back to normal, Mum!”
How is the second wave affecting you and your family? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to share your experiences.
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