I arrive at my daughter’s for lunch (after writing all morning) and find out she’s with George in the kitchen, driving a car.
What amazing imagination! The two of them are sitting on the ground, George behind Mummy, who is holding his Spider Man plastic plate as a steering wheel.
‘Now George,’ she says. ‘Do up your seatbelt. Put on your happy smile. Brilliant! Now say ‘We’re going to school and we’re going to have a lovely time.’
‘I’m going to school and we’re going to have a lovely time,’ he chirps, beaming.
‘Well done!’ she says encouragingly. Then she makes a noise which is just like a car stopping. ‘We’re there now. Are you ready?’
They both get up off the floor and stand up. ‘We’re going in now. I’ll be back to pick you up soon.’
‘You’ll be back to pick me up soon,’ he repeats.
I’m very impressed by the role play. But I’m also a bit doubtful. Will this really help George to adapt to a whole morning away from Mummy? This is the third week and so far, there have been a few tears even though the staff have been absolutely amazing.
But I’m saying nothing.
It’s taken me nearly five years of grannyhood to learn one of the basic rules. Never venture your own opinions until asked and even then, do so diplomatically. Mind you, it’s not always easy to hold your tongue!
Meanwhile, it’s been a busy week. I’ve had nearly seven weeks off – which is longer than I can remember. But now the next stage of my edits are in from my publishers and it’s all systems go.
To be honest, I’m relieved. Writing helps me to slip into another world and (temporarily) block out the uncertainties around us.
The corni virus (as an elderly uncle of mine calls it) has also taught me to concentrate on one thing at a time – especially when it comes to my father. Regular readers might recall that he is 97 and becoming very frail. He has always been quick to see the downside of life but now it’s becoming even worse.
So my aim, during our daily morning phone calls, is to try and lift his spirits. Sometimes I send him pictures of the sea. Sometimes of the grandchildren.
There are times when he doesn’t want to talk about them. And there are other times when he’s really interested.
Right now, he is quite intrigued by my story about George’s reluctance to go to school.
‘I loved it myself,’ he tells me on ‘Spacetime’ (his word for Facetime) . ‘We used to swim in the River Cam at lunchtime. My favourite subject was English. We used to learn poems off by heart. Do you know that one about the daffodils?’
Then he begins to recite Wordsworth almost word for word. I want to cuddle him on screen.
But this week, he brings up a different subject.
‘I’m not very keen on where we live,’ he tells me.
My heart leaps! Maybe my father and stepmother have finally agreed to move near us after years of us pleading and cajoling. That way, my sister and I can keep an eye on them.
‘I’m aware that I might not have long to go,’ he continues.
‘Daddy,’ I interrupt. ‘Please don’t talk like this.’
‘I have to,’ he says firmly. ‘Now do you remember that pretty wood area where we used to walk?’
I do indeed! It was tradition for Daddy to take my sister and me for a nature ramble while our mother prepared the Sunday roast.
Once – so magical ! – we came across a castle. It was made of polystyrene and turned out to be part of a film set. But my sister and I were convinced it was real.
‘I want my ashes to be scattered on the footpath that runs nearby,’ he says. ‘I used to walk there as a boy with my parents and dog. ‘
That footpath! The very ground where I used to walk with my very first boyfriend, whom I was madly in love with at the age of sixteen!
I ring my sister after the phone call and tell her about our father’s wishes.
‘I used to walk with my boyfriend there too,’ she giggles. ‘It feels a bit weird, doesn’t it?’
We also both agree that he ought to write down his wishes to formalise it. I don’t really want to broach the subject. But one of us has to, for clarity’s sake.
All this makes me even more aware of the importance of spending time with my grandchildren.
Daddy has got to a ripe old age but none of us know how long we have.
‘Off again?’ asks my husband when I put on my bike helmet the next day.
Oh dear. I hope he’s not feeling neglected. But I really want to see how George got on at school.
‘It’s a bit of a long story,’ says my daughter when she opens the door.
Tell me more!
‘We chatted about going down to the toy shop after school for a little treat if he had a ‘happy goodbye’,’ she explains.
Hang on! I’ve been banned from bribing Rose and George after overdosing them on chocolate buttons the other week.
‘I know,’ she says as if reading my thoughts. (Adult children have an uncanny habit of doing that, in my experience.) ‘But on my way to picking him up, I popped into the supermarket and found this amazing big dinosaur. I thought he’d be thrilled.
‘Actually he was terrified. So we went to the toy shop and bought a small dragon.’
(I should point out here that George is obsessed by both.)
‘Then he decided he did like the dinosaur after all. But I’ve put it away for Christmas.’
I’m still trying to keep up with this. But two things are clear.
George is clearly a smart kid for landing two gifts instead of one. And my daughter is one present ahead of me when comes to the ‘Who’s started their Christmas shopping?’ stakes. (I know this seems trivial, given the state we’re all in but you have to have some light ahead, don’t you?)
Meanwhile, Rose is taking to school like a duck to water. It’s certainly changed since my day. For a start, they do something called ‘Tapestry’.
This has nothing to do with sewing (which was never one of my skills as I’ll explain later). It’s actually an online device which allows teachers to send parents and carers pictures of the children during the school day to show what they’ve been doing. Naturally, it comes with privacy settings.
‘Goodness,’ I say when my daughter tells me this. ‘That’s a bit risky, isn’t it? Remember the day when your little brother cut someone’s hair off? I certainly wouldn’t have wanted a picture of that.’
We’ve been trying to do more of that. Laughing, I mean.
Our area isn’t in lockdown yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s round the corner. It’s why I had lunch with my daughter earlier in the week (home-made pea soup with mint since you ask!)
But the best part, are those little snippets of conversations which are so important and yet which are all too quickly passed over in the rush of family life.
On Thursday, I go over mid-afternoon so I can sit with George while my daughter takes Rose to her dance class after school.
‘Did you bring your needle?’ asks my little granddaughter excitedly.
Oh no! I’d rashly promised to sew on those little bits of elastic which go onto new ballet shoes – but I’d completely forgotten.
‘Tell you what,’ I say, ‘why don’t we just staple them on?’
I’m only joking. Well, sort of. But it takes me back to the days when my three were at school and I used to painstakingly sew on their name tapes. I was never any good at it. To my embarrassment, they’d usually fallen off by the time it came to the uniform check!
We persuade Rose to wear her trainers instead. ‘I’ll get those ballet shoes ready for next week,’ I promise. But I feel I’ve let my granddaughter down….
Meanwhile, my husband’s period of self-isolation after his latest spinal procedure has come to an end. This means that little Rose and George can now come round to our place to play – something they’ve been clamouring to do for ages.
I decided that in celebration, I’d upgrade the toy section of our sitting room. So we get down my daughter’s old doll’s house from the attic.
My mother, who had given her this just before she’d died, would have loved to know it was being passed down to the next generation.
‘We’ve been doing the same,’ says one of my granny friends who has just had her first. Her husband has been having a wonderful time mending the old wooden farm that their boys used to play with.
It made me wonder. Have you been doing the same?
I’d love to know about any old toys you’ve resurrected for your grandchildren. Please feel free to send in pictures. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Well, I’d better go now. I need to attend to my neglected husband. I’ve also got to fish out a needle that will go into those ballet shoes. Wish me luck!
Jane Corry is the author of five top ten best-sellers. Her latest novel IMade A Mistake is about Betty, a grandmother who lives with her son’s family. 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