“Here you are, Gan Gan,” says four-year-old Rose presenting me with a small piece of paper. It’s come from a little notebook I gave her.
“What is it?” I ask, delightedly.
I love it when Rose gives me home-made works of art. I keep them safely either on my dressing table, along with notes that her uncles and Mummy made me when they were young, or on our Welsh dresser in the kitchen (also stuffed with memories going back over the years) or on the fridge door.
“You can’t keep everything,” my husband sometimes protests.
Oh but I can.
One of my favourite and most poignant notes is from my youngest son (now 29) from when I brought him up on my own during his teenage years.
It’s part of a poem and says:
‘You’ve always been so kind
And have never really mind(ed)
That I have done whatever,
Do or say.’
I’m not sure that’s totally true because there were times when I did mind very much about the things he did and said! But it now takes pride and place on the notice board next to my desk where I write my novels.
Anyway, back to the note which Rose has just handed me…
It’s got my name (Gan Gan) at the top but underneath, there are rows and rows of small numbers.
“Thank you,” I say. Then, as tactfully as possible because I don’t want to hurt her feelings, I ask “What does it say exactly?”
She makes a “Don’t you get it?” face.
“It’s a bill.”
“A bill!” I repeat. I almost burst out laughing but then I realise that she’s serious. I don’t want to hurt her feelings. Like all creatives, she’s sensitive.
“Do I owe you money?” I ask.
“No,” she says. “I just thought I’d write you a bill.”
Then she proceeds to write one for my eldest son who, as some of my regular readers might remember, is staying with us until he can go back to work in Spain. (At the moment, numbers are rising.)
“Why haven’t I got a bill?” asks my husband who is feeling left out.
“Just be grateful,” I joke back. “Most people don’t want one.”
Rose has now moved on to drawing something else but it does make me think. Where do they get their imagination from? Are all children born with it? And is it up to us parents and grandparents to encourage it rather than say “don’t be so silly?”
As a writer, I’m a great believer in imagination
In fact, sometimes I wonder if I go too far. Rose, George and I are constantly making up stories about mermaids and dragons to the extent that they are convinced they are real. And why not?
Earlier this week, when I was babysitting while my daughter nipped out for a doctor’s appointment, the three of us did a puppet show from behind the sofa. Each one of us took it in turns to be the puppeteer and we had a high old time. “We didn’t turn on the television once,” I said to my daughter when she returned.
(I didn’t admit that this was partly because I still can’t work out the two remote controls despite the fact that they’ve tried to explain umpteen times!)
My husband on the other hand is addicted by children’s TV but not in the way you might expect. “This is so scary,” he says when he joins me the next day to look after George while Rose trips off to dance class with Mummy.
“It’s only a toddler cartoon,” I point out.
“But it’s violent,” he says, hiding behind a cushion. “Look at that animal bashing another over the head.”
“It’s just pretend, Grandad,” says George solemnly. “Don’t worry.”
It’s great to see that schools seem to place even more emphasis on imaginative storytelling and role playing than I remember from my day. Mind you, we need as much distraction as possible right now during these uncertain times.
Talking of school…
…I think we might be getting there with George. That “pretending to be in the car in the kitchen with a happy face” (see last week’s column) seems to have worked. There’s only one problem. George is now convinced that as soon as nursery finishes, it’s perfectly normal to stop off at the toy shop on the way back to choose his “well done” toy.
“I’ve become a mum who bribes’and it’s costing us a fortune,” jokes my daughter. “I try to buy the cheapest little toy possible but I can’t keep doing this.”
She might not have to. As I write, there are murmurings of schools staying closed for two weeks over half term as a circuit breaker. By the time you read my column, this might well have happened. But what if it goes on for longer? It won’t be easy to explain to children who have just started school like my two grandchildren, that actually everything is being put on hold again.
“My granddaughter is stuck in her halls of residence, unable to go out because they’ve had a covid outbreak,” says one of my friends. “But she still seems to have made friends, even at a social distance. So we’re all trying to be positive.”
You have to, don’t you?
Talking of being upbeat, the good news in our household is that the pink elastic straps which I sewed on my granddaughter’s ballet shoes, actually stayed in place all through the first lesson. This caused much hilarity amongst my three grown-up children – especially my eldest who photographed me on his phone while I was sewing and then sent a “remember how our uniform labels used to fall off?!” what’s app message.
The second is that I am beginning to have some more quality mother/daughter time. It’s become a tradition that she now pops in for a cup of tea and slice of toast after dropping off George and before I write. It’s only for fifteen minutes for two days a week but it’s really nice.
My daughter has recently taken a two-year gap until George goes to school. I’d hoped she would relax but recently she’s discovered a passion for photography – especially family groups and not just ours. There’s just one thing that’s worrying me.
“But what about social distancing?” I ask.
Apparently social distancing shoots are very popular. She’s been on a course and is constantly practising by “shooting” us when we’re least expecting it.
It takes me back to when I was a young mum and the “should you or shouldn’t you work with young children?” debate was always being discussed. I was a freelance writer then and I have to say that it wasn’t easy meeting deadlines while looking after our three. I know what pressure it can cause on a marriage and, in fact, all round. Part of me wants to tell my daughter to wait until both Millie and George are in full-time school. But it’s hard when you have that burning desire to do something. Maybe this is just one of those dilemmas which crops up for every generation.
Meanwhile, many of my granny friends are still trying to hang onto their work during covid. One of them, who was made redundant, has taken a cleaning job so she can keep up with her national insurance payments until she retires next year. “It fits in with picking up the grandchildren from school,” she points out.
As a writer, I am at my most creative in the mornings. But I do like to pop round to the children after school to help with tea and bath time. It gives me a chance to catch up on their day. And that’s when the mystery of the note is solved!
“I know,” chirps Rose. “Let’s put some nursery rhymes on. Alexa, play Miss Polly.”
We used to sing this at playgroup when her mummy was small, in our cosy little Buckinghamshire village hall. I’d almost forgotten the words but now they are coming back to me – along with the final line: “I’ll be back in the morning for my bill, bill, bill!”
So that’s where my granddaughter got the idea from! That girl will go far!
PS. Thank you for your lovely emails about your children’s toys which you are now passing onto grandchildren.
Cathy contacted me to tell us about her experience…
“When my daughter was a little tot (very cute with masses of blond hair) her favourite item was her *Twiddle*. This was a baby towel with a hood on it. She would move her fingers around the edge till she found the label. Then she would wrap it round her fingers, gently touch her eye lashes and she would fall asleep with it quickly.
“Well before lockdown, I found my daughter’s beloved twiddle. So I took it to her saying, ‘Hey, look what I found!’”
“Straight away my granddaughter took it and she now sleeps with it. So a start of a tradition?”
Cathy ended her email by saying that they still had the four-foot-high teddy which her mother bought her daughter!
This rang bells. I still have my old teddy and a china doll whom I named my daughter after! Some toys are too precious to pass on!
Do keep sending me your emails. How are you getting on during this tricky time? Has it made a difference to your contact with your grandchildren. Just drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next week! Meanwhile, I thought I might have a go at writing a children’s story! I’ve got three ingredients so far. A mermaid, a dragon and a bill…
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