“Happy birthday to you!”
It’s Rose’s fifth birthday party.
Last year, my little granddaughter had a lovely birthday party in a local village hall. There was disco dancing, a magician and lots of guests.
But this year it’s different.
Rose’s birthday happens to fall on the first day after the second lockdown. We’re in tier 2, round the kitchen table; surrounded by festive bunting. Luckily I’m in a childcare bubble so at least I’m allowed to be here.
Yet we’re still being very careful. Then we start singing happy birthday. Oh dear, I wonder, as I duck under the helium “5” balloon which is hovering over my head. Are we meant to do that?
Wow! My daughter has made an amazing mermaid cake with pink and blue figures reclining on top of the icing (she must have inherited her cooking skills from my sister and mother since I only have to look at a piping nozzle to get it all wrong!).
Instead of making piles of sandwiches for guests, we have slices of pizza, carrot sticks, other snacks – and a bowl of Maltesers! There isn’t loads of washing up afterwards and we only have a kitchen floor to sweep instead of a village hall.
In fact, we are having a wonderful time.
Time for the presents!
Rose is conducting lots of Facetime sessions with her other four grandparents and her great-grandfather (my dad). She’s also surrounded by torn wrapping paper and presents. We all seem to have gone a bit overboard this year, possibly because we’re trying to make up for the usual birthday party.
“I love this!” gasps Rose when she unwraps a three-storey dolls’ house which she’s been wanting for ages.
I’m afraid I’m a bit of a sucker when it comes to watching ads on children’s TV.
“Pleeese could I have that,” Rose pleaded the other week when she saw a dancing doll. So I got that too, along with an “unbirthday” tractor present for George.
“You’ll spoil them,” warns my husband.
I don’t think so. Rose and George have both said thank you. In fact, their manners are a credit to their parents.
If I’m waxing lyrical here, it’s because I get very emotional about my grandchildren’s birthdays. This is partly because Rose had some very scary health issues in the first seven months of her life.
I also get emotional about my grown up children’s birthdays. Are you the same? I like to tell each of them about the story of their births – in fact it’s a tradition which goes into all the details of when I first felt them coming, through to the moment when I held them in my arms.
When I was about to give birth to my first son, nearly thirty-seven years ago, I had to get a taxi to hospital. (We lived in a very rural area at the time and my first husband was at work several miles away.)
On the way, the taxi got a flat tyre. We were on the outskirts of some woods – nowhere near a garage. Of course in those days, we didn’t have mobiles so we couldn’t ring for help. Luckily my taxi driver was able to put on the spare but he got into quite a lather. “I’ve never broken down before with a pregnant lady inside,” he said.
Still, at least I didn’t give birth there and then, like one of my friends who had to be delivered by her husband on the way to the maternity unit!
Two days later, we have more excitement!
I’m doing my first solo school run since the virus started.
Like many grandparents, my usual childcare routine stopped overnight when we went into lockdown last March. Instead of looking after Rose and George for two days a week from 7.30am until 6.30pm, I was suddenly redundant. I was also heartbroken at not being able to be with them and I know that lots of you felt the same.
Partly because of the virus and the possible effect on pre-existing health issues, my daughter is now taking two years off until George starts school when she’ll go back to work again. I help out with bath and tea time but I haven’t been needed for regular school runs. Until now!
“Would you mind taking George to nursery one day a week?” asks my daughter. “It would really help.”
I can see her point. Rose’s school is in the opposite direction. Besides, I’m rather keen to resume duties! I’ve missed the childish chatter in the car and the songs we used to sing as well as the games (“Who can spot a blue car?”).
Yet just like anyone going back to “work”, I’m also a bit nervous. I’ve only visited George’s nursery once and it’s not the easiest of drives.
This time last year, it wouldn’t have worried me. But the virus seems to have taken some of my confidence away. Have you found that too? I’ve also fallen out of the habit of driving because I don’t go anywhere!
“I’ll come with you, if you like,” offers my husband.
“That would be great! Thanks.”
“What time do we need to leave?”
This would have been a late start when my husband was working but the clock has taken on a different face since his retirement. Besides, as regular readers know, he’s not very mobile at the moment because of spinal surgery – although he can drive a car.
All went well with lots of chat from the back. “I love school,” he chirps from the back. “It’s cool!”
Because of the virus there’s a strict drop off procedure. You have to go in one at a time, wearing a mask and ring the bell. Then one of the helpers opens another door and George shoots in.
“I think we ought to wait in the car for a bit just to make sure he’s all right,” I say to my husband.
“I agree,” he says. In fact, he’s more nervous than I am.
It takes me back to the days when I would hang around after dropping off my children. Security wasn’t what it is now. There was very little to stop a child from just walking out of the door in the 80s. How times have changed.
Anyway, now I’ve done it once, I feel more confident about doing it next time!
But the week didn’t end there…
“Mum,” says my daughter when she rings on Saturday morning. “Do you feel like coming on a hike with us?”
I was going to write the next part of my novel but the virus has taught me how important it is to have time with family. So off we go, complete with haversacks and enough gear to last two days instead of two hours!
Our route takes us up some steep hills towards a well-known looking out point over the sea. But just as we reach the halfway point, it begins to rain.
“I don’t want to walk any more,” clamour Rose and George in one breath.
The others (including my eldest son) take it in turns to carry them on their backs but even though my grandchildren don’t look it, they’re pretty heavy!
“I want to go home,” wails Rose.
“Let’s just get to the top first,” says my daughter. “We can have some snacks then.”
I have to hand it to parents nowadays. They’re very good at negotiating in a calm and persuasive manner. In fact, many a politician might pick up a lesson…
We finally get there and wow the view is worth it.
“Is this where Father Christmas lives?” asks George looking down through the pine trees.
“It might be,” says my son-in-law.
Then we make up a Father Christmas story on the way home. There’s nothing like a wet walk on a Saturday morning – especially when there’s a hot shower at the end!
Sometimes – just like our little birthday party – the simplest things are best.
I thought we’d continue the theme of funny things that children say. The other day, Rose heard the local church bell strike. “That’s lovely,” she said. Then she turned to look up at it. “Play it again, Alexa!”
Please email me any amusing stories about your grandchildren (or your children) when they were little. I’d also like to know what you’re going to be doing at Christmas with the new guidelines. You can reach me by email on email@example.com.
Have a good week!
Jane Corry is the author of five top ten best-sellers. Her latest novel I Made 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