“Gan Gan,” calls out Rose, rushing towards me as I arrive at their house.
Then she stops, mid-flight and looks back at my daughter. “Is it all right to see her now?”
It’s only been a fortnight but to us, it feels like two months. You might remember that we’ve been staying away from each other after my husband’s back op in case we transferred the you-know-what unknowingly to them.
I’m here now as part of my support bubble. My daughter needs to go to the doctor (nothing to do with the virus) and someone needs to look after the little ones. Even so, we are still being very careful.
I don’t bend down and cuddle Rose as I usually would.
Instead, she wraps her little arms around my legs. George, who has started to copy his big sister even more during lockdown (probably because he is the only other child he sees), does the same.
“Be careful,” says my daughter as she leaves. “You’ll knock Gan Gan over! Thanks so much for looking after them, Mum. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“No rush,” I say. In fact, the longer the better! I’ve brought lots of things over in my bike basket to keep them amused – including some pots of broad beans.
“Remember how you helped me grow these?” I ask them.
They both nod solemnly. It was soon after Christmas.
“They’ve got really big!” says Rose.
“Really big,” repeats George.
“Shall we plant them in your garden?” I ask.
“Yes please!” they yell.
Off they run…
Wow. They’re lively. Maybe this has something to do with the packet of sweets which my husband gave me to give them. “They don’t have any additives,” he told me. But they seem to have wired up these two! Maybe I should have been a bit firmer when they’d asked for more. But I’m hopeless at saying no even though I was very strict with my own three.
So off we prance round the back of the houses and up to the garden. George is solemnly carrying the trowel, Rose has got one pot of beans and I’ve got the second.
“Can we eat the beans for lunch tomorrow?” asks Rose as we dig some holes and gently tuck them up in the soil against the fence.
“We’ll need to wait until the summer,” I say. “But don’t worry. It will be fun to see them grow.”
It strikes me as I say this that one of the biggest lessons for me during the past year, has been to take one day at a time. It’s not easy but I’m doing my very best. The beans are a good example to look up to.
Then it starts to rain so we go back inside. Rose and George begin jumping off and on the sofa. I need to do something to keep them calm! They’re really missing the company of other children. It’s such a shame as they’ve only just started full-time school and nursery respectively.
Still, Rose’s school is sending out lots of work to keep them going. My daughter aims to start lessons in the kitchen by 9.30am. It sounds like a great combination of learning and games! Rose’s reading is really coming along and George is recognising quite a few letters too. He’s also brilliant with numbers (like his dad). I still struggle with my nine times table so I’m hoping that they’ll be able to help me with my bank balances when they are older!
It feels like a miracle that children go from being babes in arms one minute to reading aloud the next. Or so it seems. One of my granny friends listens to her grandson read every night on Zoom.
“How about a puppet show?” I suggest.
Two Christmases ago, I gave them some glove puppets and a little theatre screen. But the latter fell to bits! So now they use the back of the sofa as a stage while I sit in front.
“We can’t,” says Rose.
“Because we need people to watch and we can’t have that until the world gets better.”
“Well you’ve got me,” I point out.
“OK,” says Rose.
“OK,” echoes George.
I’m then treated to a ten-minute play involving a queen, a toy cow and a tractor. I’ll say this for lockdown, it seems to have fired their imaginations even more than before.
Before we know it, there’s the sound of the key in the lock. Immediately the actors down tools.
“Mummy!” calls out Rose flinging herself into my daughter’s arms, closely followed by her little brother. “We’ve missed you!”
“Did you have a lovely time with Gan Gan?”
“Yes,” chirps Rose. “We ate all the sweets that Grandad gave us and we’ve buried some beans for lunch in the summer.”
“Sorry about that,” I say. “But the good news is that no one had to go to A & E.”
This is my measure for a successful granny stint.
“Now why don’t you have a cup of tea while I look after them for a bit longer?” I suggest.
I don’t know about you but my heart goes out to our children who are dealing with one of the biggest crises in history for a long time. It’s making them anxious and no wonder. But even if we can’t be there on hand to help, a loving phone call or old-fashioned letter or an email with a funny picture can help them feel less alone.
One of my readers, who didn’t want to be named, got in touch to say that she’d “never been particularly close to my daughter-in-law. But since this all started last March, I’ve begun to ring her every week and ask her about herself – and not just the children. We’ve become much closer.”
That’s lovely, don’t you think?
While my daughter is having a much-needed five minutes out, the children have got out the dressing up box. “You can wear this,” says Rose, handing me a pink and blue wig. Just what I need, considering I can’t have my highlights done until goodness-knows-when!
“Gan Gan looks really funny,” laughs George.
It’s so good to have some merriment.
Even so, I’m acutely aware of how lucky I am to be near my grandchildren. It helps to make up for the fact that I haven’t been able to see my youngest son (aged 29) since August. It’s the longest we’ve ever been apart and although I speak to him every day, I ache to have his arms around me. (At 6 foot 2, he’s way taller than I am!)
But I’m also bowled over by the lovely emails I’ve had in the last week, to say how many of you felt comforted by all the personal stories in last week’s column. “It shows that we are not the only ones to feel alone, unable to hug our grandchildren,” says Denise from Manchester.
Sandra, from Essex, wrote to say that she’s been looking after her grandchildren aged six and four as part of the support bubble. But now her daughter-in-law has just had a new baby and the other grandparents would like to take over. “I do understand. We all live locally and it’s only fair that they should have their turn. But it means I’ve got to step away from the bubble and won’t be able to see my grandchildren until the restrictions are lifted. Of course I’ll be able to FaceTime the older ones but I won’t be able to pick up the baby and cuddle him.”
That’s tough. Sandra. We all feel for you.
So I’m going to start something new in my column! From now on, I’m going to be running a “GRANDPARENT OF THE WEEK” slot, where you can send me a picture and a few words, telling me about your life as a grandparent. Our first one features Michelle and Dylan below.
If you would like to be part of this, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d also like to hear from you with any good news. It doesn’t have to be about your grandchildren – it could be anything that’s happened to you. I’d like to kick it off by telling you about my 97-year-old father. He wasn’t able to have his vaccinations held at the local shopping centre because he and my stepmother are house-bound. But on Friday, a nurse came to their home to give them their shot. Hats off to the NHS!
Grandparent of the Week – Michelle Macdonald, Brighton
“I’ve got a 15-year-old grandson Dylan and we have always been close. I miss him so much because he lives a long way off and we can’t see each other during lockdown. Like many teenagers, he doesn’t always pick up his phone! But when I did get through recently, I felt quite upset because his voice had changed. I told him that he needed to talk to his gran more and he agreed! So now we do and it’s lovely.
“During the summer, between lockdowns, he came to stay with me. When I could get him off his games, we went down to the beach and had a lovely time. A friend asked all her friends to send her a picture of the best 2020 moment. I sent her this picture of me and Dylan. Every time I look at it, it lifts my spirits.”
Thank you, Michelle. That’s lovely. See you all next week!
“I hope you enjoyed reading about other grandparents. Do email me if you would like to tell us about your life as a granny or grandad, email@example.com. See you next 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