It wasn’t until I was 16 when I got my first Valentine’s Day card. It arrived anonymously, through the front door. No postage stamp which meant it had to be from a local boy! At last! No longer was I the only one at class who hadn’t received one.
After that, an anonymous card arrived every year. When I went away to university, I still received them. So the sender knew where I’d moved to! This time there was a postage mark. It showed that my admirer was from my hometown. Was it the boy I’d always fancied who lived down the road?
It wasn’t until I got married – at the age of 22 – that the cards stopped.
“I didn’t think you’d want them any more,” admitted my grandmother.
Yes – she had been the mysterious sender! “I didn’t want you to feel left out because your friends at school all got one,” she said, giving me a cuddle. “And besides, I do love you.”
We lived with my grandmother until I was 12 and after that we moved round the corner from her. I saw her every day for years. She was such an important part of my life. I think this is one reason why I have such a strong relationship with little Rose and George.
Later, when my children were teenagers, I sent them each an anonymous Valentine card so they wouldn’t feel left out. Despite writing the envelope with my left hand to change my writing, they cottoned on fast. “It was from you, wasn’t it Mum?” said the boys. Rumbled!
So when my daughter wasn’t feeling very well last week and I looked after the little ones, it seemed a good idea to continue the tradition. “You can make Valentine cards for Mummy and Daddy,’ I said.
I got out my old watercolour set as a special treat. “Look”, I said, “they work in a different way from your crayons.”
“It’s magic,” breathed Rose as I showed them how to wet the brush and drip purple into the pink to combine the colours.
“I wish I could paint with my grandchildren,” says a friend wistfully when we ring for a catch up. Immediately, I feel terribly guilty. She hasn’t been able to see her three little ones since last summer during lockdown. Still, she says brightly. “Maybe I’ll make my own card to send to them.”
In fact, a lot of my grandparent friends are getting crafty…
Another – who hasn’t been able to see her 10-year-old grandson for almost a year – makes him a little weekly newsletter. “I tell him what I’ve been doing,” she says. “He seems to like that and has started writing back, telling me about his news. It’s a change from a phone call.”
Another friend, who’s addicted to crossword puzzles, makes one a week for her 12-year-old granddaughter and emails it to her. And one of the grandads I used to know through playgroup, is learning Spanish so he can communicate better with his nine-year-old Spanish granddaughter. “This is the first year I wasn’t able to go over and spend her birthday with her,” he told me. “But now I can talk to her more on the phone. She corrects my grammar!”
In case you’re short of ideas to keep up with grandchildren who are far away, here are some suggestions:
- Make dolls clothes
- Send sticker books
- Take out a comic subscription for them
- Cook with them on Zoom
- Send regular postcards – a picture usually goes down well
- Write them a short little story with their name in it
- Play Scrabble (or other games) online
- Simply chat on the phone on regular days at set times. Then it will be part of your week.
- Write down snippets of family history for them.
- Post small gifts. They don’t have to be expensive. Maybe a little notebook or one of those paint books where you just have to add water for colours to appear.
- Send e-cards. I signed up with an animated card website. It’s brilliant. Cards don’t have to be just for special occasions – they can just remind someone you’re thinking of them.
Rose and George’s Welsh grandparents were kind enough to send some pocket money for half term. “What would you like to spend it on?” asked my daughter.
“A drive-through at McDonald’s,” clambered Rose. George – who is copying everything that his sister does – jumped up and down in excitement.
It certainly brightened up their day. And there was plenty left over for other treats.
Meanwhile, I am trying to find something special for my father
His eyesight has been getting worse and worse. “I can’t read any more,” he tells me on the phone. “I used to get by on books like you. Now I can’t.”
My heart goes out to him. His local optician runs a home service for sight tests but Daddy’s too scared to allow anyone in the house during the virus.
Then I rang my optician for advice. He suggested ringing a charity for the partially-sighted. I got through to a wonderful woman who was kindness herself. She offered to send Daddy a reading chart. All he has to do is mark the line beyond which he can’t read anymore and send it back.
I explained that he and my stepmother can’t get out of the house to post anything. So we agreed that he will tell me how far he gets down the lines.
It took a while for me to explain this to my father because he is getting very deaf. Again he won’t allow anyone in the house to test him for an aid. “Which line did you get to?” I asked him when the chart arrived.
“What’s that?” he says. I repeat it several times.
“Oh – what line did I get to! Why didn’t you say that before? The first one.”
“No further?” I ask.
“No,” he says. “I can’t read the others.”
His sight must be worse than we realised. So I rang the charity and they’re going to make some suggestions. I’ll let you know how we go. It might be useful for someone in your family.
There’s a certain irony that my daughter is teaching Rose and George to read during home-school and I am trying to help my father to continue reading. Still, that’s families. Things go round and round.
Even at times like this, it helps to see the funny side – especially when it comes to grammar. “I want to read the book about sheeps,” says George.
“Actually,” I correct him, “it’s sheep.”
“But there’s more than one on the page,” points out my husband mischievously. “So why isn’t it sheeps?”
Sometimes I wonder who the child is here!
Mummy and Daddy were delighted with their Valentine’s Day cards from the children. “I’ll keep them safe,” says my daughter. Like me, she has all the bits and pieces that they have written. They are priceless reminders of growing up.
In fact, all this has made me think. Love – especially during the pandemic – comes in all kinds of unexpected ways. Rather like watercolours, we don’t know exactly how it’s all going to turn out, in our own particular mix.
But the most important thing is that we keep on going. At some point, the picture will be clearer.
Meanwhile, Rose and George have presented me with a huge challenge. “Can you mend this?” asks my granddaughter, handing me a ripped dress from her favourite doll.
Mmm. I examine it doubtfully. “I’m not very good at sewing,” I admit.
“Nor am I,” says my daughter.
Neither of us have inherited my mother’s sewing skills, apart from my sister. And she’s too far away for us to meet up.
But I promise to have a stab at the dolly dress. Literally! I always end up by hurting myself with a sewing needle. I’ll let you know how I go. It’s going to be my challenge of the week!
Meanwhile, if you have any other tips on how to keep in touch with absent grandchildren of all ages, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grandparent of the week – Anna Rankin
“We feel incredibly lucky to live on a farm where our eldest son, Max, his wife Annabel and their 2¾-year-old son, Freddie also live. I LOVE being a granny and are very blessed that, since they live at the end of the garden, we see Freddie almost every day. Covid hasn’t changed that, even if it’s just for a quick wave when walking past their house. He LOVES the outside, is fascinated by all the animals, is tractor obsessed, comes to help me feed the pigs, helps my husband in the vegetable garden, visits the farm office and even spends the night occasionally. He sleeps in the bedroom opposite ours, shouts ‘Gary’ (that has stuck and I prefer it to Granny!) and then I read him a morning story. I love this age! He is so interested in everything and charms everyone.
“Disappointingly, since we run a wedding venue and business has been incredibly tough over the last 10 months, I feel like I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I would like with him. I think he’s probably too young to know what’s going on in the world but has certainly benefitted from having his dad working from home and the fact that two of our other children have spent lockdown here too so there’s been a lot of “uncle” time. The fact that he is so happy and confident reflects this. He also has a newborn cousin (Margot, my granddaughter!) and a sibling due in March so plenty of playmates… but I hope that he will always love coming up the garden to visit Gary!”
If you would like to tell us about your situation as a grandparent during lockdown, please email me at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you.
JANE CORRY is the author of five best-selling thrillers, published by Penguin. Her latest novel I Made A Mistake is about Betty, a grandmother who lives with her son’s family. Available in paperback (£7.99) and also 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