“Now you lie there, George,” instructs Rose, pointing to the sofa, “You’ve got the virus. I am the doctor making you better.”
My three-year-old grandson obediently does what he’s told. But frankly I’m worried.
I don’t care for this new version of nurses and doctors. Although we are all trying to make life as normal as possible for our children and grandchildren, there’s no doubt that even little ones are feeling the strain.
So it’s great news that schools might be going back soon. Or is it?
“I’m not really sure,” confesses one of my granny friends. “Children are meant to be the silent super spreaders. What if they pass it on to us and rates go up again?”
One of my other granny chums has grandchildren who are in their early teens. “I think it’s really important for children to go back to school. They need the social interaction and they also need to keep up with their studies. Before the virus, my grandchildren used to come back to me after school and I gave them dinner until their parents got back from work. I’ve had my first vaccination, so I’m going to carry on having them at our place.”
The topic has caused some discussion in our house…
I’ve had the first vaccination too but I’m also being extremely careful not to socialise with anyone outside our childcare bubble. My daughter has arthritis and needs help at times. I will be there although I’ll be very glad to have that second vaccination under my belt in May.
But my 97-year-old father isn’t at all sure about seeing us yet – despite announcements that we can shortly meet outside.
“I’m not sure about that,” he says. “Let’s see what the weather is like shall we?”
I can tell that he’s still nervous about going back to a more relaxed regime. And it’s understandable.
Personally, I am a great believer in doing what you feel comfortable, providing you’re following the rules. It’s an individual choice and relationships can be damaged if you try to persuade someone else round to your way of thinking.
But even so, I’d prefer it if Rose and George play something else apart from the virus doctor and nurse games. We all need a change of subject!
In fact, this gets me thinking. How old was I when I learnt to play draughts? Is Rose too young? So we have a go. In fact, she picks it up quite fast – as does George.
Then my husband gets out his new chess set – a present from me at Christmas because his old one is still in storage after moving house eleven years ago! (I also bought him a ‘how to play chess’ book online which turns out be written in gobbledegook but that’s another story!)
Personally, I’m hopeless at chess. It’s too mathematical for me! But the children are entranced by the shape of the figures. Rose immediately starts making up stories about knights and castles. That’s my girl!
“I want to play penguins,” clamours George five minutes later.
The children have been learning about the penguin life cycle through my daughter and son-in-law. I have to say that my own knowledge is expanding as a result! I didn’t realise that the mothers leave their eggs with their menfolk to keep warm while they go off for a bit. “Maybe they’re having a girls’ spa break,” I suggest.
Rose is all for it. “You look after my egg, George, while I go away on holiday,” she says, waddling off.
“OK,” he chirps happily.
Wow. This is real modern parenting stuff!
Then my little grandson sneezes into his sleeve before I have a chance to pass him a piece of kitchen roll. Pre-virus, I would have gently suggested he didn’t use his jumper as a tissue. But times have changed. George is simply following the rules. I can’t help wondering if this is one that might last for some time…
Then something happens. My grandchildren decide they are going to “surf” across the hall floor on cushions. “Be careful of the wood,” says my husband.
Whoops. Too late. “My hand hurts,” cries Rose.
Oh oh. She’s got a splinter.
“I can get that out really easily with my tweezers,” I say. “Look, it’s actually poking out.”
But she’s in floods of tears. It’s understandable. As a baby, Rose was very poorly and was in and out of hospital more times than we wish to remember.
“I want Mummy,” she sobs.
I feel as though I’ve failed! My daughter comes round but Rose is still reluctant to let her take out the splinter even though it’s hurting. Finally, we manage – although it takes a chocolate plus a bracelet from my jewellery box to persuade her!
“I wonder if you’ve still got that old splinter in your foot,” I ask my daughter. I’m only half-joking. I can still remember the screams when, aged six, she got one in her foot and refused to let her father or me take it out. In the end, we had to give up. The doctor said it would probably work its way out. I can’t help feeling that there is a certain irony in the way these childhood incidents come round!
Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who has written in with stories about keeping up with absent grandchildren. Jean from York emailed to say that she and her grandchildren aged 9 and 4 had made pancakes together on Zoom.
“It worked really well, even though we were hundreds of miles apart,” she said. “It was lovely to see my daughter helping them toss the pancakes while I did the same at the other end. I felt as though I was in their kitchen.”
Sally from Southampton has been knitting lots of different coloured squares along with her 12-year-old granddaughter whom she hasn’t been able to see since November. “She posts them to me when she’s finished and I’m going to sew them into a blanket along with mine,” she told me. “It’s a way of keeping us together and it will be a reminder of this time. We’re going to call it the Covid blanket.”
Here are some ideas for things to do with your grandchildren even if you can’t be with them in person yet.
Send packets of seeds to each other. Take pictures on your phone when you sew them or pot them out and send them to each other. Take heart from the fact that when these plants get bigger, you might well be together again
Buy them a book. While We Can’t Hug by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar for 2 to 6 year olds is a lovely story about a tortoise and a hedgehog who weren’t allowed to touch. Many bookshops provide a postal service and of course there’s Amazon. We all love getting a present in the post!
You can also buy personalised books with your children’s names in them – and yours! Just Google “personalised name books”.
Make a very simple family tree for your grandchildren. Sometimes it’s hard for little ones to understand that their uncle is also their mummy or daddy’s brother! You could make it even more interesting by sticking old photographs next to the names.
The charity Save The Children also has some advice on its website to help “far away grandparents” stay connected with their grandchildren.
This includes “7 Tips On How to Talk You Your Children about coronavirus” with tips and ideas on how to fire up their imagination (build dens, get cooking, make pom poms etc). Just go to www.save the children.org.uk.
We all need help especially – ironically – since light is on the horizon with vaccinations and the prospect of some rules being relaxed. It’s a bit like when I used to take my three children on long car journeys and they kept saying, “Are we there yet?” The closer we got, the more they would ask.
This week I’ve been feeling particularly emotional about the effect of the virus on all our lives. So I rang a good friend. We go way back to when our children were at playgroup together. “I’ve been the same,” she says.
So we started planning all the things we’ll do together when we’re allowed to. I now live several miles from my friend but she usually comes to stay with us by the sea twice a year. “We’ll get together in the autumn, with any luck,” I say.
After all, even us adults need to play imaginary games, don’t we? And with any luck, these will come true.
Finally, I’d like to mention an email from another reader who doesn’t want to be named. She’s very worried about the effect of lockdown on our own children. “My daughter-in-law, who has four children, is struggling without seeing her friends. It’s not just the fun social side they miss – it’s the practical and emotional support they get from other parents. It’s a hard time.”
Very true. So excuse me while I ring my daughter for a big warm hug.
Grandparent of the week – Julia Hardy
“I love all my grandchildren equally but I feel very protective towards Jeannie because she was born early, weighing under five pounds. I had her mother when I was 17 and newly married, so I’m a young granny! In many ways that’s great because I have energy and they don’t have to drag me along in a wheelchair! I can do anything like ice skating and bodyboarding in the sea. I’ve also been able to see them grow up. Two of them are fully-fledged! They live two and a half hours away but I’m a pretty hands-on gran. Before the virus, they came to stay with me – often singly so we could have one to one time. I’m looking forward to doing that again. Jeannie turned 21 during the first lockdown so we had a virtual champagne party!
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a grandmother is that my daughter Mel is a fantastic mother. I don’t think I was so good because I didn’t have the right tool kit. I’m really impressed with the way she and her husband have brought up the children.”
If you would like to tell us about your situation as a grandparent during lockdown, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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