“Are you sure he’s old enough to go on that?” I say to my daughter, eying the zip wire in front of us.
“George loves it,” she reassures me. “Just make sure you’re with him. Thanks so much.”
With him? Am I meant to hang on too?
I cling onto my three-year-old grandson’s waist and legs as he zooms off, with me running alongside him. “Let go, Gan Gan,” he says furiously. “I can do it on my own.”
But I’m too scared to allow him to fly solo. What if he falls off? Oh dear. I have to confess that I was an anxious mother. I used to put this down to being a magazine journalist where we would often write what we called TOT stories. This stood for “triumph over tragedies”. I will never forget interviewing the mother of a little girl who had always wanted to be a ballerina but then lost her leg in a road accident. She went on to get a prosthetic and was given a star role in a ballet. So it had a happy ending of sorts. But all these years later, I can’t get her out of my mind.
Maybe that’s why I can’t help being an anxious granny.
Which brings me back to the zip wire. It’s half term week. My daughter has very sensibly signed up three-year-old George and five-year-old Rose to a local half hour a day swimming course. We live by the sea so it’s important to teach the children to have respect for the water and be able to get out of trouble if necessary.
The course is at a local pool. Rose’s session is first and then George’s. “Would you mind coming along to help?” my daughter had asked. “Parents or carers have to get in the water too and I don’t want to leave one on the side.”
I totally get her point. So George and I are currently travelling at high speed along this zip wire outside, waiting for our turn to go in.
I’m quite relieved when this happens. George is duly dispatched into the pool with Mummy while I dry little Rose. Then my granddaughter and I snuggle up on the side with a drink and snack.
“I went underwater,” she tells me excitedly. “I saw a mermaid!”
“Wow!” I say.
I’ve always told made-up mermaid stories to Rose ever since she was little. Now she believes they are real. And why not?
“I also saw treasure,” she says excitedly. “Golden chocolate treasure!”
I love this imaginative age! I hope she’ll always be like this. At the moment, she wants to be a writer. And also a vet.
It’s scary looking back…
When I look back over the last year and a half, it feels like a scary story. “I know what you mean,” says a granny friend who’s just been able to see her grandchildren again after the last lockdown. “Weird, isn’t it?”
There’s been quite a lot in the newspapers in the last few weeks about the effect on children’s mental health because of the virus. So I was extremely impressed when we got back home after swimming and Rose announced that she was going to do some yoga.
“You can do it with me too, Gan Gan,” she says.
Apparently they’ve started doing this at school along with mindfulness.
She sits in a perfect cross legged pose with a lovely straight back. (Much more professional than anything I could achieve!). George is next to her, copying his sister’s every move. “Now close your eyes,” she instructs firmly, “and imagine you’re somewhere nice.”
Then my phone goes. It’s my 97-year-old dad. He’s agreed to get his sight checked now he’s allowed to have someone in the house. But I’m having problems getting him an appointment because everyone else wants one too. I try to explain this to him but he can’t hear me very well. That’s another problem that needs looking at…
The phone goes again. This time it’s one of the other opticians I contacted. They can see him next week. Hurray! My dad used to be a great reader. Now, hopefully, he’ll be able to see more than just the headlines.
“We’re doing yoga, Gan Gan,” says Rose eying my mobile disapprovingly.
“Sorry,” I say.
Then the phone goes again. It’s the hospital offering my husband a cancellation for an MRI scan this afternoon. Wow. It’s a lucky day. So I immediately accept on his behalf and then try to get hold of him to give him the good news. He doesn’t pick up.
“Now close your eyes,” instructs Rose.
George and I obey. But then the phone goes again! This time it’s work-related. My new novel is coming out in three weeks and there’s quite a lot going on in terms of promotion and interviews.
When the children were little, I used to have terrible “working mother guilt”. Even though I wrote from home before it became the norm, it was always a juggling act. I promised myself that when Rose and George came along, it would be different. But it sometimes hard to cut off from work completely during my granny hours.
One of my friends, who has a very high-powered at home job, has been getting up at 5am this week to do her work before her visiting grandchildren wake up.
“I like to think I’m providing a role model,” she says. “Not all grandparents are retired.”
On a different subject, I must share something with you
Yesterday, the dog and I are leaving our local park when I spot an extremely harassed mother with three children ahead, about to approach the main road.
“You’ve got to hold my hands,” I hear her say.
But they are having none of it! Instead, they are squirming in the way that children do. Indeed, they are dancing around the non-existent pavement with cars approaching.
“Excuse me,” I call out from behind (at a social distance, of course). “My three children were like you at your age. They didn’t want to hold my hand either.”
Round here, it’s quite common to say “morning” to someone you don’t know. But they stare at me in disbelief.
“Your mum is right,” I continue. “It’s much safer if you can hold her hand. There are a lot of cars around.”
Oh dear. Have I spoken out of turn? But the mum gives me a lovely smile. “Thank you so much,” she says. “It’s worked. Look!”
Indeed, they really are holding her hands now. I’d probably shocked them into it.
I can’t help feeling a bit like a busybody granny. Still, I couldn’t bear the thought of anything awful happening.
When I get home, my eldest son rings and we have a lovely catch up on the phone. I tell him what had just happened.
“Do you remember when we were little, in that shop?” he asks.
He doesn’t need to say any more. I remember it all too clearly! There I was trying to round up my three, aged three to ten, in a well-known chain store. “Will you hold my hand?” I said out loud, feeling very exasperated and also sleep-deprived.
“If you insist,” said a male voice. It was one of the assistants. Of course he was joking but it brought a smile to my face and definitely defused the situation. That was over 30 years ago. If he’s reading this, I’d like to say thank you!
Meanwhile, I’m off to book a lesson on a zip wire! It’s time to face my fears…
Alison Stevens, 65, lives with her husband David in the south west. They have two daughters, Kate 33 and Anna 31. Kate and her husband Seamus are expecting their first child in August.
“I am very excited about being a granny although I do have moments of anxiety. I remember wondering ‘What on earth do I do next?’ when my girls were little. Thank goodness for Penelope Leach!
“I also hope to be able to reassure my daughter. The other day, Kate said, ‘I haven’t a clue about nappies,’ and I told her that I had felt the same way and that she would soon get the hang of it.
“They live about three hours away so David and I will be ready to steam up the motorway and be there after the birth.
“The other granny (Seamus’ mum) and I send each other little messages on What’s App about the baby. We already get on well – she’s great fun. Friends of mine who already have grandchildren tell me it’s a special kind of love. I can’t wait. But I am also aware that some of my friends will never be grandparents so I try to be diplomatic and not talk nonstop about babies.
“We know it’s going to be a boy which makes it all feel even more real. I’m going to be called Oma (Grandmother in German) because my daughter read German at university and calls me Mutter (mother). I wanted to be known as something different and this seemed right.
“I hope I will be the kind of granny who is fun and plays games with my grandson on the beach. (We live near the sea.) Kate and Seamus got married last Christmas and had a lovely socially distanced gathering on the sand afterwards. They even had a driftwood arch!
“During this ‘waiting time’ I’ve renovated an old cot that I slept in as a baby and have used a local firm to copy the vintage pictures to stick on. Anna is going to make a quilt.
“I also hope I manage to toe that difficult line between being a granny who spoils but doesn’t override the parents’ rules about bringing up children. If anyone has any advice on that, I’d be really grateful!”
Send any correspondence to Jane at email@example.com.
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
Jane’s new novel, The Lies We Tell, is being published on June 24. You can pre-order it now.