It’s Saturday morning and it feels very quiet. Usually, little Rose will be having her 9am tennis lesson as part of an amazing nationwide sport scheme. Often I go down to watch or play with George. But right now they’re away.
And what a brilliant time they’re having! Like many families, they’re taking advantage of the recent relaxation of overnight rules. So they’re visiting their Welsh grandparents whom they haven’t been able to see for so long.
I often feel guilty about having Rose and George on our doorstep. It can’t be easy for the other four grandparents. (We are what’s apparently known as a ‘blended family’).
So it’s great to see all the lovely WhatsApp pictures they’re posting of cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents and a great-aunt.
Meanwhile, I’m in charge of the cats
This is more difficult than it sounds. For a start, I can never get the hang of their front door key.
Secondly, the cats have a habit of bringing in friends from the outside. I once managed to rescue a little field mouse and released him back into the wild. But it wasn’t easy. Luckily I don’t have any visitors! Phew!
The following weekend, my little family is off again! This time they’re camping – just 5 miles down the road. It’s at an adventure park which, to be honest, I’ve only ever driven past. Heights aren’t my thing.
“Wow,” I say to my daughter as she packs up on the Friday night. “That’s a lot of kit!”
“I know,” she says. We both eye the mountain of equipment in the middle of the sitting room floor. There’s a giant cold box. The massive tent – a bargain on EBay. Camping beds. Clothes, spare changes and emergency spare changes. And more.
Meanwhile, the children are dancing around it. Rose is still in her jellyfish costume which she had worn to school that day as part of a dressing up theme. “I stang everyone,” says Rose. “Only pretending!”
“I wanted to be one too,” says George who can’t wait to join his sister at big school.
I have to take my hat off to my daughter. She’s much better at creating costumes for the children than I was at her age. Mind you, we didn’t have YouTube!
Meanwhile, both children are almost hyperventilating with excitement at the prospect of the weekend ahead. They’re all going with two other families and if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m allergic to camping, I might feel quite envious. I have to confess that I vowed never to spend another night under canvas when my Guide years were over. I prefer to sleep in the warm, without rain dripping onto me.
“Was this this why we never had any camping holidays when we were children?” asks my daughter.
I wave them off feeling rather desolate. “Don’t forget to feed the cats,” calls out Rose from the back of the car. “And can you talk to them in case they’re lonely?”
I’m going to be lonely too! So I take a train to London for the day to see my grown up boys. You might remember that I made the trip a fortnight ago. It’s three hours each way by train but it’s worth it. The separation caused by the pandemic still hurts. And many of my grandparent friends are still going through it.
I agreed to meet my youngest outside Foyles bookshop at Waterloo station. He is late. I stand there, feeling rather scared with so many people around me. In our seaside town, we politely dance around each other with a great deal of social distance. Now I feel I’ve been plunged into a maelstrom.
Then I feel a pair of arms around me…
My baby towers over me! It’s also lovely to see his girlfriend who is part of the family. We get a river boat – just as we did a fortnight ago – and meet my eldest son for a picnic. The riverboat man recognises us.
“Back again?” he asks. Maybe we’re setting a new family tradition!
It’s so nice to see my boys chatting. It’s only when you get older that you realise how hard it is to gather your little birds together.
Sometimes, as parents and grandparents, we have to make sure that happens.
I get a later train home because we’re having so much fun. And then I remember. The cats! So I ring my husband on the mobile from Salisbury station. “Do you mind feeding them?” I ask my husband.
I should say here that cats are not his favourite animals. In fact, when I married him 12 years ago and suggested we go one ourselves, he claimed to be allergic to them. Now he’s actually got quite fond of them although he pretends not to be.
When I get home, I dash into the sea to cool down. I miss the boys already. But the next day, Rose and George are back so I invite them round on Sunday afternoon while their parents unpack. (I can still remember how difficult it was to sort out dirty laundry with little feet running around!)
“What did you like best about camping?” I ask.
“The log ride,” says George seriously.
“I liked the ride that goes really high – taller than the trees,” chirps Rose. “Shall I show you how fast it goes?”
She demonstrates with her arms. “Only a few people can go on it at a time because of the virus.”
She drops in the ‘v’ word so casually that it’s clear it’s now part of her vocabulary.
“There was also a bear! And a shooting star fell down and Daddy made a volcano.”
Goodness! Rose has an amazing imagination but if half of this is true, it sounds very different from my childhood camping trips!
“We also sang songs to go to sleep,” adds Rose. “My favourite was one about the ants marching.”
I’m itching already. And not in a good way.
But it’s lovely to have them back. George starts to make funny faces at the table over teatime pizza and suddenly we’re all doing it. Then I teach them my facial exercises for reducing baggy eyes and they think that’s hysterical.
“Can you wiggle your ears?” asks my husband.
How does he do it? And why is it that every generation comes up with this trick? It still goes down well, every time!
Then I ring my father so he can talk to the children. “Hello,” he says. “I can’t talk. I’m watching the Queen talking to the president at the summit.”
I feel slightly hurt that he’d rather do that than talk to his great-grandchildren. But I suppose that when you’re 97, you have a right to do what you want. And this is, after all, history in the making.
I drive Rose and George back home. When I get back to our place, my husband is getting out a dusty looking bag from the under-stairs cupboard. It’s a tent.
“I had this years ago,” he says. “Shall we give it a go?”
“Only if it’s in the back garden,” I say firmly. “Then at least I can still have a hot bath.”
“Done,” he says.
What have I let myself in for?
Watch this space!
Grandparent of the Week – Jenny, 65
Jenny Parkin is 65 and lives with her husband Mick in the south-west. They have five grandchildren aged between 15 months and ten years.
“Mick and I are both retired and we have a camper van. So we decided we’d see all our grandchildren every four to six weeks. Then lockdown spoiled it all. It’s why we’ve got very few recent pictures of us all together apart from the winter picnic snaps! We’re a hardy lot!
“Obviously we offered to help with home-schooling but I drew the short straw – French. This was rather ironic as I failed French O-level. But I like to think it improved my skills, if not theirs!
“We did family Zoom once a week which was great fun. The little ones popped in and out and us adults had regular conversations. It also meant that Isaac (who was born at the start of the pandemic) was used to seeing our faces when we were finally allowed to meet up. I thank the Lord for Zoom.
“Now some of the restrictions have lifted, it’s wonderful. Yesterday, I had a brilliant girly shopping trip with Sylvie and Alexi and my daughter. They got a jumpsuit each! We’re also going camping this summer with Eva and her parents at our granddaughter’s request!
“Being a grandparent is a blessing. I love doing things with them, especially craft and art and sewing. The older ones and I make lots of dressing up costumes. We also enjoy baking. Gabriel loves helping Grandpa in the garden.
“I also have them overnight sometimes – we had Eva at the age of 14 months when her parents went on their honeymoon. Mind you, it is a big responsibility. You have to be firm about safety rules. And I never have an alcoholic drink when they’re here.
“I am so glad they all have each other as cousins. It’s great fun when we’re all together with their parents.
“Do I have any advice for expectant grandparents? Yes! Enjoy them. Tread carefully with advice to the parents. And look forward to the time when you have them on their own!”
I’d love to hear about your children or grandchildren. Email me 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.