Diary of A Modern Gran | Granny Muses on Birthdays

Ladying chasing pram Illustration: Istockphoto

“I’m four!” announces George when we go around on Sunday morning to celebrate his birthday.

The excited look in his eyes mirrors the amazement in my heart. I can hardly believe that the time has gone past so quickly. It doesn’t seem very long ago since I was looking after little Rose after my daughter was admitted to hospital. That night I couldn’t sleep. Then the phone rang at 5:30 in the morning and I heard the words “We’ve got a little boy!”

Birth is so commonplace that we sometimes forget it is a miracle. I was struck by this when I was a young mother myself and now “grannyhood” has brought it all back to me. We are so lucky to have our little families!

Probably like you, I have quite a few friends who are either quietly hoping that their offspring will meet the right person to have a baby or whose children are trying to have a baby and haven’t been able to do so yet.

I always feel rather guilty when I chat to them. I also make sure I don’t talk too much about Rose and George in case it upsets them.

Then of course, there are the children without any grandparents. When I was young, my sister and I were “adopted” by a lovely elderly couple next door who weren’t able to see their grandson because of a difficult divorce that their son had been through. They were a really important part of our lives. Aunt Maude, as we called her, would frequently ask us over to their house to make fudge while Uncle Arthur told us stories about his time at sea.

I grew up without a grandfather – both had died before I was born – so we loved their company. Looking back, I suspect that we filled a hole in their lives too. One of my friends who is happily married but never had children, has a great niece who she treats like a granddaughter.

It just goes to show that blood doesn’t always matter.

In fact, I look at my husband – who was a bachelor until we married in our fifties – and watch him give George the most enormous beautifully-wrapped box. (He’s a bit of a stickler when it comes to doing up presents – unlike me when it’s always a battle with tape and neat corners!).

Inside is a 4-foot-long toy crocodile. Yes. I know! It’s probably the last thing my daughter wants in her house (she’s been desperately trying to de-clutter to make more room) but George loves it. So does my husband. Sometimes I wonder who is buying presents for who!

Just in case Rose feels left out, he gives her a mermaid with a glittery tail light that flashes on and off. “I LOVE her,” she says. Rose is one of the kindest little girls I’ve ever met. She’s not one to be jealous. But at the same time, it isn’t easy when it’s someone else’s birthday and the sitting room floor is littered with toys for someone else. So the mermaid goes down a treat.

I’m not the only grandparent who has remembered the sister of the birthday boy…

Her Welsh granny has sent a beautiful set of make-your-own-flower lights which Rose is entranced by.

“I think un-birthday presents are a great idea,” says my husband who has always been a bit of a kid himself. “In fact, perhaps we should make it an adult tradition too.”

“You mean you want a mermaid?” I ask.

“Very funny,” he says. “But I wouldn’t say no to a vinyl.”

Not another! If there’s one thing I could change about my husband, it’s his taste in loud ear-splitting music from the 60s.

Then my 98-year-old dad rings. I tell him that it’s George’s birthday.

“That’s nice,” he says. “What do you think about the government re-shuffle?”

I tell myself that we have to make allowances for his age – besides he’s also hard of hearing. But half an hour later, he rings back.

“Is George there?” he asks. “I thought I’d like to speak to him.”

“They’ve gone off to see friends now,” I say, “but I’m going back this evening. We could ring you then.”

“Yes please,” he says. “But I’d like to see him. So can you do it on SafeTime?” (His word for Facetime.)

We do and they have a lovely chat.

All this has made me realise something. Grandparents come in various shapes and sizes, personalities, ages and blood groups.

But the important thing – as far as I can see –  is that we help our grandchildren to feel safe and loved and secure. Pretty tall order, isn’t it? We just have to do our best…

Ask Modern Gran

Sue from Hertfordshire contacted me about her ten-year-old grandson.

“I’m worried that the lockdowns and all the lost weeks because of Covid cases at school has made him fall behind. I look after him until my son and daughter-in-law return in the evening which involves overseeing his homework. I’ve noticed that his handwriting is much sloppier than it used to be. He’s also not as good at maths as he used to be and he is getting low marks. When I mentioned this to his parents, my daughter-in-law was rather offended and said I was being ‘pushy’. My son has privately told me that he’s seen this too but that he’s sure my grandson will catch up in time. But I’m worried in case he doesn’t.”

Jane says:

“I do see your point, Sue. But I also see your son’s reasoning too. In fact, I wouldn’t mind betting that there are quite a lot of families who are agonising about the same problem. Disrupted schooling is bound to have an effect on a child’s progress. And as you say, what happens if your grandson’s work doesn’t improve?

“So I’m going to talk plainly here. Grown up children don’t usually like being told what to do. It can make them feel inadequate. And they don’t always take kindly to receiving advice. Your daughter-in-law is possibly worried herself and your well-meaning comments might have made her feel even more concerned, which in turn might have led to her sharpness towards you.

“If it was me, I would try and make up some ‘fun’ educational games when you have your grandson after school. If he gets something wrong or doesn’t want to do them, don’t make a big thing about it. Tap into something he really loves doing, even if it’s games on the computer. Ask him to teach you how to do them yourself – even if you already know! Helping others is a real boost for the giver’s confidence.

“Right now, confidence is the key for all of us when it comes to moving forward. If your grandson is still lagging behind in a few months, I wouldn’t mind betting it will be picked up by school, or your son and his wife. I know it’s hard to ‘watch and wait’ like this but it’s better than creating a family divide. Good luck!’’

Grandparent of the Week – Carolyn, 67

Carolyn is a garden designer and granny to George 6 and Lily nearly 3. She is married to Colin.

Carolyn and grandson“When George was born, it was as though a bolt of lightning went through me. Instant love!

“I felt as if I wanted to nurture him and also help my daughter Christine. Grandparenting has been a real collaboration between us from feeding him through to walks in the park and by the sea. It’s an unconditional love. We pick up from school one day a week and help out when we can especially in the school holidays. I feel I’m an extra pair of hands and I love it.

“Like a mother, I try to balance my time and attention between my grandchildren even though Lily (my eldest daughter Kay’s child) lives much further away in London. I go up every three or four weeks for the day and we spend it outside walking around the South Bank. Lily and her parents also come down to visit us which is lovely.

“Colin isn’t the father of my daughters but we brought them up together from an early age. He’s a wonderful grandfather.

“I also work full-time as a garden designer so being a granny is a balancing act. But it’s wonderful.”

Send us your pictures for Grandparents’ Day

Don’t forget Grandparents’ Day on October 3rd!

Next week, we’re going to be running photographs of readers with their grandparents. So if you’ve got some shots of you with your grandmother or grandfather, we’d love to see them. And if you can tell us why they were so special to you, we’d love to hear about it. Email us at moderngran@dctmedia.co.uk.

Love reading?

Jane Corry’s new Penguin family drama, THE LIES WE TELL, is the story of Sarah who will do anything to stop her teenage son from going to prison. Even if it means breaking the law herself. You can buy it from supermarkets, bookshops and online at https://linktr.ee/thelieswetell.

The Lies We Tell cover

Allison Hay

I joined the My Weekly team ten years ago, and I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazine. I manage the digital content for the brand, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters. I also work for Your Best Ever Christmas - perfect as it's my favourite time of year!