“I’m going to Spain for a week,” I say to Rose and George.
“I know,” says Rose, her eyes glued to the television.
Somehow I expected more of a reaction. Still, she has just come back from school and is exhausted.
I have mixed feelings too. I’m really looking forward to going but at the same time I shall miss my grandchildren. When we lived with my grandmother, I can remember her going off every summer for a fortnight on a coach trip to Spain or Italy. She was always accompanied by one of those wonderful old-fashioned suitcases that had stickers of all the places she’d been to. They seemed like magical lands to me and I couldn’t wait to start travelling myself.
Now, at the airport, I feel as though half my heart is left behind…
In front of me at check-in, there’s a mother with a little girl about Rose’s age and I want to say “I’ve got one of those too!”
Later in the duty free section of the departure lounge, I watch her having a bit of a tantrum about a toy she wants to buy. I watch as the mother calmly rationalise why she can’t have it. It reminds me of my daughter and son-in-law who are very good at doing the same. Sometimes I think that this generation is so much better at handling the children than I was.
I’m actually having a working week in Spain, signing books and writing. And – so exciting ! – my eldest son, who already lives out there, is meeting me at the airport and spending time with me.
It’s so important to have that one-to-one with adult children, isn’t it?
The other week, I went up to London to see my youngest and now it’s my eldest’s turn.
But there’s a bit of a hitch. It has to be said that I’ve never been very good at the 24-hour clock or indeed anything mathematical. And somehow I managed to get the time difference wrong. So I find myself waiting nearly four hours instead of two at Alicante airport for his plane to arrive from another part of Spain.
I’ve been double-vaccinated and I’m also masked up but even so I keep my distance from the crowds. I find a quiet spot outside and head for Facetime on my phone, making sure everyone (including husband and dog) is all right.
“We are fine, Mum,” says my daughter. Rose and George come into view. “Hello Gan Gan! We’re in Wales!”
They’re having a wonderful time with my son-in-law’s parents who – as regular readers might remember – decorated the spare bedroom especially for the children. Sounds like they’re all having a wonderful time.
Then I ring my 98-year-old father. He has always been anxious but the virus has made him even more so. I don’t tell him that I am in Spain because in his view no one should go out of the front door. I’m going down to see him and my stepmother as soon as we’re back but I do feel rather guilty.
The clock ticks on
My son’s plane is delayed by nearly 50 minutes. But according to my app, it’s now arrived. Yet there’s no sign of him.
And then suddenly here he is coming out of the airport along with his haversack.
‘Where have you been?’ I say.
‘What do you mean, where have I been? ‘ he says.
And that’s when I realise I didn’t factor in the hour’s difference between Spain and the UK!
I put my arms around my eldest boy and cannot believe that I gave birth to this tall, handsome 37-year-old man. Isn’t family a funny thing? When I was my daughter’s age, I was so busy concentrating on my three little ones that I never really thought about the future.
My son and I have a wonderful week in between our working commitments. At the end of each day, we have WhatsApp or FaceTime chats with the others. These are usually punctuated by my daughter’s “Sorry I can’t talk now because it’s teatime” or “George and Rose – don’t do that!”
Even though my daughter and son-in-law are more than capable, I’d like to be able to help out and I feel pretty useless at this end.
Then Rose comes into view. “I lost the pearls you gave me, Gan Gan,” she says seriously. “But then I found them and I’ve hidden them from George.”
This makes me laugh. The “pearls” are actually a string of beads I bought at the local fair back in the summer. Rose loves them.
On the Monday, my son and I go into the nearest town where I am due to sign some of my novels. I try to find some presents for the children and decide to buy some books in Spanish. We are all learning it as a family – in fact my son-in-law is fluent. It’s so good for children to learn another language, isn’t it?
I have two granny friends whose grandchildren are bilingual. Each of my friends are learning their grandchildren’s native language. “I think it’s important,” says one, “especially when the other grandparents come over to visit.”
Actually I joined the “Learn a new language during lockdown” brigade to keep my mind active. I do a lesson every day with Duo Lingo which I can really recommend. I also do an online zoom class with a local group where several of us are grandparents. The topic often turns to families and we share all kinds of stories which I couldn’t possibly repeat!
Now I’m in Spain, I’m determined to practise. So I ask for a glass of orange juice at a local bar with my newly acquired skills. “Sorry,” says the girl in an English accent. “I don’t speak Spanish.” Turns out she’s been here for the summer doing a holiday job and is returning to the UK next week!
So I try it again the following day – this time with the Spanish waiter. I asked for a mint tea and get a coffee in return. Oh well. I’d better work on that accent!
All goes well with our break until two days before we’re due to come back…
Poor little George has a temperature. Immediately, I go into panic mode. This isn’t just because I’m fussy – although I am. It’s also because we’ve had our fair share of emergency hospital trips in the last few years. And on top of that, I am thousands of miles away.
“Have you rung the doctor?” I ask anxiously.
“Don’t worry, Mum. It’s alright.”
Nevertheless she takes him for a covid test.
She’s right. He gets better quite soon and the test is negative.
I really do need to learn to let go.
Saying goodbye to my eldest son at the airport was difficult. I don’t know when I’ll see him again. He might be back for Christmas and he might not. Sometimes I feel like the little weatherwoman in one of those old clocks where people go in and out of the house all the time.
When I get home, I have my own Covid test (negative) and go round to the children.
“We missed you, Gan Gan,” says Rose wrapping her arms around me while George gives me a kiss.
“I’ve missed you all too,” I say.
But I also miss my grown up boys.
“Make the most of this time when everyone’s under one roof,” I say to my daughter.
“I will,” she says as she sorts out the washing while sorting out a squabble between Rose and George.
Older mums used to say this to me too. But you don’t really take it in until the nest is empty, do you?
Excuse me a minute. My mobile is ringing. The children have set up a surprise WhatsApp group family chat. Wonderful! See you next week.
Share Your Problems With US
Do you have a family problem? Share it with Modern Gran by emailing email@example.com.
Jean from Huddersfield writes:
“I have 10 grandchildren aged between two and 15. I’m on my own and have a limited budget. I don’t want to sound mean but I’m already worrying about how I’m going to be able to afford Christmas presents for all of them. In previous years, I’ve made the mistake of asking them what they wanted and their requests were very expensive. Do you have any ideas?”
Jane Corry’s advice:
“Yes. I do. Talk to their parents and explain your situation. Maybe they’re not aware that money is tight.
“Then try some of the following tactics.
“Set yourself an affordable limit for each child and then explain to them that you are going to be spending the same amount for each of them and that you just can’t afford any more. Children need to know that many older people have to watch their pennies just like younger ones.
“Start browsing round charity shops/jumble sales etc to see what you can find. There are some great bargains to be had.
“Make them something. One granny friend of mine embroiders book marks.
“Make a family photograph album with memories and stories about everyone in it. For example ‘This was the day you were born’ or ‘This is me and grandad on our wedding day’. It will be a memento they can keep forever.
“Give one present per family which they can all get pleasure from, such as a game.
“Start saving ahead for next year. One of my granny friends puts aside £5 every month for her two grandchildren. Another saves up to buy premium bonds. We are giving my daughter and son-in-law some money towards their ‘decorating the children’s bedroom’ fund.
Could You Help Others?
Every year, around 10,000 sixteen to eighteen-year-olds leave foster or residential care in England. Volunteering Matters is looking for people to help them go out into the world. “No special skills or qualifications are needed for this voluntary role – just life experiences as well as a willingness to support someone who is need of a bit of help.” For more details, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Grandparent of the Week – Jane
Jane lives in the south west and has three grandchildren: William (nearly 9), Connie (5) and a two-year-old granddaughter who lives abroad.
“I’ve seen my two-year granddaughter a few times in between lockdowns and afterwards. We do a lot of Facetime so she definitely recognises me.
“Connie and William live near me and I’ve helped to look after them ever since they were born while their parents work. I pick them up from school and give them tea and I also have them on high days and holidays!
“I’ve felt even closer to them since my husband died a year and a quarter ago. Last winter, I would stay with them at weekends. I’ve had to deal with some tricky questions from the children about Grandad. During the first few weeks after he’d gone, Connie would search for him in our house, asking where his special bed was. I explained that they had taken it away and that he was with Jesus now.
“We put a big bench with his name on it on local National Trust land. The other day when we were going to school, she said, ‘Poor grandad. It’s so foggy today that he won’t see anything from his bench.’
“William used to love going to the local boating lake with Grandad. They had great fun with a remote control boat. My grandson thought no one would take him there now, but we said that we would. It’s not the same without him, but it helps.
“We all try to help the children though their loss by remembering happy memories of Grandad. Now we’re trying to create new ones as a family like paddleboarding.”
If you’d like to be our grandparent of the week or share a problem with us (confidentially), email email@example.com.
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.