“I’m not tired, Gan Gan,” says George
Oh dear. The party starts in ten minutes. When I’d accepted the invitation back in the autumn, I didn’t know I was babysitting my grandchildren.
But then my daughter asked if I’d mind stepping in so they could go to her husband’s work Christmas dinner. Of course! It’s lovely for them to have an evening out and besides, maybe I could do both…
After all, the party – held by one of my writing groups – was on Zoom. It wasn’t due to start until 7.30pm, by which time six-year-old Rose and four-year-old George would surely be in bed.
But they’re not…
Why is it that my lovely grandchildren always push the buttons when I’m on duty!
I’ve tried everything. A calm high tea. Relaxed bath time with only five bath toys instead of chucking in the whole lot. Lots of stories in bed. But it’s not working. Neither show any sign of sleepiness.
“You must be tired,” I say rather desperately, checking my watch.
“We’re not,” they chorus.
Then George begins to cry. “I miss Mummy and Daddy.”
The only way to calm him, it appears, is to go back downstairs to the sitting room and let them watch a cartoon on the iPad. (I did offer books but the screen won.)
At least the tears have stopped.
Then I slip on my green sequinned evening jacket over my jumper and jeans. (I re-discovered this during lockdown when I was tidying my wardrobe. It’s older than my 38-year-old but is still in pretty good nick.)
“Are you going out?” asks Rose
“No,” I say, sitting down in the sofa next to them. “I’m seeing some friends on my own iPad.”
“Can we say hello?” she asks.
“Maybe,” I say. After all, Rose loves writing stories. She might well be an author when she grows up.
“Can we dress up like you?” asks Rose.
Anything for a quiet life! So she puts on her party dress and her sparkly Frozen party shoes which she received for her birthday last week and hasn’t taken off since.
George chooses to stay in his pyjamas. Why not? Pyjama parties used to be quite fashionable in my day.
All this reminds me of the times when my first husband and I used to go out.
This wasn’t often because we had three small children and lived in the middle of the countryside. Babysitters were few and far between. It’s why I try, every now and then, to give my daughter and son-in-law an evening off.
But tonight isn’t quite going as I planned! Perhaps it’s because the children have got a taste of Christmas fever. After last year’s lockdown, there’s a definite air of festive spirit. (This is despite the fact that by the time you read this, the rules may well have changed again.)
Take yesterday when I had a delicious half an hour in our local toy shop, choosing a remote control racing car for George. I can’t wait to try it out!
But I’m not quite sure what to get Rose.
“How about an experience?” suggests my daughter. “I know of this amazing place where you can paint pottery. You could get her a voucher.”
I think that’s a great idea but I’m not sure how Rose would feel when presented with a piece of paper on Christmas Day. I’ll need to get her something else as well. At that age you want to unwrap a present, don’t you? Or maybe I’m wrong about that.
Meanwhile, there’s just five minutes until party kick-off. I ought to have another go at encouraging them to go to bed. After all, I’m not quite sure what everyone else will think about Rose and George joining us. It might inhibit the conversation. Perhaps this isn’t such a good idea.
Then the phone goes. It’s my 98-year-old father. “I’ve lost FaceTime,” he says inconsolably. Oh dear. My dad is amazing at technology given his age. But he can’t resist fiddling.
I make some suggestions but none of them work.
“Can you wait until Monday, Daddy,” I say. (I’m making my monthly five-hour journey to him then.)
“Not really,” he says. “I miss not being able to see you on the screen.”
Oh dear. My heart is breaking. But I can’t fix it unless I’m there and can see what’s going on.
Two minutes until the party starts!
Then the phone calls again. My father’s face looms into view. “I’ve done it!” he beams. “But I’ve no idea how.”
There’s just time to click my Zoom link and join the party
“I might have to come in and out,” I explain to the others. “So if I go onto Mute or press the picture-off thingumajig, you’ll know why.”
They are all very kind about it.
Yes! George is looking sleepy. So I take him upstairs and Rose saves the day by singing his favourite “marching ant song”. Success! He’s fallen asleep.
But Rose is determined not to miss out on the fun. So we both go downstairs. She listens to her story on the iPad and I chat briefly to my writer friends. Funny enough, the conversation is mainly about children’s books we enjoyed when we were little.
“I’m afraid I have to leave now,” I say to my group. “I’m going to have another go at getting my granddaughter to bed now.”
“That was fun,” says Rose, yawning as we climb the stairs. “Can I go to your party next year please? And could I borrow your pretty jacket?”
Problem of the Week – Should I Be Paid for Childcare?
“I know this sounds awful but I’ve been looking after my grandchildren for two years and now I’m wondering whether I should ask for some payment. My son and his partner both earn a lot of money but we’ve never discussed the subject of a salary for me. I don’t even get a bunch of flowers or box of chocolates at the end of the week.
“Some of my friends get paid by their children but I don’t want to sound greedy. On the other hand, I don’t have a big pension and I have to watch my pennies. Do you have any advice?”
Anonymous from Kent
Jane Corry writes:
“Money is a difficult subject at the best of times especially with family. However, I am surprised that you don’t get the odd present. It’s always nice to feel appreciated. On the other hand, it would be a shame if your relationship changed as a result of asking for payment. Perhaps you could simply mention in conversation that you are finding it hard to make ends meet. This might be the hint they need. I’m aware this is a softly softly approach and that some readers might think you should just tell your son and his partner exactly what you feel. But history is full of families who have fallen out over financial affairs. Good luck!
Grandparent of the Week – Sylvia, 75, USA
“My name is Sylvia Fubini. I am 75 years old and live close to Washington DC with two dogs and a cat. My father was born in Torino, Italy and my mother is descended from the pilgrims who landed in the United States in the late 1600s – they had six children and I am the oldest. I have two daughters; the younger is not married and lives north of Baltimore. The older daughter lives a ten-minute drive from me and has three children and is married to an Irishman.
“These are my grandchildren; they are respectively named Mairin who is 11; Emmy who is almost 9; and T (short for Thomas) who is almost 6. My grandchildren call me Nana and I see them often, even through the pandemic. Aside from the fact they live very close to me, I also cook (I even have an AGA range), while my daughter does not, so I often cook for the family. My son-in-law is a trained chef but he is seldom home to cook.
“The two older girls cook with me a lot. The oldest one is fascinated with the cooking shows, particularly the British baking show and she has learned a lot of tricks. I am happy that I can do this with them because my grandmothers did not live so close so I did not see them very often and did not have a chance to learn cooking techniques from them, although I have a lot of their recipes. My dogs and my trampoline are objects of delight for all three of my grandchildren, as well.
“I must say that when my daughter and son-in-law announced that they were going to have a baby after they got back from their honeymoon, my comment was that I was too young to be a grandmother! Of course, not true…
“Now that they are getting older, I very much enjoy being with them and they know my home almost as well as their own. I worked so hard when my own children were young and was a single mother much of that time so I did not often have the time to parent my own children in the way I give my grandchildren. When they are with me, I am free to ‘grandparent’ them as I choose, this means sometimes starting a meal with dessert. On the other hand, if I am really tired, they can go home to their house, which was not really an option when my children were young.
“The lockdowns with the pandemic have not affected my relationship with my daughter’s family very much because we were generally ‘bubbled’ together.
“The best thing about being a grandparent is not being a parent. That is, you don’t have to concern yourself with the life decisions for the children and just enjoy them.”
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.