Diary of A Modern Gran | Meal Time Help

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“Gan Gan,” says my granddaughter. “Your hands are really old.”

“Thank you, Rose,” I say, feeling rather hurt.

“But they are!” She takes one in her own little soft hand. “Look! They’re all crinkly.”

So much for my expensive hand cream which I got for Christmas!

“That’s because I use them a lot,” I tell her. We’re snuggling up on the sofa together, Rose on one side and George on the other.  “All that writing over the years has given me wrinkles.”

I’m not sure if this is strictly accurate but it feels as though it might be true.

“Anyway,” I add, “my hands and I aren’t that old.”

Rose giggles as though I’ve just said something really funny

“Yes you are.”

But I don’t feel it. Honestly. Well, only when my back twinges or it gets to 10pm and I’m falling asleep in front of the TV. Apart from that, I’m always racing around. I’m also much sportier now than when I was at school!

“When Rose is ten, I’m going to be eight,” pipes up George who until now has been glued to the cartoon on television. Clearly he’s caught the age angle in our conversation.

“Well done!” I say. Wow. That’s pretty good maths for a four-year-old. If I’m not careful, he’s going to overtake me in that department. (It wouldn’t be difficult.)

In fact, I’m constantly amazed by the rapid developmental stages which Rose and George are going through. It’s not just height. (Right now, nothing seems to fit any more.) It’s also speech, reasoning and pronunciation.

Indeed, they are constantly correcting me on the latter. I simply can’t get the hang of this phonic stuff. “You have to learn to spell, Gan Gan,” Rose tells me.

That’s a bit rich considering I write books for a living!

“I can spell,” I protest.

“No you can’t. You have to say ‘c’ like this.”

She demonstrates and I follow suit.

“That’s wrong,” she yells out triumphantly.

“No it’s not!” I retort.

“Stop arguing, you two,” calls out my daughter from the kitchen. “Tea’s ready.”

I sit with them at the table to give their mother a bit of a break but I have to say that it’s not easy.

“You must eat with your mouth shut,” I say.

“I am,” she protests.

“No you’re not.”

“I’m doing it,” declares George, firmly pursing his lips. Then he lapses again.

Now if there’s one thing I can’t bear, it’s children (and adults) eating with their nashers bared. Yet nagging simply doesn’t seem to help. My son-in-law and daughter have created a star chart which has helped a bit. But not enough.

I’ve tried bribery in the past but that hasn’t worked either. So tonight I play the royal card. “Remember how you wrote to the Queen and her lady in waiting replied?” I ask her.


“Well you need to eat with your mouth shut in case you receive an invitation to have tea at the palace,” I say.

It’s a long shot and I know it. But it works.

For all of two minutes.

I don’t want to interfere (too much) but I do wonder if I should keep my own mouth shut in the hope they will finally get the hang of it. Or whether there is some magic trick that will help. If you’ve got any ideas, I’d love to know about them.

In the meantime, I’ve ordered some funny cartoon books including one about a dinosaur to learns to eat with his jaws politely clamped. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Meanwhile, I’m planning a trip to see my two grown up boys in London…

I haven’t seen the youngest for nearly two months and I’m desperate to give him a cuddle.

But I make the mistake of telling my 98-year-old dad.

“You’re going to London on a train?” he asks in a voice that suggests I’m about to enter a nuclear zone.

And yes – I do know it’s a bit of a risk, especially as my husband has low immunity – but I have been triple-jabbed and I need to see my boys.

“I’ll test before I go and when I’m back,” I assure him. “And I’ll be wearing a mask.”

It takes a while for me to get this message across on the phone, partly because he’s rather deaf and partly because he doesn’t really know what I mean by testing. He and my stepmother never go out of the house so they don’t do it. In theory, they should test because they are in contact with the lovely people who bring them food every day. But there’s no way they’d manage to put sticks up their noses or open the little phials and then stir them around before dropping the liquid onto the testing device.

It would all be too much for them.

Goodness. What a world we’re living in…

My poor dad rings me three more times during that day. “I’m really worried about you going,” he says.

I wish now I hadn’t told him.

“I do understand,” I say. “But I’ll ring you when I’m there.”

This seems to appease him. But I mean it. I do understand. I’m worried about my children and grandchildren just as he’s worried about me.

As I write this, my daughter and son-in-law and Rose and George are off somewhere for the weekend and it’s all I can do not to pick up the phone every half an hour and say, ‘Are you there yet?’

It reminds me of the time when my own grandmother was alive. “Do drive carefully,” she’d say when I drove the children over to see her.

“I always do,” I’d reassure her. “You don’t have to worry.”

“Oh but I do,” she said.

This was a real revelation to me because she didn’t seem like a worrier. But now I get it – especially during these unreal times which we’re living through. One thing which helps me (thought I’d share this with you) are my prayers and also a meditation app which I downloaded onto my phone a few months ago. It has some great daily advice and also some cheerful film clips to remind us that the world is constantly changing and has been since it began. It helps to put everything in perspective.

Hang on! There’s a bleep.

Something has popped up on the Family App. It’s a message from my daughter. “We’re here!” she says.

There’s even a picture of Rose and George eating at the table. I can’t tell if they’ve got their mouths shut or not. But it doesn’t matter. They’ve arrived safely. And that’s all that matters.

Modern Parenting Techniques

Every generation seems to do it differently, don’t you think? But I must tell you what happened when I was on a train recently.

A young mum was playing games with her toddler further down the carriage (we were all fully masked) when the little one suddenly yelled in the mother’s ear. It was like a high-pitched whistle.

I remember one of mine doing that some thirty odd years ago and giving him a sound telling off. It was only afterwards that I realised I’d been screaming almost as loudly as he’d been yelling.

But this mother calmly and firmly explained that the noise had “hurt Mummy’s ears” and that this wasn’t a very nice thing to do. It was the perfect balance between disapproval and paving the way forward to better behaviour.

The young mother and her child got off before me. As they walked past, I couldn’t resist talking to her. “I thought you handled that really well,” I said.

Her face broke out into a smile. “Thank you. It’s not easy, is it?”

No. It’s not. But it’s good to give encouragement, don’t you think? Besides, she’s given me some food for thought. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, we can all learn things from other generations.

What’s Your Problem?

If you’re worried about something, why not share it confidentially with us? This week’s problem comes from Rosa near Birmingham.

“My nine-year-old grandson is struggling at school, especially with maths. He started to fall behind during the lockdowns. It’s really begun to affect his self-confidence. My daughter (who’s on her own) says he’ll catch up eventually but I’m worried in case he doesn’t. I collect him from school and oversee his homework. I find it quite frustrating when he can’t do it.”

Jane Corry says:

“I really sympathise with your grandson, Rosa. I was hopeless at maths myself and it affected my confidence for years. Has your daughter spoken to the class teacher? Some schools are bringing in extra staff to help children who have fallen behind during lockdown. Alternatively, can you afford to pay for some extra maths tuition for your grandson?

“I’ve also found that changing your own approach can help. None of my children liked maths very much (I do wonder if I passed on my own dislike of the subject!). But I found it helped to make games out of it during homework and praise them for things they can do.”

What Were Your Grandparents Like?

This week, I spoke to Rutger Bruining, founder of StoryTerrace, about his memories of his grandparents. Rutger, 43, has a two-year old daughter and is looking forward to sharing family stories with her.

“My grandparents, Pa and  Lama, were very important to me. During the holidays, my mother would drive me from our home in Holland to theirs in Belgium. I would stay there for a week or so on my own. My mother was a single mother at the time and worked as an academic so I can imagine that this was helpful for her as well as enabling me to spend time with my grandparents.

Rutger as a young boy with his grandfather and other members of the family

Rutger as a young boy with his grandfather, grandmother and other members of the family

“I really looked forward to those times and always had an excited feeling in my heart as we drove there! Pa, Lama and I would go for long walks and pick up leaves and that sort of thing. There would also be a lot of chocolate around! My grandfather would play backgammon with me from an early age. I am sure he let me win at the beginning!

“Pa would also smoke cigars and tell stories as we sat by the fire. He would start off in a casual way and just as you thought you’d heard it all, he would add something else! Sometimes he told the same story over again but with different embellishments!

“He would also tell me stories about the war when they lived in Holland. He had been a GP and led a resistance unit from an island in the south-west. My mother still has one of his medals.

“My grandmother lost a lot of her family in the war and never spoke about it.

“I would also watch football on television with my grandfather and the three of us would also go out to the zoo and other places.

“When I was in high school, they moved near us in Holland because they wanted to be closer. I would cycle past them on my way home from school and drop in on them and share a meal or walk in their shared garden.

“Sadly, they passed away when I was at university. I wish I’d asked them more about their lives. I’ve also been inspired by my grandfather to tell stories to my seven-year-old niece and will do the same to my daughter (at the moment, she’s more interested in us reading books to her!)

“One of my favourite possessions is a sculpture which my grandmother made. She was at art school before the war but then didn’t have the appetite to continue after it ended. It is about 30 centimetres tall and is very special to me.

“Having a close relationship to my grandparents has made me realise how important it is for our daughter to do the same. She talks a lot to my mother and stepfather who are in Holland and also to my partner’s parents who are able to visit more.

“This is one of my favourite pictures. I am about eight, with my brother and sister. I’m not wearing a shirt as I’d been rushing around!

“My grandfather’s storytelling inspired me to set up StoryTerrace. We match people with interviewers who write down their life stories and then we edit and design the book.”

If you’d like to find out more, visit www.storyterrace.com.

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