Half term is over and now it’s my turn. I’m going away for a week! Although I’m excited, I know I’m going to miss my family.
The evening before, I offer to help out with bedtime. “We don’t want an ordinary story,” says Rose. “We want our own.”
As a family, we love making up things. Then I have an idea. I FaceTime my two boys. One is in northern Spain and the other in London. Miraculously, they are both available at the same time. “Who is going to start?” I say.
“Me, me,” chant both boys together on the split screen. I should add that they are in their 30s!
“Please can I?” says four-year-old George. “Once upon a time there was a dinosaur…”
Rose puts up a hand. “And a mermaid.”
“Then the mermaid lost the keys to her house,” chips in one of my boys who has been guilty of this in the past. (I won’t say which one!)
And so it goes on. It’s certainly a bedtime story with a difference. But the most wonderful thing for me was seeing my adult children on screen entertaining their nephew and nieces. It doesn’t seem that long ago since I was reading them all a bedtime story.
One of their favourites was about a brother and sister called Topsy and Tim. Do you remember them?
Off to Spain…
The next day I’m on a plane to southern Spain where I’m doing some literary research for my next book and also working on my edits for next year’s novel. People often ask me how long it takes to write a novel. It’s usually a year from beginning to end, although I write my first draft in about 4 and a half months.
As soon as I get to my accommodation, I let everyone back home know I’ve arrived safely. “I miss you already,” I tell Rose and George.
“We miss you too,” they chant back.
It seems strange not popping round to their house every day. I also feel a little pang when I see grandparents pushing babies in the street.
Meanwhile, they seem to be having a busy time without me!
“I couldn’t find Rose’s shoes for school,” says my daughter. “I looked everywhere. But it turned out she’d left them at school the night before, after her PE class.”
“I remember doing the same with you,” I laugh. Maybe it’s one of those things that does the rounds through the generations.
I also missed out on pancake day. I must admit that I’d rather hoped they were going to video it for me. But I expect it was all too hectic. My heart did a little flip of regret at not being there – rather like the pancake! Actually this reminds me of an embarrassing family story…
When the children were little, my first husband and I brought them up in a small village. Every Easter, there was a roll-the-egg-down-the-hill competition. Children had to bring their own (real) eggs. I gave each of my three a rather lovely brown speckled variety. But I didn’t realise you had to hard boil it first. You can imagine the mess in the lane – and the laughter. I never quite lived it down!
Then on Wednesday this week, I received some pictures on WhatsApp of Rose and George going to school. “Why are they in fancy dress?” I ask.
Then I realise.
Of course. It’s World Book Day. Rose was the witch from Room On the Broom by the brilliant Julia Donaldson (they actually met her and the incredible illustrator Axel Scheffler in London when they went to the play) and George was Spiderman. When I worked in a prison as a writer in residence, I used to run events on World Book Day. I would also ask the men to choose passages from their favourite books.
These were often children’s books. When I asked why, most of them said it was because it reminded them of a time when they hadn’t committed a crime. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
As I write this, it’s nearly time to come home.
“What shall I bring you back?” I ask.
“Do you know what they’d really like?” says my daughter. “A postcard.”
Good idea. There’s something very exciting about receiving something through the post when you are little. (Isn’t it funny that when we get older, we start to rather dread the post in case it’s a bill or a hospital appointment?)
I’d better go now as I have to pack my suitcase to come home. The news on my iPad is so bad that I can barely listen to it. We can only hope and pray for families around the world. Like many communities, our town is collecting clothes to send to the Ukraine.
Meanwhile stay safe. See you all next week.
Ask Agony Gran
“I was very close to my grandchildren when they were little even though we lived a long way from each other. I’d always visit them during the holidays or their parents would bring them to me. Now they are teenagers and I hardly see anything of them. Sometimes they pick up the phone to me but I get the feeling that their mother has told me to do so. Any advice?” Maureen from Nottinghamshire
“We do sympathise, Maureen. It must be very hurtful. But your grandchildren are probably not aware of this. Young people might seem selfish but what they’re really doing is exploring all the opportunities that are opening up to them as they get older. This might be going out with friends, taking up new hobbies and also being very busy with their studies. There’s a great deal of pressure to perform well at that age – and it doesn’t always leave time for grandparents. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Here are some of the things that I might do. They’re just suggestions but you might like to pick one or two and try them out.
“Send them postcards every now and then of places you visit or the local neighbourhood. Receiving post might be quite a novelty to a teenager who is more used to getting messages on the phone.
“Ask their advice on something. You might not necessarily need it but it could boost their esteem and also make them more aware that you need them. For example, you might ask them something about a mobile phone that you’ve just got or whether you should wear a particular outfit to an occasion. I have one Granny friend who regularly FaceTimes her grandson on this! He works in fashion and has a good eye.
“Suggest you get together in the Easter holidays. If they say they’re busy, suggest the summer instead. Get a specific date in the diary somehow rather than a vague promise. Then use that time to rebuild your relationship.
“Involve the parents in this. Explain your feelings and see if they can help behind the scenes.
“Good luck! Let us know how you get on.”
Farewell to Shirley Hughes
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to shed a tear when Shirley Hughes, the wonderful children’s author, died last week.
Her charming stories about Alfie and Annie-Rose will be in our heads forever. Thank you, Shirley, for your wonderful talent, sense of humour and your entertaining books which appeal to both adults and children. They will last forever in our hearts and on our bookshelves.
Funny Things That Children Say
Thank you to Elaine who sent in this line from her six-year-old grandson.
“How can you be my mummy’s mummy? You’re too small.”
Grandparent of the Week – Jac, 55
Jac has one grandchild, tommy, who is three and a half.
What does he call you?
“He comes to us one day a week to allow my daughter to have a bit of time. We go down to the park and watch squirrels. We also go swimming and visit animals at a farm nearby. But we also talk to each other on the phone every day.”
Has the virus affected your family?
“Yes. Tommy hasn’t started nursery yet because of all the uncertainties so he doesn’t always like being in unfamiliar surroundings. Recently we took him to an aquarium and he felt a bit overwhelmed.”
What’s the best thing about being a grandparent?
“The unconditional love and also the innocence. We collect shells together and I love the look on his face when he holds one to his ear listens for the sea sounds!”
A three year old can be quite challenging! How do you cope with tantrums?
My daughter has a naughty step so I will use that if I need to. But I also distract him with baking or reading a book about whales and sharks – he’s very keen on them!
What advice would you offer a new grandparent?
Enjoy the energy and pleasure when seeing your grandchild grow, with laughter and all the joys they bring. Keep to the parents’ rules for consistency. I have more patience and time with age to relish new but simple everyday experiences with him. He brings so much love in my heart.
Do Get In Touch
Has your grandchild said something funny? Would you like to be our grandparent of the week? If so, do contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jane Corry is a six-times Sunday Times best-seller. Her new novel WE ALL HAVE OUR SECRETS is available now to pre-order from bookshops and linktr.ee/janecorry or the QR code below.