“Why don’t you go away for a break?” I say to my daughter and son-in-law. “I’ll look after the children.”
Wonderful as little ones are, they’re exhausting. I remember that myself. My own mother passed away when my daughter was a year and I had very little help. So I’m keen to do whatever I can for my children.
“Are you sure?” they say.
“I promise to keep my eyes on them all the time,” I assure them.
But as departure day gets closer, I have to confess to being a bit nervous. It’s a huge responsibility. What if something goes wrong?
We decide it’s best if I move into their place. It’s just round the corner from us so we can nip round to get spare clothes and so on. My husband stays at our place with the dog. He still has low immunity so we have to be careful.
The first night…
It’s an evening flight so I arrive just after 4pm. I’m a bit early. They’re nervous. I’m nervous. George and Rose are beside themselves with excitement.
“Gan Gan,” says Rose jumping up and down. “Can we stay up as late as we want?”
I decide not to start with an argument.
Of course, I say. We can negotiate later on.
We wave to Mummy and Daddy through the window. I expect tears but there aren’t any. We play a few games and I give them tea. That’s right – pizza. I’m trying to make this as easy as possible.
All goes well fine until after bath.
Then I make the mistake of giving in to their pleas and allowing them downstairs with me even though it’s against the rules.
“I’m hungry,” says Rise. After that big tea?
I try to give her a healthy snack but she just wants the biscuit tin.
“I want my daddy,” says George.
“So do I,” I reply, thinking of my 98-year-old dad miles away.
George is never quick at going to sleep but it takes nearly one and a half hours before he finally nods off.
By this time, I’ve not just promised him toys the next day. I’ve virtually offered him the whole toy shop. You don’t need to say it. I know I’m doing all this wrong. Meanwhile, Rose tiptoes downstairs again and we end up watching Aristocats until it’s 9 o’clock. I love that film!
I use the bathroom as quietly as I can but I’m too nervous to have a bath or shower in case it wakes them up. This is a big sacrifice. I do enjoy a soak in the evening.
In the night, I keep getting up to check them. A text bleeps to say my son and daughter-in-law have arrived safely. “Is everything alright?”
“Great,” I reply, checking my eye bags in the mirror.
One of my granny friends texts to say that there is an Easter tennis course this morning. Brilliant! It starts at 9am. Even though we’re up at 5.55am, I only just make it in time. That’s despite the fact that it’s 10 minutes round the corner. I’d forgotten how long it takes to get breakfasted and dressed with teeth cleaned. And that’s just me. Only joking!
The course is only an hour and a half long but they absolutely love it. Then we head off for a local play park.
My husband comes too. “Why do you need a stick?” asks George.
“It’s to help me run as fast as you,” he jokes.
There are lots of scary things to do like climbing walls with pegs and slides and swings. I know it’s probably safe but I can’t help foreseeing potential casualties and have visions of ringing my daughter and son-in-law to say someone’s broken an arm.
“I can do this on my own, thank you,” says Rose as I help her down from a climbing wall.
“So can I,” declares George.
It’s interesting. Although I usually see the children most days, being with them full time has given me more of an insight into their relationship.
George is determined to do everything that his sister can. There’s only a 20-month age difference and yet that can mean quite a lot. I remember the rivalry between my sister and me with a seven year gap.
It seems that the youngest always wants to be the eldest and the oldest often feels that the younger one can get away with things. So I’m trying very hard during this week to keep a balance and prevent arguments!
I’ve also drawn up a chart. There are four columns. One for me. One for Rose. And one for George. The rows across relate to sleeping, eating, not arguing and being kind.
Back for tea. Fish fingers with broccoli. I am determined to try a new way of getting George sleep that doesn’t take two hours. So we check out some children’s meditation apps on the iPad. He’s still not sleepy. Then we do children’s yoga which seems to liven him up even more. So I go back to the tried and tested The ants go marching on song (which his Daddy usually sings to him every night) while I sit by his bed and hold his hand. Eventually he nods off.
My husband comes round at 8 by which time I’ve read Rose two stories and she’s read me two stories back in return. It’s so lovely when they get to an age and can do this! Husband and I watch an episode of The Split together. It’s almost like a date. “You’ve got to go now,” I say, showing him the door at 10pm. “I need an early night.”
It was the right decision. Both Rose and George took it in turns to get up during the night. Luckily I was able to reassure them and get them back to sleep. Phew! I had visions then of having to ring my daughter and son-in-law for emotional back up on FaceTime.
In fact, I’ve purposely not called them a lot. I want them to have a rest. But they have been calling us regularly and when I haven’t heard the phone, they’ve sent “please ring” messages. Normally it’s me calling them asking them to call me so I can talk to the children! I realise now how intrusive that must be because when you’re looking after tinies, you can’t deal with phone calls!
Today, we’re all off to another local nature reserve. I can see why my daughter always has something planned for them. Keeping two little ones busy in a smallish house is quite hard without one bumping into the other.
My husband comes too because he wants to see the bears. In fact, he and the children head straight for the gift shop. He’s a real kid at heart like them. We end up by buying two little birds which chirrup away. No – they’re not real although they do look it!
Meanwhile, my fringe is getting in my eyes. If you have one, you know what I mean. So we go to the hairdresser. Whoops! I’d forgotten how tricky that can be with a six and four-year-old. George ends up by sitting on my lap and moves almost at the wrong moment. I nearly get an asymmetrical haircut!
“I want Mummy,” he says as we walk home along the seafront. To be honest, I’m surprised they haven’t said this more often. So I distract them with a strawberry ice cream even though we haven’t had tea yet. Pudding before the main meal? I know. Don’t tell.
Meanwhile, I’m getting withdrawal symptoms too. I haven’t been near my work computer since my daughter left. I’ll have to catch up next week. Yet at the same time, I’m having such fun with my grandchildren. These days are proving to be a great bonding exercise. George can sometimes be a little distant from me but now I’m getting lots of spontaneous hugs.
We pop into our place on the way back so I can get some clean clothes. Rose comes goes running from one room to another to help me find a bag and – oh no – she falls. My worst nightmares are realised. She’s broken her leg. She’s fractured her knee.
All these scenarios shoot through my mind. In fact, when I comfort her and she’s finished crying, I discover it’s just a little bruise on her knee.
Why is it that looking after your grandchildren can be much scarier than looking after your own? It’s because they belong to someone else.
Sometime in the early hours, the children wake up. They’ve each rolled over on their toy birds. Did I mention that they squeak loudly? (The birds – not the children.)
It’s Good Friday. We go down to the seafront where hot cross buns are being given out. The brass band is playing. Lots of Rose’s and George’s friends are here! My eyes go into opposing directions as I clutch each one of them in case they run off.
Meanwhile, Rose has been invited to a birthday party in the afternoon. George is upset because he wants to go too but he manages to snaffle a balloon on the way out of the village hall. Of course I went back to the hostess and confessed but she very kindly told him to help himself. We go back home to play in our garden but the balloon bursts on a rose. Tears all round. Lucky, I’ve never forgotten the D remedy. (D for distract.) So I find a couple of dinosaurs in a drawer and play with them. Eventually George joins me.
Then my 98-year-old dad rings, asking me to put some money on his mobile phone account. He gives me his credit card details But he can’t work out his security code. I’m about to pay myself but then suddenly it all goes through. Multitasking with little ones it’s not a great idea but at the same time my family loyalties are torn.
Only one more day to go. I want to be able to hand back the children in one piece yet at the same time I will really miss them.
We go down to the beach and build stone castles. My friends from tennis are there. I feel a slight pang because I’ve missed out on my morning game and then remind myself that this is really much more special.
Then we wander home via the supermarket.
I thought I’d get in some food for my daughter and son-in-law, but oh dear. What’s wrong with the scanning machine? It’s complaining that there’s a foreign body on the bagging area. “George,” I say. “Please take your knee off!” He gets down and the machine allows us to continue.
Just two more hours until Mummy and Daddy are back. We read a book in which a dinosaur writes letters to a little boy. They are pen friends. “My pen friend is the Queen,” declares Rose. She has a point. She has written to Buckingham Palace twice and received an answer from a lady in waiting each time. We were extremely impressed.
“May I write to her again please,” she pleads.
I’m sure the Queen has enough on her plate at the moment but I don’t want an argument. So I find Rose some writing paper.
“I want to write to Spider-Man,” declares George.
I’ll let you know who replies first.
A bleep goes on my phone. A picture of my daughter and her son pops up. “Can’t wait to see our babies,” it says. We wait at the window. There they are!
Rose runs towards them with a “Welcome Home” card that she has made. The four of them melt into each other.
“Thank you,” they say to me. No need for thanks. They both look so rested. That’s reward enough.
Then after a quick debriefing session, I cycle back home, change into my wetsuit and go for a dip to clear my head. But as I swim, I can’t help hearing a refrain in my head. It’s The ants go marching home…
The funny things they say…
Thanks to Jan for sending this one in.
“My daughter has three jobs and I have two. It’s a financial necessity. Recently, my six-year-old granddaughter was talking about what she’d like to be when she grows up. I want to work in a zoo, she says. But I only want one job because I don’t want to keep saying I’ve got to rush rush rush.”
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
“My children are not very religious so they haven’t brought my grandchildren up in the Christian faith. This really distresses me – especially as they didn’t seem to know what Easter was all about. My grandson is now nine and my granddaughter is 12. I feel that if I don’t make a stand, it will be too late. What do you think? Anonymous
It’s not easy. I understand that. But at the same time, we need to remind ourselves that our grandchildren are not our children. We can’t tell our children how to bring them up (although it’s different if safety is involved). However, you can lead by example. You could talk about kindness and forgiveness and say that that’s what you believe in. You might also mention every now and then that you go to church and describe briefly what you do there. And you could talk about other religions as well. You might find this easier to do through books. But I’m going to go back to my original suggestion. In my view, leading by example is really important. As they get older, they will be able to make their own informed decisions. Good luck.
Grandparent of the Week – Suzanne from Canada
Last Christmas, my children gave me a genealogy set to find relatives. I came across quite a few second and third cousins. One is Suzanne, a librarian in Canada. We have become good friends and write to each other regularly. I’m delighted to say that she is our grandmother of the week!
“My husband and I have four grandchildren. They all live near Seattle, home of Microsoft, Starbucks, and Amazon. My husband’s oldest son has a daughter, Emily, who will be four in July. We think she is brilliant! She hadn’t even turned two when she was speaking in full sentences – and what a sense of humor! She lives about two hours away from us so we don’t see her on a regular basis, but we do ‘facetime’ every weekend on the telephone. My husband’s younger son has a little boy named Cormac. At 2½, he is a “Covid baby” who has rarely seen us without our masks on. He lives the closest to us – just a little over an hour’s drive between our houses, but what with his pre-school and his nap schedule, we don’t get together very often. I suspect that that will change when he is three.
“My oldest son and his wife just left a few days ago after spending a week visiting us. We have a guest house which is a great inducement for folks to make the journey to see us. (And it gives us some welcome time off from kid chaos!) Nathan, 6, and Elanor, 3, have an exciting trip whenever they visit Grandma and Grandpa which involves a lot of driving and a ferry boat ride. We live near a number of beaches and parks so there is always something to do. And Grandpa thinks up the best games when the weather keeps us inside!
“The Pandemic has had one positive effect. Since we couldn’t get together in person, my son set up weekly story times for Nathan and me on Zoom. My mother read to me, I read to my children, my son reads to his children – we are just a tribe of readers! (Right now, Nathan and I are taking a break from chapter books by reading Graham Oakley’s Church Mice/Church Cat books.) Reading to Emily and Elanor and Cormac works best in person, snuggled on the couch, but when they are a little older, I would love to have a Zoom story time with each of them, or maybe all of them at once!
“As I write this, we are looking forward to seeing Emily and Cormac and a large crew of friends and family for our annual brunch and Easter egg hunt (and the silly group photo). We had to skip it the past two years, but with Covid cases down and fingers crossed, we are going for it.
“As the children get older, there are some things that I did with my sons which I would like to share with the grandkids: take them to museums and the ballet, bake cookies, have tea parties, travel. (My son must have mentioned that Nathan and Elanor would love to go to the ballet at least ten times!) The only problem is that as the children get older, so do I. I guess that any foreign travel we do will be to Victoria, British Columbia, which is just a ferry ride from our house. I’m just not as adventurous as I used to be!”
Has your grandchild said something funny? Would you like to be our grandparent of the week? If so, do contact us at email@example.com.
Jane’s new book – out June 23!
When Emily makes a mistake at work, she goes running home to Cornwall. But it seems that someone else has moved in during her absence. This absorbing book explores the complex relationship between father and daughter.
Jane Corry is a Sunday Times best-seller and writes thrillers about families. You can order Jane Corry’s new Penguin novel ‘WE ALL HAVE OUR SECRETS’ from booksellers and online. Or you can scan this code. You can pre-order here: http://linktr.ee/janecorry. If you would like a free bookmark, or to get in touch about anything else, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.