I love babysitting my grandchildren. There’s something rather cosy about sitting downstairs at their place, doing my Spanish online course while the children are sleeping upstairs.
But they’re not. Sleeping that is.
Rose, my six-year-old granddaughter, has got into the habit of creeping downstairs as soon as the front door is shut.
When she was younger, I used to be able to get her back to bed. But now it’s almost impossible and there have been evenings when it’s got to 9 o’clock and even later.
Like last week. “You really have to go to bed now,” I plead.
“But I’m not tired,” she says with her dramatic hands-on-hips gesture. “And I’m hungry.”
How can I let her go to bed with a rumbling tummy (even though she had tea)? So out comes the late evening feast and then of course I have to let it go down. By then the parents are back.
“Mum!” says my daughter. “She’s got school the next day!”
“I couldn’t help it,” I say, feeling like a naughty child.
So this week, when my daughter asked if I’d mind babysitting, I said I’d be happy to do so but with one proviso. “Please could you have a good pep talk with Rose about staying in bed,” I say.
I feel rather bad about being firm…
What if it puts my grandchildren off me? But I’m also aware that it’s about time I start to be stricter.
When I arrive, George is asleep on his side of the bedroom and Rose is sitting up in bed with her books.
“Now remember what I said,” instructs my daughter.
I’m not quite sure if she’s addressing me or my granddaughter. Turns out it’s the latter. “I promise to stay in bed,” says Rose as if she’s rehearsing a line from a play.
And she does! True, she can’t sleep so I sit up next to her, our backs against the pillow, and we read books in the dark so as not to wake her brother.
“We need a torch,” I say rifling through my bag. But my usual emergency one isn’t there.
“Just use your phone,” she replies with the authority of a six year old going on 16.
Within seconds she’s located the app and, lo and behold, there is a bright beam so we can read our stories without disturbing George on the other side of the room.
But there’s still no sign of sleep. “I’m going downstairs now,” I say eventually after we’ve finished the seventh book of the evening.
“Can I come too,” she asks hopefully.
“I’m afraid not,” I say in what I hope is a kind but firm voice. “Remember what Mummy said. You need your rest.”
I could go through the usual scientific stuff but then my eye falls on the framed letter from one of the Queen (via a lady in waiting). My granddaughter is a great fan of the Queen and was very excited to receive a reply last year.
“Because it’s good for you,” I say in reply to Rose’s question. “I expect the Queen is having a bit of a rest at the moment after all those celebrations.”
Then I tiptoe down, fully expecting her to follow suit. But she doesn’t! A few minutes later, she’s fast asleep.
I’m not great at being tough with my grandchildren. But this time, I seem to have found a middle road, thanks to my daughter’s little pep talk – and the Queen.
There’s an added bonus too. I now know where to find the torch on my phone! You know what they say. If you want something techie done, ask the youngest person in the room!
“Mum,” says my daughter. “Do you think I’ve put on too many dots? I got a bit carried away when I was putting them on.”
I gaze at the children’s bedroom which has just been decorated. My daughter and son-in-law have been saving up for ages to do it. My daughter, who is very arty, has created a geometric look with dots and different colours on each side – one for Rose and one for George.
There’s even a little writing desk in the corner. And my son-in-law has put up a new bed for George because he’s outgrown his toddler one. (I can hardly believe this. It makes me feel a mixture of sadness and excitement.)
“There are quite a few dots,” I say tentatively. “But they look great.”
Meanwhile, the children are clamouring outside the door.
It’s time for the great unveiling!
“Come on in!” says my daughter.
There’s a whirlwind rush as they tear past and leap onto their respective beds.
George’s new duvet has a picture of all the countries in the world.
I feel a tad nostalgic. My boys had a similar version when they were growing up. It was very handy for geography homework – as well as my own general knowledge! “Look,” says my son-in-law to the children. “There’s the UK!”
Rose has got the dotty side. She stands on her bed and traces their outlines on the wall with an index finger.
“Do you think there are too many?” my daughter asks her.
She face beams. ‘No, Mummy! I love them!”
Their shiny faces remind me of the feeling I had when I shared a bedroom with my sister when she was born.
I was seven so it was quite an age gap.
“When I was little,” I tell Rose and George, “Aunty Nancy and I had a tiny bedroom so our parents put us in bunkbeds as soon as my sister was old enough. She was on the bottom because she was the youngest.”
“Wow,” says George, his eyes widening.
“I used to sit on the top and look out over the road, making up stories.”
“I do that in my bed,” says Rose.
“We couldn’t afford a dressing table,” I continue, “but my father made one out of orange boxes and my mother made a pretty blue lace curtain to go around it.”
“Out of orange boxes?” repeats Rose. “Why?”
It’s hard to explain that event though this was fifteen years after the war, money was still tight for many families.
What I didn’t tell my grandchildren was that I cherished that dressing table as if it was made of gold and silver. Later, when we moved house, I was heartbroken when my mother gave it to the removal men because it wouldn’t fit into the new place.
It’s funny how you remember things like that isn’t it? What was your bedroom like as a child? Do write in and tell us. We’d also like to hear about any tips on decorating a grandchild’s bedroom. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask Agony Gran
“My grandchildren are eight and six. They always come with to stay with me for a few days in the holidays. I have quite a small garden but they love running around and, I must admit, they make a bit of noise. Last time they came to say, my neighbour (an elderly man who lives on his own) complained rather unkindly about the noise. Now they’re coming again and I’m worried.” Name withheld.
“We do sympathise. Noise and neighbours can be a very tricky subject, can’t it? Many of us have been disturbed at times by noises that neighbours have made – as well as being on the receiving end of complaints. If it was me, I’d write a very friendly note to your neighbour, telling him that your grandchildren are coming to stay on such a such a date. Say that you hope they won’t make too much noise but if it becomes too loud, you hope he will let you know. I would also say that they are only there for a short time. I’d also think of some different places to take them to outside so they’re not in the garden all the time. This way, you’re being a considerate neighbour but at the same time, you’re pre-empting any more unpleasantness on his part. I have to stress that this is how I’d handle it personally. Others might suggest a ‘mind your own business’ approach to the neighbour. But in my experience, it’s important to get on with people who live next to you. Good luck!”
If you’d like some advice on a problem that’s worrying you, do email us at email@example.com.
The funny things they say
“I collect my nine-year-old granddaughter from school. One day, she told me they were having an ‘insect day’ so we spent ages, looking for some insects and then drawing them. When we got to school the next day, I found it was an ‘Inset’ day. I hadn’t seen the note in the bottom of her bag! So we went home and continued drawing more insects!” Betty from Bedfordshire.
Children’s Book of the Week
We love Julia Donaldson’s books as well as the lovely illustrations by Axel Scheffler. This is a beautiful lift-the-flap book for younger readers. Badger wants to start a band and his friends are keen to join in the fun. Tortoise plays the trumpet and Bear can play piano, but who else wants to join the band?
Grandparent of the Week – Janet, 66
Janet has three adopted children and is a “kinship carer” to her nine-year-old grandson. Recently, she was invited to Downing Street to talk about reforms in the children’s care system, especially in relation to “kinship carers” – someone who looks after another person’s child on a full-time basis. This person usually has a connection such as blood or as a close friend.
“The government is currently reviewing the processes by which children are looked after when they come into care. I’m on a voluntary panel along with other parents and grandparents. Recently, some of us were invited to Downing Street to tell ministers about our own personal experiences..
“I was 58 at the time and thinking of retirement. I wasn’t entitled to parental leave to sort out all the issues involved so I left work to look after my grandson. My friends were all starting to enjoy a retirement lifestyle but I suddenly found myself going to playgroups with lots of young mums. I don’t regret this for a moment but I do think that we should have the same benefits that are given to other carers. For example, if I’d had parental leave, it would have given me more time to make all the changes that are needed to take a one-year-old into your home. Financial allowances can vary. We’d also like to be able to apply for legal aid. And we’d like more peer support for kinship carers because it can be very isolating.
“It was very exciting going to Downing Street! We were in a stately room where Barack Obama had been entertained. Each of us told our different stories and many were moved to tears. I talked about what it was like being a grandparents and raising a grandchild. The review team and the ministers were all very approachable. Now we’re waiting to see what will happen.”
I am giving away free bookmarks to celebrate my new novel ‘WE ALL HAVE OUR SECRETS’ (published by Penguin on June 23). My story is about two women who are staying in a Cornish house. One is running. One is hiding. Both are lying. Then there is Harold, the elderly owner of the house, whose secrets go back to the Second World War.
If you would like a bookmark, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
You can buy my novel from bookshops, supermarkets and online at https://linktr.ee/janecorry.