“It’s hard being a single parent,” says my husband when I ring.
What? I’ve only been away for four days. Has he acquired a second family?
Turns out that he’s talking about walking the dog three times a day – oh, and also feeding the guinea pigs and cats for my daughter and her family who have gone to visit the children’s lovely Welsh grandparents.
I actually feel a bit miffed by my husband’s single parent comments. My youngest son was 13 when my first marriage broke up. I know about the loneliness and anxieties, especially when a teenager isn’t back when he says he will be.
“Well nor were the cats,” says my husband. “I spent ages looking for them. My feet haven’t touched the ground.”
Hah! That’s what comes with the responsibilities of being a grandparent. It’s not just helping out with children. It’s also pet care too.
Meanwhile, I’m away to have some time with my eldest son who lives in Spain. But I’m still getting used to my new phone (which is much cleverer than me) and am finding it hard to get through to my 98-year-old dad.
When I do, I have to make sure there isn’t any Flamenco music in the background. My dad would be really upset if he knew I was out of the country.
In his book, life is dangerous enough if you open the front door and step outside.
So when he asks me what I’ve been doing, I’m careful to stick to the truth without worrying him. “Working on next year’s book,” I tell him. And I am. Honestly.
Next on my “RU alright?” phone call list is my youngest (age 30). He rarely picks up his phone, preferring a quick “Yes” on his What’s App. But I take comfort from the “x” which always accompanies it.
I don’t like to bother my daughter and grandchildren when they’re visiting family. So imagine my excitement when they ring me on FaceTime.
“Gan Gan!” crows Rose. “I’ve lost another tooth!”
This is her fourth. The novelty still hasn’t worn off yet! But this one is different.
“We think she might have swallowed it in her sleep,” says my daughter.
“Either that or she swallowed it with a biscuit at teatime and didn’t notice.”
I want to ask if this is safe but don’t like to make a fuss. I’ll Google it later. Then I let my imagination get the better of me. “Did you know that the tooth fairy has a Gan Gan too? Perhaps she’ll leave you some money as well.”
“Mum,” says my daughter’s voice warningly. She is right. There are some secrets that can’t be told.
Meanwhile, in Spain, I can’t help gazing longingly at all the little ones toddling by. I miss my grandchildren so much!
“Soy abuela,” I say to a young Spanish mother sitting nearby at a restaurant. (I am a grandmother.)
She nods enthusiastically and proceeds to chat in a stream of Spanish which I don’t understand. Then an older-looking woman turns up. It is clear from the similarity that they are mother and daughter. Her daughter says something to her. I hear the word “Abuela”.
“Yo también,” she says. I know what that means. “Me too.”
I take some pictures of my two out of my purse and show them to her. She beams broadly. Then she said something that again I don’t understand. But it doesn’t matter. It sounds warm and simpatico. It’s the universal language of grandparenthood.
By the time you read this, I should be home. The first thing I’ll do is rush round to see my little brood, including those cats and guinea pigs.
And maybe, just maybe, the tooth fairy’s granny might leave a little extra as a belated gift for that latest tooth.
Meanwhile, three days into my break with my eldest son, a huge document drops into my Inbox
It’s what we call the third edit. I used to think that writing a book consisted of sitting down and telling a story.
Actually, it goes through different incarnations with various people in my publishing team, making suggestions on the way.
I’m very grateful for this. Another eye is essential to check you’ve got it right.
But at the same time, I want some time with my son. So I find myself working late into the night and first thing in the morning.
I’m only mentioning this because some of you have been kind enough to buy my new book We All Have Our Secrets. Some readers have also emailed to ask me about the process of writing a novel.
One common question is how I get my inspiration. This year’s book was partly prompted by a chance meeting with someone in town whom I know but not very well.
She said she just come off her shift. It turns out that she is an end of life care worker.
She spoke movingly about the honour of looking after old people and making sure they were clean without affecting their dignity.
I’d already decided that one of my characters was going to be a midwife. It occurred to me that there was a certain poignant balance in having two women in my plot, one of whom brought life into the world and the other who helped ease people out. I went back home and began writing.
I like having older characters in my novels too. I don’t think we get enough exposure! Some of my granny friends are developing arthritis and having problems walking. I find myself having a few twinges at times. I also noticed that my conversation recently has focussed too much on health topics. So I’ve decided to adopt a phrase which one of my friends uses. “Award yourself wellness even if you don’t feel it.”
Of course, it’s easy to say this when you don’t have something seriously wrong with you. But age is partly in the mind, as my own grandmother used to say.
She was 92 when she died. So I’m going to try and follow her example.
Meanwhile, excuse me while I go and take my Cortisone for my dodgy hand!
Ask Agony Gran
“I’m 16. My mum reads your column and I have a question. My granny isn’t like my friends’ grannies. She doesn’t seem to show much affection when we visit. She’s the same with my mum, even though she brought her up on her own. Am I right to feel hurt? I can’t help feeling she doesn’t love me.” Anonymous
“I’m so sorry. This must be difficult for you. But I do wonder if your Gran is actually scared of showing too much emotion.
“Sometimes it’s because people have been hurt in the past. Sometimes it’s because they’ve been brought up not to share it because it is seen as a ‘sign of weakness’.
“You could try to have a frank conversation about this with your gran. But if I were you, I’d have a word with your mum about this before doing this.
“Meanwhile, why don’t you suggest doing some things with your gran like baking or maybe going to the shops? You could find that joint activities might bring you closer. Perhaps you could ask her stories about her life, going back to her childhood.
“As you get older, you’ll find out that people show their emotions in different ways. People can seem cold on the outside. But it doesn’t mean they don’t love you. Good luck.”
Grandparent of the Week – Kathy
Kathy Buckworth is the host of Go-To Grandma, a Canadian podcast .
How old are your grandchildren?
My grandsons are 2½ and 1. Their names are Owen and Cam, and they are the sons of my oldest daughter Tory, and her husband Braden.
How often do you see them?
It has been tricky during Covid as they are under the age of 5 and unvaccinated. They used to live around the corner but recently moved about an hour away. I isolate for a week before I go for a weekend to stay with them and help babysit. I see them in person every month or so (sometimes outside visit if not safe) and on Facetime very often!
What sort of fun things do you like doing with them?
I love taking them out for walks and to the park. I also spend a lot of time reading with them and colouring. I’m not really a “baking” grandma. I’m a pretty active person so I like taking them out for active fun.
What’s the best thing about being a grandparent?
It makes you feel young again. You get to experience all of that fun you had with your kids when they were little. I have four kids who are now aged 20-30, and watching them all interact with their kids/nieces/nephews is wonderful to watch. I also like not being in the Rules Business. I’m happy to follow the parenting rules my daughter and son-in-law have in place, and not to have to make them.
What’s the most difficult thing?
Not being with them as often as I’d like. Also, my daughter has a “No TV until two” rule so I will admit not being able to throw on a movie or video when they’ve exhausted me can be tough!
Can you think of any funny things they’ve said to you?
My two year old grandson recently called me “GrandBum” which he thought was hysterical.
Can you describe that special relationship between grandparents and grandchild?
I feel like they see me as an extension of their mum. I love seeing them grow and become their own people. I was always amazed how different my four kids were from each other, and now I see my two grandsons are their own people as well. That said, it’s fun to see traits pass through from our generation. I love finding things that we both find funny. They both have great senses of humour.
What do they call you?
They just call me Grandma.
What advice would you offer to new grandparents?
Listen to your kids, the parents of your grandkids. They are in charge. They set the rules. If you think some of their strategies are different than what you would do, guess what, it doesn’t matter. Unless the kids are in actual danger, you must obey the guidelines that your kids lay down when being with the grandkids. Don’t try to do things with the grandkids that the parents would not approve of when you are alone with them. They trust you. Reward that trust. (And then go and complain and joke about their mad new parenting strategies with your friends, if you need to.) Your kids hold the keys to the Grandkid Kingdom, and they can revoke them at any time. Time with them is a privilege.
Jane’s new book – out now!
Do you have a secret? Emily and Francoise do! So does Harold, Emily’s elderly father. All three live by the sea in a rambling house that is hiding all kinds of memories. WE ALL HAVE OUR SECRETS is a family mystery by Sunday Times best-seller Jane Corry, published by Penguin. You can buy it from supermarkets, bookshops and online at https://linktr.ee/janecorry.
Jane is giving away free bookmarks to celebrate. If you would like a bookmark, please email firstname.lastname@example.org