The red team is lining up with their scarlet T-shirts, shorts and hats. I’m squinting through the sun to find my granddaughter at the starting line. There she is!
My heart churns to think that this beautiful six-year-old with her long auburn plaits is the same little scrap who was in Intensive Care all those years ago.
Regular readers might remember that Rose was born with a rare form of childhood epilepsy which, thank God (and I mean that), finally petered out before she was one.
It’s something we will never forget as a family. And it’s on special occasions like this – school sports day – when I give extra double thanks.
Hang on! They’re off!
Rose is flying through the air with a determination and concentration on her face that reminds me of her mummy and her two brothers when they were at school. In fact, she has a double whammy of the sporting gene as my son in law is a sportsman too.
This gives me huge pleasure since I was one of those kids who always got left to last when classmates picked others for their team! At the end of term, I would watch with admiration and (I confess) a little envy as my classmates walked across the platform to collect their medals.
The irony is that I’ve become sportier as I’ve got older. Many of my friends are the same. Have you found that too?
‘Look at her!’ says my daughter. I see the love shining out of her face for her own daughter and I want to cry with emotion. Oh dear. Where’s a tissue when you want one?
Yes! Rose has won her part of the relay. But even if she hadn’t, we would still be proud of her.
That’s the wonderful thing about sports days now. There isn’t the rivalry or the exclusion that I can recall from my own school days.
In fact, one of the teachers opens the ceremony with some lovely words about the importance of being kind and respectful to others. There’s also a focus on group events which reduces the embarrassment of coming last (as I often did!)
After the mummy and daddy races, we all sit down on the village sports field to have a lovely picnic lunch. We’ve lived here long enough now for me to know quite a lot of my daughter and son in law’s friends as well as other grandparents and carers from school runs and baby group days.
Again, it transports me back to those sports days when I was married to my first husband and we were proud young parents on the sidelines. I wish I could tell my younger self that there will be long runs and hurdles ahead in life. I wish I could say that races aren’t to be run for the winning. They’re for group support.
And I wish I could say that even when you feel you have lost at times, there are wonderful prizes along the way.
‘Gan Gan,’ says Rose running to me afterwards. ‘You’re here!’
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
‘We ought to have a grandparent race,’ I say to one of my granny mates who introduced me to the baby groups when Rose and George were small.
‘I’m up for that!’ she says.
‘Oh no, Mum!’ says my daughter, pretending to groan and cover her eyes. ‘Anyway, it’s too late. We’ve finished now.’
But there nothing like a spot of forward planning, is there? So I have a quiet word with one of the teachers on duty as I leave.
‘Good idea,’ she says. ‘We’ll discuss it at the next meeting.’
I text my granny mate immediately.
‘I’ll spread the word,’ she texts back.
We’ve got nearly a year to train. I’m excited already! But don’t tell my daughter.
Maybe I might finally win that sports day medal I’d always yearned for. Competitive? Me?
Do you have elderly parents too?
As I write this, I’m about to make my regular six-hour journey to visit my 98-year-old dad and stepmother. Earlier this week, during one of our many daily phone calls, he said he was ‘desperate to get out’.
My sister and I have been encouraging them both to do this for the last five years. But sadly they’ve become too scared of life.
So I book a taxi which specialises in assisted lifts for the elderly. The plan is that we’ll all go for a little drive this Sunday.
‘Why have you done that?’ he asks when I tell him.
‘You asked me to,’ I remind him.
‘No I didn’t,’ he says sharply.
I’m about to say that he did. But then I stop.
It’s beginning to feel as though I am trying to negotiate with Rose and George when they were toddlers. The trick, I’ve learned, is to distract.
‘What would you like me to bring you?’ I say, changing the subject.
I expect it to be his usual – a bottle of whisky. But I’m wrong.
His voice softens. ‘I’ve a hankering for some mature Cheddar,’ he says.
So Cheddar it is. Meanwhile, I’ve arranged with the driver that we’ll see how Daddy and his wife feel on the day. (Obviously we’ll pay up anyway.)
You never know. Maybe some fresh air and a cheese sandwich are just what my dad needs…
Do you help to look after elderly parents and your grandchildren? We’d love to hear from you. You can email us at email@example.com
Ask Agony Gran
‘My daughter is divorced from her husband. My grandchildren (who are almost teenagers) divide their week between their mum and dad. It’s all quite friendly. But now my former son-in-law has got a serious partner who is going to move in. My daughter is very upset at the idea of another woman looking after her children during the access days. How can I help her? The new woman is also close to her parents and I’m worried they might try to take over as grandparents.’
‘I really feel for you. This is very hard on so many different levels. But let’s take it from your perspective first. As parents, we usually want to make everything right for our children, no matter how old they are. But sometimes it’s not that easy.
If it was me, I’d give your daughter a big hug (which you’ve probably done already) and then ask if she’s talked over her concerns with her ex-husband. It might be best to keep this to some simple questions, starting with the safety angle. Will the new lady in his life be in sole charge of the children at any time? Has she had experience of children? Does she know the family rules and dos and don’ts. Does she have your phone number for emergencies?
Then there’s the emotional minefield. Maybe you could tell your daughter that it’s perfectly natural to feel jealous. Suggest she meets up with the new lady – maybe alone – and talk it through. There are no easy answers but you might find that it turns out better than she thinks.
More and more families are blending together. And it definitely helps if there isn’t any obvious anger or bitterness. This can take time. But it is possible.
I’m also wondering about your own feelings about the new ‘grandparents’. In my experience of our own blended family, I’m amazed by children’s abilities to love more than one grandparent. It doesn’t mean they’re going to care for you any the less. On the contrary, your steady presence (even at the other end of the phone) is probably what they need right now. Try to hang onto that thought. It will help you as much as them.
There is also a very helpful organisation called www.familylives.org.uk. Do check out their website. It has some useful information on blended families.
Would you like some help with a problem? You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The funny things they do… and say
Thanks to Yvonne from Cornwall for this:
‘My three-year-old granddaughter insists on putting sun cream on her doll when she takes it into the garden. At least she’s got the message!’
Grandparent of the Week
Thanks to Shirley for telling us about her life as a grandparent.
How old are your grandchildren?
Nolan is 4. I only have one and he is such a delight. I cherish each and every minute.
How often do you see him?
At least 3 times a week and we have our “date” night sleepover every Saturday night. This has been a tradition since he was little. We love this time. I am fortunate, he lives 5 minutes away.
What sort of fun things do you like doing with him?
Lots of park time, bubble blowing time, crafts when he’s in the mood, lots of car stuff. He is car crazy and knows each and every car on the road by sight – .it’s actually quite amazing.
We go for short drives (he consistently tells me, “Nana, you are such a good driver”). Our car chats and bedtime chats are something to behold and cherish.
He loves to spell and print. He can spell quite a few words phonetically and prints a number of words. He has been printing his own name for a long time. He counts to 100 (most times without a mistake). It amazes me how much info his little brain holds.
What’s the best thing about being a grandparent?
Everything! He constantly teaches me about life from a four-year-old perspective (seriously going on 10)! There is just nothing like it.
What’s the most difficult thing?
Thinking about him ever getting hurt and growing up way too fast.
Any funny things he’s said to you?
Ha ha! Where do I start? One stands out when he was only three. I ran out of milk and told him I went to the corner store to buy some for him but they were out of milk.
He looked at me and he said, “Well that’s just ridiculous, Nana. What store runs out of milk?”🤣
The fact that at three he used the words correctly was a bit of a surprise, although it shouldn’t have been because his vocabulary has been amazing since he could talk.
His first two words were smoke detector. We could not believe it. He often says, ‘Nana you crack me up, you are hilarious.’
We do have a lot of laughs together and our sense of humour is similar for sure. I think being around adults with Covid the last few years has made him grow up a little bit quicker and too fast😩. He refers to his day care as ‘going to work’. When his dad picked him up the other day, his first words were, ‘I had a rough day at work today, Dad!’
How do you not crack up at that? He consistently makes everyone around him smile and laugh and has a very infectious smile.
Can you describe that special relationship between grandparents and grandchild?
There really aren’t enough words but it is the most special relationship I could ever hope for. He constantly teaches me things and it amazes me the love I feel for this little boy.
Before we become grandparents, other people tell us how special it is but until it actually happens, one can’t even imagine. Also my grandson was born one day after my birthday. He almost made it on my birthday but he wanted his own special day and I’m glad but we get to celebrate together. It is the best gift your own children can give you.
What advice would you offer to new grandparents?
The best and only advice is cherish, cherish, cherish. Spend as much time as you can together and show them all the love that you feel. Respect their feelings at all times and let them know it’s fine for them to feel the way they do and sometimes they don’t even want to hug and that’s OK too.
Answer their never ending questions the best way you feel that they can handle the truth. Every child handles things differently, so be aware of how much they need to know without straying from the truth.
Jane’s new book – out now!
Jane Corry is a novelist and journalist. Her Penguin seaside mystery is called WE ALL HAVE OUR SECRETS. Available in supermarkets, bookshops and online. This month (July only) it’s just 99p on Kindle.
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. Buy the book 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 email@example.com