Rose and George are getting really excited. It’s almost the last week of term and all kinds of things are going on. Carol practices. Writing Christmas cards to their friends and, of course, to Father Christmas.
But right now my daughter and I are about to leave on the train for my father’s funeral, while my son-in-law looks after the children.
“Are you going to say goodbye to great-grandad?” asks Rose.
“Yes,” I say gently.
“Can he hear you?” ask George.
“I hope so,” I say as we kiss them goodbye.
Goodness. What a train journey! We were diverted and delayed all over the place (even though it was a non-strike day) and there was snow on the ground when we got there.
However, the service went smoothly. The best part was when my sister and I stood up to give our memories. We talked about how our father made kites out of wrapping paper and nearly brought the telephone wires down when we flew them in the local “rec”. We talked about how he taught us to swim and how he passed on his love of reading.
It made me realise how the things we do as grandparents and parents can stay in children’s minds for years – however big or small.
My eldest son who works in Spain, emailed his memories which were read out by my youngest son. He wrote about the time that he met up with Grandad in London while training as a lawyer. Apparently, the two of them sank a few pints of beer between them and my father told him quite a lot about his life. “I came away,” wrote my son, “feeling as though I’d learnt more about Grandad in those few hours than at any other time of his life.”
On my way home, I made a detour to stay in London and see my youngest son and his girlfriend as work commitments mean they can’t come back to us for Christmas.
Before daddy died, I’d booked tickets for the three of us to go the musical Tina Turner. I wasn’t sure if it would still be right to go but I could almost hear him telling me in my head not to “be so daft”.
So we went. It was amazing! I also spent the following evening with them after work when we had a lovely family catch up time over a meal. None of this was cheap but time with your children and grandchildren is priceless, isn’t it?
I also had a little laugh despite the sadness. My son and his girlfriend had asked for a vacuum cleaner for Christmas which I arranged to have delivered. They were thrilled with it.
If you’d told me 10 years ago that this would be my son’s choice for a Xmas present, I wouldn’t have believed you! Instead, it would have been ripped designer jeans or tickets for a gig…
I just about managed to get back home before the third train strike of the week – and was plunged straight back into normality.
Yes – it was the school run for Rose and George. But oh no. The car wouldn’t start, partly because of the snow and also perhaps, because I hadn’t driven it for four days. Luckily, my husband got it going with the jump leads.
What a relief. The rest of the afternoon was very calming as I went with my grandchildren to the after-school carol practice in the lovely church next door. There I was able to say my prayers and reflect quietly. Well – maybe not so quietly as I was also watching the children sing.
The clever pianist promised some chocolate for the happiest-looking singer so they all immediately broke out into broad little toothy smiles!
It reminded me of the time when one of my wobbly teeth wouldn’t come out as a child and my father suggested putting a piece of string round it and the other end on the door handle. I hadn’t realised he was joking. At least I think he was…
“You’re probably not allowed to do that nowadays,” chips in my husband. “It’s bound to be against some kind of health and safety law.”
Then the last day of school arrives. The children come back with bags full of cards and sweets and goodness knows what.
“Can I help?” I offer.
“Yes please,” says my daughter. “I’ve got lots of things to do. It would really help if you could amuse them.”
So we get out the paints and do poster-red hand prints on the kitchen table (whoops!) along with painting and salting dinosaurs. In case you’ve never done it, you simply draw a dinosaur (I copied mine from a book), cover it with paint and sprinkle some salt on it. The results are still drying but I can tell you that it kept them quiet for all of 11 minutes. Just thought I’d pass this on in case you need any crafty ideas.
“Oh no,” says my daughter when she comes downstairs and finds me trying to rub off the handprints from the wooden table top. “You’re not meant to be the messy one, Mum!”
I almost get my phone out to take pictures of the children and send them to my father as I used to do. Then I remember…
Christmas is a strange time to grieve. But when you have grandchildren – and children – you have to put on a jolly front. Otherwise, it’s too easy to associate that time with sadness in years to come.
So this afternoon, we’re going to decorate the Christmas tree.
Everyone else I know has already done theirs but, with the funeral, there hasn’t been time before. Besides, my husband doesn’t like it up too early.
Usually, I disagree with him but it didn’t feel right to do it while we were planning the funeral. Now I am ready. Well, almost. The children will help me put up tinsel and lights and those pretty baubles that I’ve had for years.
But the queen of the tree will be a fairy doll which my mother passed down to me. It has a white satin gown which was made by a blind bride out of her wedding dress. She then gave it to her doctor as a Christmas present. The doctor had been my godmother.
I can still remember the excitement when my parents would put her at the top of the tree. It’s a reminder that traditions and life go on.
It’s also a reminder that we need to treasure each moment and count our blessings.
If you’ve had a tough year or have got something difficult going on at the moment, I’m sending out a big hug. I hope you find peace this Christmas, somehow.
If you don’t have anyone to talk to, do drop us a line. I like to think that we are all here for each other. Email email@example.com.
Reader Postbag – Should You Tell Your Grandchildren About Father Christmas?
Thank you for your emails on this!
“I told my children about Father Christmas and it made Christmas special. After all he’s based on a real person; a saint, Bishop Nicholas of Myra known for giving secret gifts to the poor. Amongst other things, he’s also the patron saint of children so I think they can keep their Saint Nicholas whose name morphed into Santa Claus.’ 🧑🎄
“My daughter’s children have been brought up to not believe in Father Christmas or Tooth Fairy etc because of my daughter’s religious beliefs. As a result, I think they have missed out on the magic of being young. As to children asking the question ‘Is Father Christmas real,’ a lady I used to work with would answer, ‘there will always be a Father Christmas as long as there are children to believe in him.’ which I think is a good answer.
“My sister-in-law’s funeral is next week, and like you , I don’t feel like celebrating Christmas but will be comforted by being with family and grandchildren.”
The Funny Things Children Say
Thanks to Caroline for sending this in.
“I’ve developed a sty in my eye which has been quite painful and looks very red.
“My daughter must have explained this to my seven-year-old grandson but I’m not sure he fully understood. When I went to see him last week, he came running up and said, ‘Nanny, why have you got a pig in your eye?’”
If your grandchildren have done or said anything funny, do drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family News Flash
A new study of children between three and five found that they showed worse behaviour or had emotional meltdowns in the long run if they were regularly given iPads or smart phones to play on. Scientists apparently said this was because children who became dependant on screens as a distraction from negative feelings, were less likely to manage their own feelings or self-soothe.
Mmmmm. Surely it’s a matter of balance? After all, technology can also broaden the mind. What do you think? Are you grandchildren too dependent on technology? Please email us email@example.com.
Ask Agony Gran
“I know this is a terrible thing to say but I’d like a quiet Christmas. My son and his girlfriend have got a total of five children between them ranging from two years to nineteen. They are very noisy and race around, causing chaos. We live near them but they always suggest coming to us because we’ve got more room. They help out with the cooking but it means there are too many of us in the kitchen. It also means I can’t have a quiet moment if I want one. When they go, the house is a terrible mess and it takes us ages to clear up. Any suggestions?” Name withheld
There will be some people reading this who will sympathise. There will also be some who think you’re lucky to be with your grandchildren. Either way, this is how you feel at this moment and that’s what’s important.
It’s not too late to suggest some changes. Can you go round to their place? If they bring up the question of space, you might consider coming clean and saying that although you love being with them, you’d rather shift the work and the mess to their home. On the other hand, if you think that might offend them, stick to the original arrangement and then, after lunch, announce that you need to lie down in your room for a bit. I’m sure they can find a good film or a game to keep them amused. It’s amazing how a break can make us all feel refreshed, however old or young we are. The third option is to say nothing and grin and bear it. After all, it’s only a day. It will help to keep the peace rather than cause an argument which might go on for weeks or even months. But make sure you take the next day off!
A problem shared is a problem halved! If you’d like confidential advice, do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Children’s Book of the Week
Each week I’ll suggest a great book, or a recommendation from a reader. If you’ve got a favourite you share with your grandchildren, do let us know at email@example.com.
Greatest Magical Stories chosen by Michael Morpurgo (OUP, Oxford, £10.99).
This famous writer has collected his favourite magical stories from round the world including The Frog Prince, Sleeping Beauty and Michael Morpurgo’s re-telling of Jack and the Beanstalk. A lovely family book to read – especially at this time of year!
Looking For an adult book as a Christmas present?
Then I hope you don’t mind me mentioning some of my own novels.
I Looked Away (published by Penguin) is about a granny who makes a mistake.
I shouldn’t say this but I will tell you that it’s not what it seems…
Available as paperback, audio and eBook.
You can also get a free short story by signing up to my website www.janecorryauthor.com