Diary of A Modern Gran | Homework

Lady chasing pram Illustration: Istockphoto

It’s Thursday morning. I’m looking at my seven-year-old granddaughter’s maths homework sheet and all I can say is that I am well and truly flummoxed.

“How do you do division?” I ask my granddaughter who is sitting next to me at the kitchen table.

“Don’t you know?” she asks incredulously. “You should do. You’re grown up.”

“Of course I do,” I say, crossing my fingers. “I just want to know HOW you do it nowadays? Do you use your fingers and do your tables? Or both?”

“I’m not sure,” she says. “I just do it.”

In case you’re wondering why Rose isn’t at school, it’s because it’s another teachers’ strike day.  The last time this happened, I took Rose bowling along with a friend of hers and her granny and her great-grandmother.

We all had a whale of a time.

But this week, my daughter drops off Rose with a pile of serious-looking papers. They comprise two reading books; some homework involving metric numbers (I’m still stuck in the imperial world); and what we used to call “English comprehension”. No doubt there’s a different word for it now but I’m blowed if I know what.

We’ve all agreed that we need to start treating these strike days as a mixture of work interspersed with “relaxation” breaks. After all, we got used to that in the virus, didn’t we?

The problem is that I literally go into a cold sweat at the sight of a sum (apart from adding up which I can just about manage).

“Can you help us, Grandad?” calls out Rose. “Gan Gan isn’t sure if I’ve got this right or not.”

So my husband tears himself away from the crossword and discussing the answers with the dog (oh the joys of retirement!) and takes my place.

He’s much better at this maths stuff than I am.

“Look,” he says, writing down some figures on a scrap bit of paper. “Which one do you think is the right answer?”

“That’s cheating,” I say indignantly. “You’re giving her multiple choice!”

“It will boost her confidence,” whispers my husband. And he’s right. It does. Before long, Rose can do it all by herself, leaving me streets behind.

Mind you, I get even by listening to Rose finish her reading book.

We also log into my Spanish online course which I normally do on a Thursday morning. “Just wanted to say ‘hola’,” I say to the group, explaining why I can’t attend. “Aqui esta mi nieta.” (Here is my granddaughter.)  Rose gives my class a little shy wave and then we return to more homework.

By the way, I started learning Spanish at the beginning of lockdown and have continued. I love it! The discipline of both my weekly class and the online programme which I do daily, feels wonderfully soothing and (I hope) helps to keep my brain ticking over.

Goodness. Is it lunchtime already? I’m exhausted. So is my granddaughter. I’d promised to take her out for a hot chocolate as a treat after all that work. But now the rain is beating down. So we play “pick up sticks” and make fairy cakes instead.

I’ve also got my own writing to do but I’m not going to think about that at the moment. I can always catch up this evening, just as I did when my own children were growing up and I worked from home.

Meanwhile, there’s another teachers’ strike next Tuesday. I’d actually made arrangements with another granny to take our grandchildren to a nearby adventure park. I reckoned that if Rose could get her homework done in the first part of the morning, we could have some fun afterwards before collecting little George whose teacher is not on strike.

Then my phone pings. It’s my granny chum. It seems like our grandchildren aren’t going to be affected by next week’s strike. So it’s school as usual for them – but not for others in different years.

Let’s just hope this situation gets sorted out soon.

Meanwhile, talking of school, I had lunch with my old history teacher last week along with various other former pupils. Miss W is now in her early 90s and as sprightly and intelligent as she was when teaching us about the Habsburgs for history A-level.

It was lovely to see her but I couldn’t bring myself to call her by her first name, like some of the others. Have you met any of your old teachers recently and did you feel the same?

Then, the day after that, I caught the fast train to London to discuss my next novel with my Penguin editor. We went to a lovely restaurant near the Thames and had a great time discussing plots. I also found myself talking quite a lot about my grandchildren.

It’s hard to believe that two days ago, I was struggling with sums! Still, one of the great things about being a grandparent today is that many of us are more active and have a more balanced work/leisure life than our own grandparents did, and possibly our mothers.

At the same time, I feel very aware that some of my friends (or their partners) are beginning to have health issues.

“We just need to stay fit and make the most of every day,” says one of my granny friends. She’s right. So excuse me while I get into my wetsuit. It might still be raining. But we’re off to the beach! And I’m leaving my homework behind…

Ask Agony Gran

“I’m a grandad and I’ve just started taking my granddaughter to a toddler group once a week. I’m the only man there and I feel a bit awkward about chatting to the others even though they’ve been very friendly. My daughter relies on me to do the playgroup stint when she works but I feel like a fish out of water. Have you got any tips?” Brian from Colchester

Jane says:

First of all, Brian, thank you for getting in touch. From what you’ve told me, this must have taken quite a lot of nerve. But I’m so glad you did. I suspect there are quite a lot of other men who feel the same.

When my youngest grandson went to playgroup just before the virus, there was only one grandad there too. We would chat to him but we all sensed he felt a bit shy. Then another grandad started and the two of them immediately started talking. After that, they began to integrate much more fully.

My feeling is that in our day (here we go again!), there weren’t so many dads at playgroup. In fact, I can’t remember any when my three were young. Now, especially with hybrid-working from home as well as the office (or instead of) there are more young dads and also grandads. So here’s a suggestion. Do you have a local friend who’s a grandad? Can you ask him to come along with you?

If not – or rather as well as – seize the bull by the horns, so to speak. Start chatting to people at the playgroup. Offer to help out at one of the craft tables which they usually have at playgroups or to hand out refreshments during the break.  Set up a reading corner where you can read to a group of children, including of course your own grandson. Do you have any special skills such as making things? My gut feeling is that these are early days and that you will settle in before long. Let us know how you get on. Good luck.

If you’d like to comment on this problem (or share one of yours), please email us at moderngran@dcthomson.co.uk.

The Funny Things They Say

I wear contact lenses which fascinates my four-year-old grandson. The other day, I forgot to insert them before we went shopping. “You need to put your eyes back in,” chirped my grandson. “Shall we go home and find them?” Sue from Aylesbury

This made us laugh. Thank you, Sue. Isn’t it amazing how children can take things literally?!

If any one else has a “funny”, please email us at moderngran@dcthomson.co.uk.

Your Feedback

Thanks to Judith for sending this in, after reading last week’s piece on our visit to hospital.

“I was interested to hear your experiences of going to A & E with your granddaughter. I was looking after my nine-year-old grandson when he also had stomach pains and I was advised to take him to casualty. They kept him in overnight and I was allowed to stay by his side until his parents came back (they’d gone away for the weekend for their wedding anniversary). My grandson was operated on in the morning. The staff were lovely and reassuring to us all.”

Thanks also to another grandparent who emailed this in but asked to remain anonymous.

“Your ‘agony gran’ reader from last week’s column really struck a nerve with me. I would love grandchildren but sadly it doesn’t look like I’m going to have them. I feel really left out when my friends talk about their grandchildren. It takes me back to the time when I was trying to get pregnant (it took me a few years and all other friends had had their children by then). Please be sensitive if you have grandchildren. It helps if people can broaden their conversation and talk about other subjects too.”

We take your point. Thank you.

Family News

Can Children’s Screen Time Help You Too?

There’s been quite a lot of discussion in the press recently about screen time being good for grandparents as well as younger generations. Some say they learn a lot through their grandchildren’s favourite online stories – and that it helps boost their mood.

What do you think? Please email us at moderngran@dcthomson.co.uk.

Where To Take The Grandchildren

Steam trains are a great way to amuse all ages. We love the sound of the East Lancashire Railway which puts on lots of special events including “Days Out With Thomas”.  The north-west scenery is also spectacular.

East Lancashire Railway,
Bolton Street Station,
Greater Manchester
Tel 0333 320 2830

For more details, visit www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk.

If you’d like to suggest a day out, please email us moderngran@dcthomson.co.uk.

Children’s Book Of The Week

Glow cover

Here’s my book suggestion of the week.

Glow: A Children’s Guide to the Night Sky (Hardcover out 11 May, 2023) by  Noelia González (author), Sara Boccaccini Meadows (illustrator). £16.99, Magic Cat Publishing

A wonderful guide to the night sky. The author is a NASA science writer. Beautifully presented and informative. It reminds me of the time my father took me into the garden at around the age of seven and pointed out a group of stars that resembled a saucepan. That image has stayed with me ever since.

Jane's Books

Jane Corry is a journalist and best-selling Sunday Times novelist. You can find out more about her books at www.janecorryauthor.com. You’ll also find a link to her newsletter and a free short story.