My daughter and son-in-law are off to school to see how Rose and George are doing.
“We won’t be long,” they say, as I am left with instructions on what to cook for tea.
It doesn’t seem long since the last parents’ evening.
When the first one started – Rose was five – it seemed like a rite of passage. In fact, it almost felt comical. What could a teacher say about a five-year-old’s progress at school?
But now, of course I know. Quite a lot.
Children change so fast, don’t they? Suddenly, Rose is devouring what she calls “chapter books”.
George is keener on more factual books. Mind you, since his birthday, he’s been working for a degree in Super Mario, his favourite present.
That’s a little bit of a joke. His parents are very good at restricting his hours, but he’s so enthusiastic that he could well be heading for a career in video games.
I don’t remember my children having parents’ evenings when they were little. At least until they were about nine.
But maybe it passed by in that domestic battle of trying to keep them warm, fed and safe while I carried on writing magazine features from the kitchen table.
Perhaps I did a better job then, because now, while the parents are out seeing how their children are performing, I am failing miserably. “Pleeeese can we watch the iPad while we have tea. Pleese.”
I should put my foot down, but it doesn’t work. Tears are dripping into their pasta and veggie mince.
“OK,” I say, glancing around to check the parents haven’t put up any granny security cameras. (One of my friends actually did that when her mother-in-law came to stay.)
So we watch a comedy cartoon. Well, at least it’s developing their vocabulary. In fact, I’m rather enjoying it although I do interrupt every now and then with “elbows off the table”; “please eat with your mouth closed”; “and one more mouthful” entreaties.
“Let’s read a story,” I say afterward when they’ve helped me clear away.
Even Rose, my little bookworm, isn’t too keen on this. “I’m tired,” she says. “We’ve been reading all day at school.”
I’ve definitely noticed that they’re feeling the strain of going up a class since last year. After all, the academic goals and objectives have risen in line with their new age group.
But I still need to give them time for tea to go down before bath time. So I think of something else to amuse them.
“How about Uno?” says the children, opening their games cupboard.
Uno? I have heard of it but I don’t know how to play.
“Can you teach me?” I ask.
Their eyes light up. “Of course!”
It strikes me as Rose deals the cards and George explain the rules, that this is a perfect strategy for getting them to learn even though they are teaching me.
It’s helping them to articulate and to see how important it is for the other person to listen. That in turn might help their listening skills too.
I should confess here that I expected to be a little bit bored. Hand on heart, I do find some children’s games rather dull. But Uno is brilliant! It makes us laugh and it gets my brain cogs moving.
“What does this card mean?” I say.
“You have to pick up four more,” giggles Rose delightedly.
Oh no! The goal is to get rid of all your cards – not saddle yourself with extra ones!
She wins hands down.
“May we play another pleeese?” I beg.
So we do.
Then I win! Whoopeee! I feel a real surge of excitement.
“You did a great job teaching me,” I say.
George and Rose’s faces are glowing.
Then it’s bath time.
Oh no. The left bath tap has suddenly come off in my hand! What are we going to do? Water is surging madly. I yank out the bath plug to avoid a flood (we’ve already had one of those in our own house this week) and bundle George into a towel to dry him – it’s the fastest bath he’s ever had.
Then I call the neighbours: a lovely, retired pair of grandparents who’ve got one of those vans I’ve always wanted to explore the countryside.
“Thank you, thank you!” I say when they come round with their toolkit.
They fix it within minutes. The culprit seems to be a loose washer. I’d like to say I learned something, but I was too busy drying off George and explaining to Rose why she couldn’t have a bath just yet.
“Maybe,” says Rose, “you should learn to mend taps.”
Now, that’s not a bad idea.
All is sorted just as the parents come back.
“Your teachers say you are great,” they tell the children.
As for me, I’m researching some local DIY classes in case that bath tap pulls the same trick on me again. I’ve also ordered a book called “How to win at card games”. Well if you can’t beat them, join them!
Ask Agony Gran
“I’ve got my two grandchildren coming to stay for half-term. They are 10 and 12. It’s the first time they’ve been to me without their parents. Do you have any suggestions on what to do with them and to make sure they are settled?” Maureen, Leeds
Thanks, Maureen, for emailing us. I expect there will be a lot of other grandparents asking that question. Staying over without a parent is a big thing. I’d start with checking out the safety points. Do they know how to find you if they wake in the night? Do they need a night light? Are they prone to sleepwalking or waking with bad dreams? I’d ask for a list of things you need to know about their habits from the parents including favourite food so you can get it all in and be prepared in advance.
I’d also plan some activities but leave enough time in-between to chill out and catch up with each other. You could begin by Googling “what’s on at half term in my area for children”. Also look for notices about children’s half-term activities in the library, church and leisure centres. Long walks are good. So is pitch and putt. Other ideas might include:
Crafty activities on the kitchen table.
Going through old family photographs and showing them what Mummy or Daddy looked like at their age.
Phone calls home to the parents can sometimes cause homesickness so try to keep a balance between keeping in touch and not overdoing it by ringing every hour.
Have a great time. Memories are made of this!
If you’d like to share a problem with us anonymously, do email us at email@example.com.
The Royal Forestry Commission has launched a new project to help children learn about trees and their importance to the environment. Help your grandchildren measure tree trunks and understand how wood can help the world. They can get an information activity handbook and earn their Green Tree Badge badge too! For more information, go to www.bagsofethics.org/greentreebadge.
The Funny things They Say
“My daughter and I recently took my eight-year-old grandson to visit my mum who’s in a nursing home. We explained she was his ‘great gran’.”
“Does that mean she’s taller than you, Gran?” he asked me.
That’s really sweet. Thanks, Carol, for sending that in. If your grandchildren have come up with something funny, do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Ann from Cheshire who emailed us after last week’s column.
“I was interested to read about the email from the grandmother whose granddaughter won’t go to sleep until late in the evening. Mine did the same. I suggested to my daughter that she changed the layout of the bedroom and put the bed against a different wall. Whether it was the novelty or just a coincidence, my granddaughter started sleeping earlier!”
“I help to look after my grandchildren in the holidays. It can get a bit noisy at times. So every now and then, we have a silent disco! I play quiet music and they dance around, without making a noise. The first one to do so, sits down. The winner is the one who manages not to say a word! We only do it for about five minutes but it’s fun and it seems to calm them down.” Kay, Southampton
Where To Take The Grandchildren
A family theme park and resort with a zoo, regular events (including Halloween activities) and lots to do! There’s also Thomas Land with our favourite tank engine and his friends! You can also stay here, too.
Children’s Book Of The Week
This week or book of the week is Peace On Earth by Smriti Halls and illustrated by David Litchfield. Walker Books, £12.99.
A lovely hardback book for three-year-olds upwards about friends and the importance of peace. This title seems particularly relevant with everything that’s happening in the world.
If you’d like to get in touch or share your favourite books or days out, please email us at email@example.com.
Jane Corry is a journalist and award-winning author. Her latest novel is Coming to Find You.
When Nancy’s brother goes to prison for murder, she runs to the old family holiday home Tall Chimneys to hide from the press. But the home has its own secrets, going back to the Second World War. This Sunday Times bestseller is published by Penguin, £8.99. Available in print, digital and audio.