Thursday, August 05, 2010

Grandparents in charge

Sampling the sea
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Strange, isn't it? I've been out of teaching for five years and I still slide into school holiday mode as far as any kind of regular activity goes. Blogging is one of them - though I have noticed a distinct downturn in others' productivity as well. But this last week I've had a cast iron excuse: a three-year-old. Catriona came to stay on her own for the first time in her 2 years 11 months and Mr B and I realised why we didn't compose symphonies or write the novel when we were younger.

It wasn't just that she was sleeping in the study where all work gets done. I can quite easily use the laptop elsewhere. It was rather the constant need to be there, interacting or simply vigilant, for 12 hours a day, at the end of which we were too exhausted to do anything other than stare slack-jawed at an hour or so of telly and then slope off to bed. And the responsibility of watching over someone else's child struck me with even greater force than I remember from these first weeks on my own with my firstborn.

Part of it is the very fact of being older - not just in terms of stamina, for sometimes I think I have more of that, but in the knowledge of what can go wrong (you've been there), in the inability to carry said child for more than a minute or two without collapsing. There is, however, an interesting new dimension. You see, grandparents exist to be jolly, imperturbable, accommodating and indulgent. If you're in sole charge over four days you can't be that way all the time because you have to do the annoying things:
No, Annabelle can't come out on the scooter. (Annabelle is an unreasonably solid doll which weighs the same as a real baby. I conceived an intense dislike for her after having her in church with us)
No, you can't watch another episode of Peppa Pig. It's dinnertime.
No, you can't stay on the beach for another hour - it'll get dark if we're not careful.

But the best moment, one which had us both in tucks, came when I was lifting her into her booster seat at the table. Just as I reached the point of greatest tension - arms at shoulder-height to get her feet under the table, muscles trembling with the effort - Catriona wanted Annabelle. Again. And I heard myself say, in tones of intense irritation: "Ewan!"

Now, if you'd asked me if I had problems bringing up my children I'd probably - at this safe distance - have said "Oh, no - they were lovely - no bother really after the teething and so on." It wouldn't be fear of the consequences either. I seem to have airbrushed the memory, that's all. But at that moment it all flooded back. The arguments, the reasoning required before doing something mundane, the sudden imperative about a stone or a handful of cut grass ... It was all there. And suddenly I wasn't Grandma any more, as a kink in time brought the years together.

By the end of the visit, I'd called Catriona "Ewan" twice, and Mr B did it on the prom while wrestling with the scooter. (Its back wheels need slackening, Ewan!) But it was great fun. To see a tiny child heaving her body-weight in stones into the sea, to have her draw "spotty faces" (she's seen someone with freckles), to sit on the beach pretending to eat shell-and-sand-and-seaweed pies while the waves lapped gently and everyone else went home - this was wonderful. Interestingly, she spoke French only once in the whole visit, and then translated for me - though we marvelled at the way she pronounced "crème fraîche" when she wanted more. (We gave her it. I can't do that French "r" to save myself, and she does it so wonderfully.)

And when she made her cheeky face and grinned at me, it was like looking at myself. Oh dear.

I've been struggling to add a grave accent to the "e" in crème. I'm grateful to @bagpie and @spodzone for their assistance.


  1. Coming soon to a cinema near you:


    ... starring Emma Thomson.

  2. Sorry MadPriest, but NO-ONE could do justice to that but the original :-)

  3. Mad One, did you know that Emma Thomson has a house near where I live? But her hair's the wrong colour to do me ...

  4. I remember calling Claire the wrong name in moments of great exasperation."Christine" I cried.....!

  5. You're wrong, you do pronounce the French 'r' perfectly!
    I'm not a granny yet (and should not be before at least 10 years) and I keep calling my son Etienne Léa so....

  6. hehe....whenever I am feeling particularly stressed, I call my kids by one another's names. Seems to happen a lot! (teen years!)

    How wonderful you got to spend this time with little Catriona. Isn't it simply incredible how busy an almost three-year-old is?

  7. We have our almost-thee-year-old back again now - but her mummy is here too, so the responsibility is less!