Do other working mums and dads, like my daughter, find their parents a little low key when faced with the fun things they suggest they do with the grandchildren during school holidays such as half term? The conversation went like this: ‘Mum, you know I’ve booked you for the Monday of half term, well, the children want to go to the Funky Fun House. I could drop you there on the way to my meetings and pick you up after.’ My daughter likes to streamline things, but ‘after’ could be two hours plus I was thinking. Adventure playgrounds and the like are not high on my list of places to be with three under-10s. (Granddaughter 1, aged 14, was doing something cool with a friend.)
‘Presumably they have medical back-up – ice packs, splints, stretchers and the like?’ I said. Yes, optimist I’m not and in my mind I could already hear the crunch of children’s heads colliding. At half term the place would be hotching with hordes of huge children primed with energy drinks and breakfast cereal laced with multivitamins careering and bouncing about like giant tiggers on speed. I felt weak and feeble. ‘It’s quite relaxing really’, replied my daughter unfazed – she’s used to the way I think- ‘you can see everything from the cafe.’ ‘You mean with a cappuchino, just keeping an eye on grandson,’ I said. The thing is that three and a half year olds have a design fault in that they have absolutely no fear whatsoever, but lack the capacity to imagine the worst, a skill which comes with age and that grandparents, therefore – and this one in particular – have in spades. Meanwhile, larger children disappear out of sight leaving you (I mean me) fretting that they are lying unconscious or bleeding (or both) at the bottom of the ball pool or have been snatched by disreputable people lurking therein.
‘Well, the older ones will help,’ continued my daughter’s sales pitch. Apparently granddaughter 2, at nearly 11, would be too old to play in the Funky Fun House ‘But,’ my daughter went on thoughtfully, ‘she might be considered as a adult.’ Yes, I thought, because of her height or the size of her shoes – such are the gauges used at these places. ‘Two hours is quite a long time in an adventure playground,’ said I, ‘maybe I could do an hour and then go somewhere nearby – like a library….’ ‘It’s on an industrial estate, mum.’ said my daughter, patiently. ‘Oh,’ said I, ‘great, you mean plumbing supplies and carpet warehouses.’ So we would be marooned there for hours – yes, the time had extended considerably in my head..’What about the botanical gardens?’ I suggested. She said she’d check it out.
Telephone conversation number two:
Daughter: ‘There’s an orchid exhibition at the botanical gardens,’ Hm, I could see the grandchildren weighing that one up: ‘Orchid exhibition or Funky Fun House?’ Hmmmm.
Daughter: ‘And you could have a picnic.’
Me: ‘But it might rain.’ Well, we could always take some sandbags and a canoe. ‘What about the museum?’ I was thinking they have nice, quiet drawing and colouring activities at half term.
Daughter: ‘Yes – but it has glass cases and displays of things made of china.’ Ok, so not entirely stress-free with grandson in tow – he can charge about (with ballet moves) for hours.
Daughter: ‘I know what, I could drop you at the botanical gardens and then we could all go to the Funky Fun House after my meetings.’ Oh dear – compromise or cop out? Guilt.
Me: ‘Well, we don’t have to decide now, do we?’ Maybe the children might go off the idea of the Funky Fun House – fat chance.
Another call from my daughter: ‘Hello mum, I’m stuck in the car park at daughter 1’s school because the car won’t start. I had to pick her up as she’s not well. She’s lying in the back, only son is asleep in the car seat and partner is in a meeting so not picking up. And I’ve been trying to get hold of the AA.’ ‘Oh dear,’ I said – I’d been dozing. ‘I don’t know the way to granddaughter 1’s school but I’ve got a map.’ ‘No mum,’ said daughter, very calmly under the circumstances, ‘you don’t have to come, I’ll wait for the AA. I just need you to pick up daughters 2 and 3 from school.’ ‘Gosh,’ I said, a bit more alert, ‘it’s 2.15pm – I need to leave right now’ and rang off. Ok, so it’s only a thirty minute drive, but it’s a jungle out there when you’re trying to find somewhere to park.
As Rabbie Burns wrote and my Scottish dad used to say: ‘The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley’: with the family car on the blink the trip to the Funky Fun House was a no-go – we wouldn’t all fit into my daughter’s partner’s car. Ok, I admit to a tinsy winsy bit of relief. Then came the guilt since things wouldn’t be easy or cheap for them with the car needing to be fixed. And the grandchildren had been so looking forward to the Funky Fun House – yes, I would have come round to it in the end. ‘Never mind,’ I said, trying to cheer everyone up, ‘we’ll find something else exciting to do.’ And we did: we found out that the farm up the road has a wildlife park! ‘They have hundreds of animals,’ said my daughter enthusiastically. It was a great success – there were even meerkats and emus – in Essex! And there was a play area with twisty tubes you (not me) could slide down from a great height in the pitch black.
So I was thinking: are all grandparents up for it in a Funky Fun House situation? Is it only me who is a little less than keen? Maybe I’m just not much fun. But in my defence I would argue, m’lud, that the Olympics is nothing compared to my tackling of the back garden obstacle course – I can wriggle my old body through narrow plastic tubes and hop about like a demented chicken from a book to a brick in the grass. Ok, so I miss out the bit where you hang upsidedown and dangle from the metal frame of the swing like granddaughter 2, but I have been known to bounce (not very high) on the trampoline. And I also have form in the international arena. ‘Just wait till gran comes,’ granddaughter in Argentina was heard saying to her little brother, ‘she’s so-o-o-o much fun!’ I rest my case.