The morning shift

Granny on the frontline


I looked at the clock – oh god, 4.55am and in one-and-a-half hours the alarm would go off. Yes, I was doing the morning school run, not something that happens often really. The thing is that I wear ear plugs at night because my partner snores, so it’s a toss up if I hear the alarm anyway in spite of setting it at full volume and on vibrate (a personal best in phone technology). But for a grandparent doing the morning shift, oversleeping is not an option – my daughter had a breakfast meeting and her partner had to be somewhere first thing and I was only taking granddaughter 3 and grandson to primary school, so a breeze, I was thinking.

I got up and made a cup of tea – well, I wasn’t going to risk falling back into that deep sleep of the dead as you do after waking up early. I had to be at my daughter’s before 8am – but there shouldn’t be much traffic if I set off early – around 7am should do it. On a good day it takes about half an hour, but there was fog forecast and I had to drive through Epping Forest in the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – ok, perfect in a poem but a disaaaster, darling, for a school run. At 7.10am, I put a mug of coffee on the floor of the car, and pulled out. Hell, round the corner I met a car – there’s only room for one in the middle of the road between all the parked up cars. Oh yes, it was me who did the backing and, without much caffeine, very slowly. Then, hell and damnation, an Ocado van was parked in the middle of the road doing a delivery. I made it up to the main road and, help, there was a huge long queue of cars – overnight a set of so-and-soing temporary traffic lights had tipped up. Great.

Not much traffic? I must’ve been bonkers. There were masses of cars and people milling about. Do people really do this every day? 7.20am already, but, hurrah, no fog on the straight bits through Epping Forest. A queue of cars built up behind me – you see, I’m a 1950s person and I stick to the speed limit, 40mph. I reckon it’s there for a reason. But a 4×4 was riding my bumper ready to zoom past. ‘Sorry I’m a bit late,’ the driver would say at work, ‘but I got stuck behind a little old lady doing 40mph’. And his colleagues would shake their heads sympathetically. Well, tough. And another so-and-soing temporary traffic light had turned up in my daughter’s village – wonderful. We waited and waited – you know, you get that sinking feeling that it’s got stuck on red and wonder if you should dice with death and ignore it. But just as my stress levels had peaked, it went green and I made it to the house just before 8am – phew.

The two secondary school sisters had gone already with their mum and their dad carried their half asleep brother downstairs. On the sofa he crawled naked under a duvet groaning – not a good start – 8am and only c. three quarters of an hour till we had to leave. He wanted to watch Evan Tube, The Smoothie Challenge, on the laptop. ‘It’s got seven good ingredients, gran, and seven bad ones,’ he explained. ‘They’re Super Gross Smoothies.’ Praise be to Evan Tube, he’d woken up! ‘Lovely,’ I said. ‘Is that what you want for breakfast?’ ‘No, I have cereals,’ he said gravely. ‘The one with little people and stars mixed together in it.’ In the kitchen there was a long line of cereal packets on top of the kitchen cupboards. On one of them was written ‘Pick me, I’m chocolatey.’ That’ll be the little people talking, I thought, so I grabbed a spikey spaghetti ladle thingy, hopped up and down and hooked it – Bingo! It toppled down on top of me showering me with mini weetabixes. 

His dad came to say goodbye and handed me a jar full of little people and stars which had been next to the bread bin all the time. Then at 8.10am granddaughter 3 came sleepily downstairs in her pjs and switched on catch-up tv. ‘I want to watch the rest of the final of the British Bake-off,’ she said – oh noooo, that could be an hour’s tele. I had a bad thought: should I tell her who won now? Evil grandmother, but I didn’t.

Before he’d left their dad had pointed to two sets of school uniforms. ‘We get dressed at 8.30,’ said granddaughter 3, helpfully. ‘And we leave at 8.45.’ Gosh, this school run milarky is done with military precision. But hadn’t my daughter said something about them locking the gates if you were late? ‘Maybe we’ll set off five minutes earlier than mummy,’ I said, reaching for grandson’s uniform. Oh dear, no underpants. ‘Where do I find your pants?’ ‘In the middle of the side,’ he said, not looking up from Evan Tube – hm. Upstairs I rummaged through a couple of clothing locations – eureka, I found a pair! I know my daughter must have got this down to a T, but I’m no expert and dressing him was like one of those challenges off The Cube on tele as he twisted and turned to keep the Super Gross Smoothies in view. So I closed the laptop – not a good move. He folded his arms across his chest. ‘I don’t like anyone,’ he said woefully and refused to budge. Ok, this wasn’t working – I opened the laptop. By 8.35am I’d armed myself with a Spiderman toothbrush primed with peppermint Colgate. ‘He doesn’t like toothpaste, it’s too spicey,’ said granddaughter 3, ever helpful. Bloody nora, I pictured a mint-spattered uniform and another rummage through the middle of the side for a clean one. With his eyes still transfixed by Evan and his smoothies, I wrapped him in a towel and handed over Spiderman.

Reader, they were in the car at 8.45am. And, as Julie Andrews sings, ‘Somewhere in my youth and childhood, I must have done something good’ because not one, but two miracles happened – no locked gates and a parking space in the school car park! At 9.20am I was collapsed in front of a cappuchino and an almond croissant in Cafe Nero, Epping, dreaming of a little lie-down. It had been a long day, but unlike parents who do the school run every day, I had the rest of it to recover.

*Granny on the frontline is Jill Garner, grandmother of six.

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