The sins of the grandma

granny on the frontline


I’ve been wondering – is reviewing the past something that older folk, such as grandparents like me, tend to do sometimes? The thing is that I’ve found that along with the good memories, it can turn up stuff that I go and blooming well torment myself with and here’s a case in point.

They’d eaten their lunch round at ours the other Sunday. ‘Let’s play the teddy bear game,’ said my daughter. ‘What’s the teddy bear game?’ I asked, fearing my ancient teddy bear was in peril again. ‘But, mum,’ said my daughter, ‘me and my brother used to play it all the time when we were kids.’ I racked what’s left of my memory. ‘I don’t remember that,’ I said. ‘Well, we used to play it after you’d tucked us in and gone downstairs,’ she said. Gosh, you kid yourself you know what your children get up to, don’t you? Then 60 odd years later they tell you things that make you think again – but that’s another story. My daughter described the teddy bear game: ‘You get a teddy bear and you throw it across the room and you have to go and pick it up without touching the ground with your feet.’ she said. ‘Would a rag doll do?’ I asked.

They decided to play the game in our bedroom – my partner had taken over the front room to watch tele, aka have a snooze. Much of the bedroom is taken up by the bed where most of them were sprawled while the dolly hurler balanced atop an unwieldy old wicker chair. Hm. There’s a low-hanging light over the bed with spikey metal leaves, two china bedside lamps, a couple of mirrors about the place and the chosen chair was perilously near the window whose pane rattles in the wind and is definitely not double-glazed or fortified in any way, shape or form. And there are those other hidden hazards – e.g. that sharp pointy thing that goes in and out of the lock to keep the door shut, etc. No, I can’t be faulted for attention to detail. You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? And I’ve been trying to be more chilled in such situations, honest. It’s not that I care about things getting broken in the pursuit of fun, it’s just that I was already having my usual flash-forwards of people impaling themselves on bits of broken mirror or the leafy light fixture, breaking a leg falling off the wobbly chair or – breathe, woman, breathe – out through the window, and of having to get their bleeding/concussed (etc.) personage(s) to Whipps X Hospital A&E.

I caught myself saying a few of my usual ‘be carefuls’ and maybe just a couple of ‘watch out for’s – I really need to shut up, don’t I? But is it getting worse as I get older? ‘Did I used to be like this?’ I asked my daughter. ‘Oh yes, mum,’ she replied. And I have to say that both of my children suffer, like I do, from fear of heights – I’ve never been one for looking down on things. Let’s say gazing up is more my style and I have missed out on stuff, I know. And you could say that I didn’t exactly push my children to climb to the top of that tree, go on that high fairground ride or, perish the thought, up that mountain. Maybe they felt me tense at the thought – and I know that children pick up on such things from an early age, nurture not nature as they say in the business. And, since I was a single parent, it was mostly me. Have they missed out on things too? Guilt.

My daughter, thank god, is cut from a different cloth from me and in spite of being not keen on heights and having a mega-imagination, she’s been on the London Eye with her family – she said she wanted to experience it all with her kids – how intrepid is that? Meanwhile over in Argentina, my son once set off to drive the family up to a cafe atop a small local mountain – no, I didn’t go, I’d just arrived and cited jet lag (I’m good at excuses). Well, he started driving up the single track pot-holey dirt road which clung to the side of the mountain and he got stressed, couldn’t go any further and had to do a three point turn with a precipice on one side and a sheer drop on the other. He arrived back ashen-faced and in dire need of a mug of hot sweet tea. Oh god, was it my fault?

Of course, the grandchildren have their parents around who encourage them to explore and experience the world. But, I got to thinking, could the sins of this grandma have been visited on them even just a little tiny bit? After all I’ve been involved in childcare since my eldest grandchild was little and she’s 16 now and that’s more than a few ‘be carefuls’ and ‘best not’s from me. Well, on my 70th birthday trip to Centerparcs, granddaughter 1 wanted go on a zip wire and zoom untold metres high above a lake while granddaughter 2 plunged again and again down a watery ride called The Cyclone, i.e. several Niagara-style walls of death with whirlpools on the side. And granddaughter 3, on an adventure weekend with her class, was the only one to climb to the top of a very high pole wearing mountaineering gear. Meanwhile grandson bounces higher and ever higher on the trampoline, And as for my daughter, she recently climbed to the top of a fully extended firefighter’s ladder in a weighty firefighter outfit for work – respect!

And did they all survive the teddy bear game completely intact? Of course they so-and-soing well did – they’re more than capable. And over in Argentina, my granddaughter (who’s 10, like granddaughter 3) has climbed many a time up a swathe of golden fabric (a gymnastic/ballet thing) that cascades from a beam in the ceiling, to dangle alarmingly from on high while her feel-no-fear little brother seems to believe that every tall tree is a personal challenge. However, at a farm we go to to see the animals there’s a plank we have to cross that spans a one foot deep ditch – my son calls it The Bridge of Instant Death. Oh dear.

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

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