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Granny Runs Amok!

September 28, 2013

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Those of you who follow this blog for its nautical content may stop reading now for, as the title suggests, this is the tale of my recent trip to Ireland to act in loco parentis to my three grandchildren.

Last winter our elder daughter, Naomi, much to her excitement, won a 12 day cruise round the Mediterranean. When we heard the news Duncan and I quickly realised that in order for Naomi and her husband, Ken, to take up this opportunity, I needed to go and look after the children, (not that I was reluctant, you understand, as I adore my three grandchildren). In due course it was settled that they should go away in September which was fine but meant that I would go alone and D would stay with the boat. When we started to look at flights to Dublin it soon became apparent that the only affordable flights from the Ionian were with Air Fungus who fly weekly to and from Corfu. Now although the cruise itself was only 12 days, this meant I would have to go for three weeks to cover the whole period they would be away.

And so I set off alone, armed with a few summery things for Naomi to take with her since by September it’s hard to find summer clothes in Northern Europe.

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The first 36 hours after my arrival were largely spent briefing me and doing last minute preparations. Although Charlie who is rising nine, and Jessica, seven, were fully aware of what was happening, it was felt that it would probably be unhelpful for three year old Lily to witness her parents’ departure, so she and I went off to the play park and then on to collect the others from school. Thus Ken and Naomi managed to escape without drama. (They did, in fact have several excitements, both on their trip to Barcelona and whilst on the cruise but this is not the place to recount these tales and besides, they were not my adventures!)

The first week was something of a shock to the system; it is many years now since I was dealing on a daily basis with three young children and there is a very good reason while we are biologically designed to have our children in our 20s and 30s. It’s hard work! The older two were out at school from 09:15 to 15:00 but the process of getting all three up, dressed, breakfasted and out of the door is stressful. No matter how early I got up, showered, dressed and prepares their lunches, it was still a mad scramble to clean teeth, brush hair and put shoes on before we left. Lily has glorious curls but understandably hates having them brushed. Granny’s magic comb was pretty good at getting the tangles out gently but it was a slow process so on a couple of mornings I simply swept the crazy mop into a ponytail and left it at that!

Lily went to play school until midday and was generally in good form when she came out. We were blessed with good weather for almost my entire visit so before collecting the others from school she and I had a pleasant time together, going to the play park, riding her bike or pottering about the house. We had great games about circuses and watching her “jammin'” on her guitar was priceless – Jimi Hendrix eat your heart out! We made jellies and cakes, much of which was consumed in the process, and on one occasion she helped me to build a flat pack bookcase for Charlie (of which, more later). I loath the phrase but it could be said to have been “quality time”; it was certainly the lull before the storm!

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Once 15:00 arrived it all got a bit more streeful. Not that Jess and Charlie are naughty children – in fact they are remarkably well behaved but I found trying to supervise homework for both at the same time quite tricky as they both needed my attention, without the added complication of an obstreperous three year old demanding to go out, dress up, have drinks, etc. Lily is a lively “outdoor” child so planting her in front of Peppa Pig only worked occasionally. She does love being in the bath, so on one particularly tricky day when Charlie was trying to compile his family tree (!), I popped her in a bubble bath, although even then I couldn’t really relax in case she slipped. However I reckoned that provided I could hear her chattering to her dolls or her imaginary friends, Rosie and Kitty then she was OK.

Homework and supper out of the way, they all played outside. Where Naomi and Ken live is very much like the Army patches we lived on when our children were small. The roads are all cul-de-sacs with wide open grassy areas and little clumps of bushes, ideal for making dens. The place swarms with small children under the age of ten, riding bikes, playing football, having “bases” etc. They have a great time so trying to persuade them to come in to baths and bed is hard work, especially when all the other kids seemed to play out until it was dark. Not much bathing went on while granny was in charge! Having treated Jessie’s verruca, cleaned teeth, read stories and tickled Lily’s back ’til she fell asleep (“Harder Granny, up a bit…”) I was pretty ready to collapse and fall into bed myself. Jess and Charlie were keen to take turns to sleep with me which was very sweet but not terribly restful necessarily, especially since Lily generally joined us at some point. Doubtless I should have taken her back to her own bed but a) I didn’t really wake sufficiently to do so and b) my younger granddaughter is a very strong character, as they say, and the idea of having to cope if she went into meltdown in the middle of the night was not an option. Besides, she doesn’t see as much of me as I’d like, so I was pleased that she felt sufficiently comfortable with me that she would come into me in the night.

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Weekends in contrast, were much more fun as there was no dreaded homework and fewer deadlines although Charlie did go off to Gaelic football every Saturday morning and to soccer on Sunday mornings. The first weekend, two of their cousins were celebrating birthdays so we all went over to a sports centre (God bless Ken for programming various places into the tomtom for me,) where the kids had a brief spell in the pool followed by fun on a bouncy castle at one end of the sports hall for the little ones and a trampoline at the other for the older children, while the boys and men all got very hot and sweaty playing football in the main body of the hall. It was terrifying watching toddlers lurching straight across the field of play but no one went flying, ‘though Jess did bump her nose on the trampoline. The second weekend we went to an activity play centre for the afternoon with three other families and all had a fabulous time. I’d taken drinks but another parent had taken a small suitcase of sweets and crisps so she was extremely popular! Thankfully the centre insisted that the children should sit down to eat and drink so I didn’t have to wrestle a lollipop away from Lily when she went off to play.

Other activities included a trip to see the latest Smurf movie, (much enjoyed by C and J but Lil got bored so she and I made several trips to the loo,) supper in MacDonalds (sigh) and movie night at home. The children attended several birthday parties while I was with them. For one, I realised when I met the children from school that we didn’t have a card. I hadn’t brought my bag but thankfully was able to scrape together €3 so parked outside Tesco and sat in the car with the girls while I sent Charlie in to buy a card. He came out bearing a splendid one all about farting which I was sure his friend would appreciate but was worried about how the parents might react. He was most put out when I suggested that perhaps it was not terribly suitable and declared that it was the “only decent card in the shop!”

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And so, by and large, I muddled through. I coped with the idiosyncratic hot water system, a flood in the hall one morning, and losing Lily briefly one day after school when she ran ahead and disappeared, frightening the life out of me. I sort of learned to use the tv, gave up on the Wii which meant Charlie had to do without until daddy came home and ditto his bike because the brakes had seized. Neither problem was really a drama since what Charlie really likes to do more than anything else is play football and anyway I think he forgave me when I bought him a bookcase for his bedroom. I have to say I was surprised and gratified by his reaction to what I regarded as a rather dull present for an eight year old. After homework he disappeared up to his room having fixed a notice to the door which read “Genius at work – keep out!” When his parents came home from work, (it was after their return,) he had completely rearranged his room, albeit in a totally impractical way and having mislaid a couple of shelf supports in the process so that all the books leaned drunkenly!

One day I was summoned to the school because Charlie was sick. He probably wasn’t too great as he came home and slept on the sofa for a couple of hours and didn’t want to eat. However just as I was trying to get him to bed he decided he was hungry and consumed vast quantities of Rice Crispies. Nevertheless, I decided to keep him at home the next day since my own kids have always claimed I was very harsh as a parent and packed them off to school when they were at death’s door. Charlie had a very nice day at home with granny and I even managed to coax him into a bath but came to the conclusion as the day wore on that there was little wrong with him. However, having kept him home from school, I didn’t feel I could let him go to football training and nor could we go to Fun Galaxy, a play centre, after school as originally intended

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I learned that it was wise to avoid the shops when I had Lily in tow and that using the word “later” with her was inflammatory so “soon, shortly” and “in a little while” we’re all preferable. We agreed that hitting and kicking was unacceptable and I only resorted to the naughty step once but her siblings were both shocked and amused when granny picked her up bodily one dày while in Tesco and carried her under my arm.

As the time approached for their parents’ return the excitement mounted and a great celebratory party was planned. Lavishly decorated cakes, multicoloured jellies, balloons and banners were all prepared and then late on Sunday afternoon, Charlie decided he had to make gingerbread men. He and Jess went off to the corner shop for butter and brown sugar but when they failed to find suitable sugar, we all trooped off to Tesco together. Getting back home, I had quite a hunt for a rolling pin and failed utterly to find a cutter for gingerbread men. My courage failed me at the thought of a return trip to Tesco so made a cardboard template instead, to cut round. Charlie had great fun making and rolling the dough and generously allowed his sisters to help decorate them, although my friends on Facebook will know that both he and Jess became thoroughly enraged with Lily for eating half the raisins and Smarties intended for buttons and eyes!

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Finally the great day arrived and the parents were greeted with raptures by all three children when they appeared to meet them from school a day earlier than they had been led to expect. After present giving and exchange of news we all went out to a local Italian restaurant for supper and a weight slipped from my shoulders! As mentioned at the beginning, I stayed on another five days, and was shown marvellous photos of Monaco, Rome and Pompeii but never got round to seeing the ones of Venice and Montenegro. My last day was gloriously sunny so that afternoon Naomi and I went to local woods for a walk and to the children’s delight we found a geocache in their much beloved Magic Faraway Tree – the 99th for Yacht Rampage and the 1st for The Byrne Family since Naomi and the kids have now signed up as members.

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I shall treasure my memories of my time alone with the children. Sadly I have few photos as I was rather disorganised and rarely seemed to have the camera with me at the right moments; nearly all were taken on my final day with them on our walk in Balrath Woods. Another time I will take Duncan with me for moral support, fixing of bikes etc and another pair of hands. It was sobering to realise I’m not as young or energetic as I thought, and I now appreciate far more, all that Duncan’s mum did for us when our children were small.

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One comment

  1. What a delightful story.



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