We’ve just got home from a week in a cottage up near Beadnell with my parents. After a whole week of unexpected sunshine (we packed for rain and near-Arctic conditions, then had to buy emergency sun cream on day 3), cake and countryside exploring, we’re left with the standard full washing basket and empty fridge. But the main thing that all 3 of us are missing is the presence of Grandma and Grandad.
When I met husband at uni, we knew we wanted to settle in the North East and make our joint life together here. But we’re now realising the downside of this choice; with both sides of the family living a couple of hours’ drive away, we’re lacking the family safety-net that lots of first-time parents have. We mostly manage fine, and my parents visit often, but sometimes we would definitely benefit from being closer.
Alex adores his grandparents. He pretends to phone them at least once a day, having long, imaginary conversations with them, and religiously calls our spare room “Grandma and Grandad’s bedroom”. He was thrilled to find out we were all going on holiday together, and was especially desperate to play football with them for some inexplicable toddler reason. And they adore him too, so are happy to kick footballs, read stories, sing songs and play endless games of hide and seek in which Alex either “hides” in the middle of the room, or “seeks” by yelling the name of the person he’s looking for louder and louder until they crack and come out of hiding.
Husband and I found ourselves able to get dressed without an audience, or drink a cup of coffee while it was still above room temperature. I picked up a magazine, and read an entire 10-page feature about Seattle’s early grunge scene (don’t judge me) IN ONE GO.
We went out for dinner one evening, just the two of us, and were pleased to discover we were still able to sustain a conversation without having to break off every few seconds to retrieve cutlery from the floor or ask a small person to stop putting beans in their ear.
At first we were confused. Going to the toilet alone really isn’t the same, to be honest. But by Thursday, we’d totally cracked this “holidaying with the grandparents” thing. Alex only wanted Grandma and Grandad to put him to bed. We sat reading the paper while they tucked him in. He started asking them to change his nappies too – result! He was generous and saved his extra-large poos for them. At around this point, their enthusiasm for spending quality time with their grandson was probably wearing off a bit. But they didn’t let it show; they just got more baby wipes.
Of course, being grandparents, they mostly got to avoid the less appealing parts of being on holiday with a toddler. We still got the job of diffusing any tantrums, and took the night shift. And when he went haring off around the crazy golf course in Seahouses, pulling every flag out of every hole as he went and scattering them wildly, they handily developed some kind of localised blindness which meant it was me who chased after him over bridges and around mini lighthouses, and removed him from hole no 5, where a slightly cross man was yelling “FORE!” at him.
When we came home, my parents called in for a cuppa before carrying on their journey home. Alex proudly showed them his new big-boy bed and his now-decorated bedroom, and brought more books out to share. When they said they would have to leave soon, he cried. Then he found out that we were going to a cafe for lunch after they’d gone and he stopped crying and instantly waved them out of the room. “We go to cafe now?”, he asked hopefully. The thing with Alex is that his love for his family is strong, but his love for drinking juice in cafes is stronger. Sorry, Grandma and Grandad.
I’m pretty proud that Alex has a such a good relationship with all his grandparents, despite them being a bit far away. It’s something that’s important to us, and we’ll continue to work at it throughout his life. So let’s hear it for all the grandparents out there – keeping us sane, making our children giggle, and handing them back before we get too used to all the spare time.