My cousin Danielle who is three years younger than me has done everyflippinthing before me forever.
Got tits. Started her periods, her 12 and fecund to my 15 and sexless, straight as a board, a carpenter’s dream. She got into punk while I was still trying to figure out the chords to Bob Dylan songs on my starter guitar. Knew a whole bunch more about everything important always, before I did.
Blamed me personally (as I was living in New York) for the death of Sid Vicious. That one in particular wounded. I was nowhere NEAR the scene, Guv. ‘Sid is dead and I HOPE YOU ARE SATISFIED, ‘ she wrote, blaming all Americans in general and this one in particular.
Then she got married before me. Oh wait, no, I was married and DIVORCED by the time she got married, but still, she’s been married forever and I’ve had two divorces. She’s just better at life goals. Did I mention she does a worthy NHS job and I do a fun but not a worthy one? She has a house. I have a council flat. She has a fabulous husband. I have four cats, one of them, incontinent.
Then, (we’re getting to the important competition) she had a kid before me. I was in my early 30s and she was 27. And then, then, then, she had the temerity to have a grandchild before me, one she could be all like, I am a grandma…all over social media, posting a bazillion pictures of the gorgeous gal every day , said beautiful one wearing an I LOVE GRANDMA onesie, all from the loins of her own gorgeous daughter (she also has a gorgeous son, but, but, I have a gorgeous son and daughter too, and still didn’t kill Sid or was even an accessory) except (and this really annoys me) SHE DIDN’T.
She was all Victor Mature about the whole thing, dropping in the grandchild thing at the right moments and posting a respectable two or three photos of the very beautiful baby Isabelle. AS EVER. In the child’s six month or so existence. If it had been my grandchild, I woulda been all over the interweb, posting deets every day of the kid’s full count of fingers and toes, how the midwife said it was the most beautiful baby she’d ever seen, and throwin in details of my daugther’s episiotomy just for the little emjojis of hearts and crying faces and praying hands. I’m fucking sad, me. I’m sad about my daughter’s notional in the future, not even definite episiotomy. Just possibly, my cousin has respected her own daughter and son in law’s wishes and been all moderate, modest and just so fucking cool about the whole thing.
Me, I’d be all, ‘How are you? Oh did I mention I have a grandchild, who is perfect and more perfect than any grandchild ever that has been and that will ever be? Do you have an hour to scroll through all my pictures?’
I am insanely broody for grandchildren, much more so than I was broody for the kids who will create these grandkids. And while I know it’s natural to feel like this, when you have grown children in stable relationships, hitting their late 20s, you do wonder if it will be sooner, or later. If later, will I have the energy to play with them? Will I go out into the garden to make mud pies with them, only to ask them to pull me up as granny has gone down and she can’t get up? Or will I be the fun granny, letting them do stuff mum or dad would not tolerate? Krispy Kremes for lunch? Why not? Mum and dad will be home just about the time the sugar rush kicks in and I leave. Look, I did all the ‘Yes, a rice cake really is cake, just a less fun one,’ with my own kids, and they never bought into the joyless cardboard lies. I want to be the fun granny, even though I was not always the fun mum, and for a while, not the mum at all. More of which, later.
I had fairly rare contact with my own grandparents. Didn’t have any paternal ones at all, and my mum’s ones lived far away. My own children had limited contact with their grandparents because one lived in Belfast and one in New York. Now, all of us live in London, and not too far away from each other. I just can’t wait for the day I can snuggle a new born in my arms, smelling that baby head smell, and just being as hands on as I can be. A lot of this must be driven by instinct, because I know many women my age, who have kids about the same age as my kids, who feel the same way.
Our ears prick up when we hear the sound of a baby or a toddler in a public place. Is this a child I hear before me? Can I make friends with it? Will the mum or dad let me hold the child? My daughter had a house party about a year ago, and there were two beautiful bouncing babies present. We swiftly procured one each, ostensibly to free up their mums’ hands, but actually to sit down with said babies and do nothing for the rest of the party but blow raspberries on their sweet necks. How quick they are to smile! Don’t even have to rustle up amusing anecdotes. You just pull a face and they’re rolling with laughter. Do we smell a certain smell in the nappy department? That’s fine. Release mum from her half glass of Prosecco and hand baby back.
Do I feel the urge to nana more than my other friends? Perhaps more so, because I was not there for all of my childrens’ growing up. When they were in their teens, I jumped ship. Broadly speaking, I had a kind of a breakdown. I abandoned them. Mums just don’t DO that. Except I did, and even though we all get on well now, I have more than a ton of guilt about it, and on some level, think that I can make amends by being more present for the next generation.
When I started to write this article, when I suggested it to Rose, the editor, I told her, ‘It will be light hearted because I am crazy , crazy waiting for grandchildren’ I’m the batshit old lady buying cat food and The People’s Friend and looking into prams in Tesco. I am nana nutsy. I buy magazines like Take A Break because they always have readers posting pictures and cute stories about their grandchildren. I scroll through Facebook ‘reels’ looking for photos of children who have broken into a tin of paint and covered themselves in it, or of babies shuddering as they try spinach for the first time. I love babies. I loved my babies. And now I can’t wait to love their babies. But underneath this broodiness once removed there is something sad, beyond the longing for the new. I really was not a great mum, but I think I could be a great grandma. In fact, I’m sure of it.
I also think my own children will plan their children in a more conservative fashion than I did. They’ll have everything in place. The house, the jobs, the childcare (which I hope will include lots of me), possibly even a cleaner. When I got pregnant with my first, Kitty, I was living in a bedsit, worked sporadically as a freelance, and relied quite heavily on her dad to sort out all the grown-up stuff; our first flat, a steady income, plus he had loads of hands-on baby experience, being one of the eldest of nine children himself, so as it was in those days, the older kids looked after the younger ones.
I sailed through my pregnancies, feeling quite the best I had ever felt in my life. My labours were six hours for the first, two hours for the second. Being pregnant and giving birth felt like my superpowers. But the actual business of parenting was a different matter altogether. All the baby stuff felt purely instinctual and lovely. But as they grew, and formed little personalities, likes and dislikes, time sort of shape shifted, some days stretching on into eternity, and others, feeling like a race to get everyone dressed and fed and out of the flat in time for wherever we had to be. The moments of joy were sharply punctuated by long stretches of the kids doing things like handing you every single one of their toys, and for each one, you had to express great joy and surprise, standing in a sea of toy cars and Groovy Girl Dolls, as the dinner burned on the cooker. The line between true love, and mere endurance, was often blurred. There was nobody to whom I felt I could say, ‘isn’t it like, shit gets boring after a while?’
Time. It stretched and shrunk. Babies and toddlers wake up so early and you have to DO STUFF with them until you give up and all watch the Spice Girls movie for the 100th time, with hummus and crudites to middle class up the quiet desperation of the knowledge that ‘screen time’ was something to be limited, if you didn’t want your kids to be zombies. Oh I loved all the FUN stuff – making drumkits out of pots and pans, painting, hide and seek, (the sheer joy of seeing two pairs of light up trainers sticking out from under the curtains, and two child shaped figures juddering with laughter from their very bad hiding place) but I did not like the bad cop stuff of supervising homework, dealing with endless nit infestations, getting them to tidy their rooms. And yet, the days would end, the children, drowsy from their bath, pulling on pjs over slightly damp hair, would crawl into their beds and I would crawl in with them, one at a time, reading stories, desperately trying not to fall asleep myself. And I would stare at them, they were so perfect. Everything, in those moments was perfect.
When I think of my future grandchildren, I think of these lovely times I had with my own kids. And sure, while my specs are distinctly rose-coloured way before the actual arrival of any grandchildren any time soon, I do know my grandchildren will get a better version of me than my own kids did -more patient, tolerant, kinder, and that when I kick the bucket, my tombstone will read, ‘She wasn’t always an arsehole.’