I don’t wish to gloat but being a grandparent is the best. To be honest, compared to parenting it’s a breeze. All I have to do is follow the orders from my son and daughter-in-law. If I bend the rules a little when I’ve got the grandchildren to myself, well nobody needs to know. As long as I get them home without a major injury, it’s all good.
I wasn’t given a manual when raising my sons and I bumbled along, saving for the therapy I knew they’d probably need down the road. My youngest has gone one step further and actually become a therapist. That’s when you know you’ve messed them up. In all fairness, he’s wiser than me now and we’re the best of friends, having worked steadfastly through the long list of my mistakes.
It took two to three years, some hefty walks and talks, a fair few tears, me saying sorry a lot, the whole process peppered with moments of laughter, humour being something we do, thankfully possess in this family. My older son doesn’t seem to have a list. If he did compile one he’s certainly too busy now to think about it, indeed he probably can’t remember much before the birth of his first daughter. As the second one’s arrived now his brain is mush and he thinks I’m the bee’s knees because I show up and take the three year old out. This leaves two bewildered adults free to tackle the endless To-Do list and give the baby some attention. God, I remember those days, in a sort of hazy, ‘how did I not end up in an insane asylum?’ kind of a way.
Back then I was attempting to be at least a slightly better parent than mine had been. This was before the internet had come into our house. I read a few books but quite frankly words on a page just don’t help when you’re against the wall, fighting for breath and wondering why you had kids in the first place.
This generation of young parents have an infinite resource at their fingertips. My son and daughter-in-law have already hired a Sleep Trainer and a Mummy-and-Daddy trainer, both certified psychologists, both hugely helpful. All we had were two sets of parents who thought we were doing everything wrong and didn’t hold back in letting us know.
Against all odds, I’ve ended up living in the same town as the kids. Having been a witness to the Grandma on my dad’s side ruining my mother’s marriage to my father in an almost psychopathic manner while I was growing up, I’m determined to break the mould. I could easily fall into the stereotype of interfering, know-it-all, old school Grandma, which would inevitably have been my destiny if I didn’t have a fiercely questioning mind and a determination to cauterize ancestrally-inherited bad behaviour at the root.
Ten years ago I left Kings Langley, where my ex and I had co-parented for twenty three years in the same village but living apart, both sacrificing a lot to put them through Steiner education. He’d remarried and I was extremely lucky that his new wife was keen to be involved. She became a wonderful step-mother. It was a challenging and rewarding time for all of us. Because of the commitment to the school we were all forced to stay in one place for a very, very long time. There were periods when I felt trapped, but that’s parenting, I guess. I’m not sure why nobody tells you about the trapped part before you agree to the job…it’s a conspiracy of silence we’re all indoctrinated into in order to keep producing more humans. Do I regret having children? No – I adore my boys and am hugely proud of them. Am I knackered? Yes.
When I stored my stuff and set off I had no idea where life would take me. My main goal was to shed as many family responsibilities as I could. Life had been a juggling act for as long as I could remember and it was your classic burn-out situation. I imagined I might be on the road for a year, choose somewhere to live and carry on building my career as a tantra teacher and therapist, which was going fairly well at that point.
It didn’t work out quite the way I’d imagined. I split up from my long-term partner, escaped to Australia during the worst part of the menopause and fell madly in love with New Zealand, returning three times over the next three years. I wrote two books while flitting about and did odd jobs to get by. It was the most free and gloriously unencumbered I’ve ever felt. If I think about my carbon footprint, I used up all my quota during that crazy time. I excused the long-haul flights with the reasoning that I’d never travelled when I was young, never had a gap year. In actual fact, there had been no gaps at all in four decades of hard work.
On one trip back to England I was given the news that I was going to be a grandmother and all my fantasies about settling in New Zealand evaporated. I returned for one last time, bid a reluctant farewell to the verdant valleys of the North Island, said goodbye to all my kiwi friends and returned home, a little sad but excited for the birth.
So here I am, settled in Brighton and I’m loving it. The adjustment from being a nomad for ten years to paying rent and working for a living was tough for the first few months, but it was sweetened by the knowledge that I’m living down the road from the loveliest little girls I’ve ever known. I had boys so, of course, the girly thing is a complete novelty.
I’ll confess that in those early years I had a lot going on. I was distracted as a parent. I did my best, as does everyone. Now, there’s nothing that takes my attention away when I’m spending time with my granddaughters. It’s not my job to worry about whether or not they’re getting a balanced diet. We can thoroughly enjoy that ice-cream (and flake!) in the Big Beach café, taking our time to introduce ourselves to each and every dog who frequents it. If we want to spend an extra half an hour wandering down a street because it has ‘windows in the ground, Grandma Lili!’ we can. There’s nothing to rush for. I can find myself bouncing the baby on my knee, making gurgly sounds for an entire hour and not want to be anywhere else, doing anything else.
But I’ve given myself a good talking-to. As excited as I am to be a granny, I’m going to wait until I’m invited, wait until I’m asked, wait, wait, wait and keep my nose out of their business. I shall get on with my life.
I’m going to be the Grandma who’s appreciated rather than dreaded.
I’m going to be good.
Wish me luck.