I’m looking out at my view, the sheep grazing lazily in a hazy sun-drenched landscape, their fat bellies full of spring lamb. It would be a lovely day for a walk or pottering around in the garden but I feel strangely listless. I have just waved goodbye to the parents, watching the silver car meander down the lane, red brake lights illuminating for the corners, until it passed out of sight. It is always a difficult moment. The house suddenly feels very empty and I become a little maudlin over the fact that they live four hours’ drive from here and that we miss so much of each other’s day to day lives. The harsh facts are that none of us are getting any younger and the girls are growing so fast.
I came back from my little break in Italy to hear excited accounts of all those wonderful things that grandparents find time to do: they’d played cards, curled up on the sofa with books, played endless games in the garden and, best of all, had a treasure hunt. Each granddaughter had been given a list of things to find. G (our 6 year old) had carefully born her list up to her bedside to lie alongside all her other ‘special things’ and it read: An ivy leaf, a piece of moss, a feather, a snowdrop, a primrose, a fern leaf, a pebble, a twig, a strawberry leaf. There would be 10p for each one found. These precious items were residing in a small plastic sandwich bag, the money safely stored in her hand-painted pink piggy bank. How do they find the time to do this AND get through a ton of ironing? But that’s the wonder of grandparents.
There are a number of women in the village whose parents live here too – or in neighbouring towns and villages. I cannot say I have not envied them at times. One of them sees her mother almost every morning for coffee having dropped her daughter off at school; another I often see wandering through the village with her little brood to go and spend time with her parents at their house. The children’s great aunts and uncles and great grandmother are in the village too. I am well aware that, at times, this might all get a bit claustrophobic, but I think there would probably be more ups than downs.
When we lived in London things were a little better. Though still hardly round the corner, our parents were at least only an hour’s drive away. This meant that they were close enough to help out in an emergency, I could pop down there for lunch if the mood took me and it suited them, or sometimes my mother would come up and we’d meet in central London for some shopping and chat. If my father had some business in town, he could spend the night with us, and if my mother-in-law was visiting her relatives in Sunbury, then she would often pop by and see us too. These days we have to plan everything in advance, wrestling with dates in busy diaries. I frantically make-up beds, fill the fridge with good food and chuck out the rancid stuff; make sure I have Dad’s favourite cereal, Mum’s favourite coffee and a pot of cream; put flowers in their rooms, polish the floor, plump up the cushions and try to hide the teetering pile of ironing (they always find it - like the one biology experiment that’s escaped me in the fridge). Arguably we have more ‘quality’ time, but as I watch that silver car disappear out of view, I can’t help feeling how nice it would be to pop by later for a cup of tea.