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David Clayton: Caring for grandchildren is certainly no summer holiday!

PUBLISHED: 19:12 22 August 2018 | UPDATED: 19:13 22 August 2018

Watching your offspring's offspring grow up is a joy of being a grandparent, says David Clayton. But he isn't half glad when they're back with their parents

Watching your offspring's offspring grow up is a joy of being a grandparent, says David Clayton. But he isn't half glad when they're back with their parents

Kuzmichstudio

Are you one of the many grandparents across the county called into action over the summer holidays to look after your children’s children?

I saw a cartoon in a magazine recently which showed a man slumped in an armchair surrounded by utter chaos just as his wife returns and screams, “Oh my God, we’ve been burgled!” “No,” the husband says wearily, “The grandchildren have just left!”

As the summer holidays come to an end, many of Norfolk’s grandparents will be heaving a sigh of relief as the dear little things head back to school and they can, for a while, dispense with the mixed emotions of hosting your offspring’s offspring.

Those heroic nannas and grandads, who’ve managed full weeks of looking after the little cherubs, have my total respect. These days busy working parents, who are fortunate enough to be able to lean on an extended family, can relax a little knowing the gene pool is “minding the shop.”

My wife and I have a regular appointment with a two-year old whirlwind just once a week. So hardly full-on grandchild care, but he arrives early with a bag of his familiar play things and we have a residue of toys left over from our lot growing up. 
We genuinely look forward to his arrival and prepare by laying everything out neatly. After that, “neatly” goes right out of the window. Bricks get strewn, toy boxes get up-ended and you’re always on “full alert.” “Don’t leave that cup of tea there, for goodness sake!” Ornaments find their way onto higher shelves and the front door gets locked and bolted. He’s discovered door handles are enormously entertaining and he’d be off up the drive if we didn’t “baton down the hatches.”

We build things (or I do – he knocks them down), we look at books and, in moderation the TV is a welcome respite. Times haven’t half changed. When I was a toddler you got ten minutes of Watch with Mother once a day and I’ll confess I used to inexplicably hide behind a cushion when Looby Loo popped out to play with Andy Pandy. I got over it. These days my grandson and I cuddle up together in an armchair to watch The Wheels on the Bus…go round and round (we can both do the actions, thanks), If You’re Happy and You Know it…clap your hands (Yep, we can do that one too) and Old MacDonald had a Farm. Come on you lot, join in, “E-I-E-I-O!”

Thank you YouTube. I’ve no idea who’s made these many animations, in which there are some dodgy pronunciations, but we’re both grateful. I’d like to say this latter-day exposure to nursery rhymes isn’t affecting me, but I was mowing the lawn the other day and found myself humming, not the hits of today or indeed the more familiar, to me, hits of yesterday. No, without realising it, I was well into Incy Wincey Spider, who you’ll recall, went up the water spout.

I was hardly around for my first two grandchildren, working as I was, full-time and then some. Only now do I comprehend just how demanding little ones can be and how brilliant my wife was and is, when on “nanna” duty. The other thing that’s hit me full-on is what a joy and privilege it is to share these precious moments close-up and watch, in a way I never could before, a little life developing.

What’s that whimsical saying? “If I’d known how lovely grandchildren were, I’d have had them first!” Of course, you eventually hand them back and that might be part of the pleasure, but then just for a moment, the house seems empty and rather too quiet. There’s probably a plastic brick or two under the sofa and a bit of squashed banana under the kitchen table, but that’s a small price to pay.

Confession time. As soon as he’s back with his mum and dad and we’ve cleared up, we open a bottle of wine.

Oh, and check the next chiropractor appointment.

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