Read between the lines
As Pat McDermott’s giggling granddaughters practise their number skills by counting her wrinkles, she takes a kombi van down memory lane.
It’s bedtime and our granddaughters, aged six and three, are here for a sleepover. There’s some jostling for places. “I’m all smushed up!” the little one squeaks. They bounce about, feet flying. “There’s plenty of room in the bed for all of us,” I say. “Just keep your hands and feet to yourselves!”
“That’s what Nanny always tells me,” says the MOTH (Man of the House). He’s just passing through. In keeping with McDermott tradition, he tries hard to be somewhere else when meals, baths and bedtime loom.
“If I sit in the middle and you sit on either side, you’ll both be able to see,” I explain. “Pop bought a lovely new book especially for tonight. It’s called The Lines on Nana’s Face. Wasn’t that nice of him?”
“Nanny, you have lines on your face,” the little one says, giggling. “Here’s one and here’s one, and here’s two close together!” she shouts, delightedly. “Nanny, you have even more lines than you did last week!”
“That’s because Nanny’s a year older this week,” says the six-year-old, knowledgeably. Which is true. August is my birthday month and this year it’s a biggie. “Nanny is almost ancient!” They both look at me with awe. I feel like Tutankhamun.
We read how Nana doesn’t mind the lines on her face because they remind her of special times, some happy and some sad. The three of us are so warm and comfortable, I might just close my eyes for a moment. “Nanny?” “Nanny!” “WAKE UP, NANNY!” I keep my eyes closed the way I used to do with my own kids. I remember curling up on the ends of their beds to make sure they stayed there long enough to fall asleep. Then, overtired, I’d fall asleep myself. I woke up stiff and chilly one night and came out to find Patrick, Courtenay and Ruff Red on the sofa in the family room. They were watching a horror movie and eating Milo from the tin with soup spoons. On the upside, they were sharing nicely.
“Nanny’s asleep because she’s old,” I hear the six-year-old whisper. “Let’s watch TV with Pop.” “And eat chocolate biscuits?”
They’re off. I keep my eyes closed. Before long, I hear the MOTH agree, reluctantly, to ditch House of Cards in favour of watching Finding Nemo.
It seems you know how old you are by the things you can remember. These kids will remember Nemo. I remember Robin Hood. They’ll remember Donald Trump, iPads, Uber and hundreds of weird singers and movie stars. I remember Woodstock and dancing in the lounge room to Twist and Shout and Love Me Do while, outside, the Cold War between the USSR and America grumbled along. Then came London, kombi vans and bedsits. Before I knew it, I was a young wife and mother. Now, suddenly, I’m an old wife and mother. Would I do it all again? Sure. Would I do some things differently? Absolutely!
Do I have any useful advice? I thought you’d never ask!
1. Don’t buy school photographs. Which one is your kid? Row 17, 159th from the left or row 34, 22nd from the right? When you do spot them, he’s making a weird face and she’s having a bad hair day. I have 20 still in bubble wrap in storage, waiting for the right moment.
2. If you carry an iPad full of family photos, don’t be surprised if friends develop Glazed Eye Syndrome. It comes on suddenly and causes people to run away, so you’re stuck paying for the coffees.
3. Let grandchildren stay up past their bedtime eating chocolate and watching TV. You’re not responsible for what happens the next day. If your conscience bothers you, try thinking of it as payback.
4. “In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf,” advises US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
I remember Woodstock and dancing in the lounge room to Twist and Shout and Love Me Do.
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