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Emma Soames: Granny's first Christmas

21 December 2015

A thrilled and doting Emma Soames shares her delight in the birth of her first grandchild and looks forward to Granny's first Christmas.

Emma Soames with her first grandchild
Emma Soames with Charles, her first grandchild

I thought I'd had my share of the rush that new love brings but at the beginning of September my first grandchild, George Nicholson, was born. Over the following weeks I have been bowled over by a rush of weak-kneed adoration, reminiscent of when I held my newborn daughter in my arms: that time when the possibilities and hopeful expectations of a new relationship are unbounded.

Now, I am besotted. I dote on George. And just to top this new love in my life, I have discovered that watching a daughter become a mother is, for her mother, in itself a lip-trembling experience. The care and love my daughter lavishes on George bring to mind those eternal Madonnas with Child. And a small baby at Christmas adds such resonance to the Nativity story. Plus, George has the added advantage of not needing any presents, other than his parents on 24-hour watch.

Read our advice for new grandmothers

Hoping for a grandchild

Nearly a year ago I had been secretly tapping my foot. Edward and Emily Nicholson are both in their early thirties and their marriage looked rock solid. But when I tactlessly asked Emily what was going on about a baby she replied ‘I do not want to talk about it.’ I retreated as fast as my tongue would carry me. Then, when more time passed with still no sign, my imagination filled with thoughts of infertility and IVF – until finally I got a call from a very excited daughter, laughing and almost crying as she told me she was pregnant. Indeed, she knew she was when I had dared to bring it up. But, scared of a bad result, they had waited for the first scan before telling anyone.

Being called 'Granny'

When I told my friends that I was about to obtain the lofty status of grandparent, their first question was what I wanted to be called. This somewhat surprised me, as I simply hadn’t thought about it. I have no problem about being called Granny. I am not going to concoct a funny name for myself as an age-defying moniker. Some people, however, have a terrible problem with the G-word and the world is full of grandparents with childish names. But will a hefty 21-year-old still be calling his grandfather BapBap?

Eager parents

I observed Emily, a lawyer, and Ed, a chartered surveyor, up close during the long months leading to George’s arrival. They had builders working in their house, so moved in with me for several months. Initially I didn’t see that much of them. They left for work at dawn, and after that they were almost constantly on a bewildering variety of baby-related courses, both of them. They learnt hypnobirthing, a form of hypnosis that can reputedly make birth a less painful experience (the landlady kept her lips zipped on this subject). Then they went to Lulubaby classes. This appears to be the yummy-mummy version of midwife-led National Childbirth courses. By contrast, Lulubaby is led by experts from different fields and the philosophy takes a less draconian line about breastfeeding – the debate that, from time immemorial, dominates the life of mothers with small babies.

I have been highly impressed by how knowledgeable both Ed and Emily are about looking after a small baby, which is lucky as I have little wisdom to share. There are differences thirty years on but there is nothing more irritating than bits of advice starting ‘in my day’. Anyway, talcum powder is now the work of the devil, and the baby’s skin is kept completely free of chemicals. Also new is baby guru Gina Ford, the smiling blonde stickler for routine, whom Emily tries to follow to the letter. Most of Ford’s 12 books have ‘contented baby’ in the title. But from watching Emily’s tearful struggles it would seem it doesn’t make for contented mothers.

A gift from a grandparent

Before George was born I thought about what grandmothers can give to their first grandchild. I had a romantic idea that I should have been knitting something for the baby. Since I cannot knit even one stitch this was completely ridiculous. I did not get further than buying some wool and knitting needles, which still sit accusingly in a bag at home.

So what can I offer to a grandchild, other than adoration and some sweet clothes? Sadly I don’t knit, and although there are now websites that will sneakily do it for you I didn’t think for one second I’d get away with passing even a pair of bootees off as my own work. I don’t play the violin or know computer coding. But I do have a pretty good knowledge of French so I have offered to speak only French to him. My daughter is thrilled by this proposal as she now bitterly regrets not learning French and is thus unable to communicate with most of the people in the village where we have a house in Northern Provence.

Something should sink in at an age where memories begin to be formed, and maybe he will be able to get the drains fixed in France for his parents. Indeed in a local coffee shop I hear a chic French grandmother talking to her toddler (English-speaking) grandson. It is just as I hope; she asks him questions in French and he answers in English – but he has perfectly understood the questions. Yes, the lingual blotting paper works. So, even now as I push the pram around the park I babble away to a sleeping baby in French.

A Boomer Granny

Three weeks before the baby was due Ed and Emily moved back into their own house, giving them just enough time for the inevitable trip to Ikea followed by some frantic work with a screwdriver. The nest was prepared and to pass the time Emily and I waddled to local restaurants for lunch. Waiting, waiting.

Finally George was born, amazingly on my birthday – the best birthday present I shall ever receive. By the time they all came home from hospital, everyone was exhausted. I can’t imagine how Emily would have managed those first two weeks without Ed, and I have become a passionate advocate of paternity leave. Goodness knows how single mothers manage, to which the answer is most likely to be that their mothers step in.

So there is most certainly a modern father, but is there such a thing as a Boomer Granny? Both grandfathers and grannies are generally fitter than our parents’ generation in their day, and keen to get involved with our grandchildren. Saga polling confirms that 44% of grandparents step in to help out with childcare, either picking up their grandchildren from school or helping out with childcare during school holidays. Grandfathers come more into their own later in a child’s life and they are certainly much in evidence at the school gate. I also now understand how the arrival of grandchildren can make people want to start working only part time. They change our priorities.

Dealing with small babies tends to fall to grandmothers and my co- grandmother makes a weekly pilgrimage to London to see him and has filled the deep freeze with delicious pies. Emily’s father drops in to see George and his mother. Generally, I think grandfathers are more wary of vulnerable small babies, but their hour will come.

Mine is here already, as I enjoy just the exquisite prospect of visiting my grandson lying in a Moses basket just a mile away. And at Christmas, George will have a full set of grandparents and a great-grandmother gathered to adore him.

Sadly he will never meet his other great-grandmother, my mother, and his link to her father, Winston Churchill, is now historically very distant. ‘Time, like an ever-rolling stream/bears all its sons away.’ And new generations are born to replace them.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.