It’s a year this week since we got the keys to our house and a year since we began the process of giving my dad back his house, after four months living with him. And every day of lockdown, I give quiet (and out loud) thanks that we are here and not still there, invading my dad’s space.
Back in January last year, he very kindly offered us a roof over our heads when we moved out of our old house but hadn’t found a new one. I knew, no matter how generous and genuine the offer, we couldn’t impose indefinitely; increasing the number of people five-fold and the volume of noise a hundred-fold.
I remembering worrying about how I would keep the kids quiet and calm, and how I would fit a houseful of contents into my childhood wardrobe, and how we would get out to school in the morning without the usual shouting up the stairs. And I was so busy worrying about everything, I almost missed the good stuff. The best bits. The bits that crept up on us while I was frantically refreshing MyHome.
Like the chess games. All three kids played chess with my dad, but my youngest took a particular shine to the game. My dad explained the rules and off he went – strategizing and scheming, and almost beating his grandad. Things were taken VERY seriously and there was much concentration, but more than anything, I couldn’t help thinking it’s something they might not have done if we weren’t living there.
When we call in for coffee on a weekend afternoon, we catch up, we chat, the kids play, my dad gives them ice-cream, then a second ice-cream, then offers a third, before I jump in to stop him (my youngest once confessed he turned down a third donut from my dad – even eight-year-olds have their limits). But those weekend afternoon visits are busy and buzzy, and nobody ever thought of taking out a chess board. That’s something new we got from our time living with my dad.
Reading the papers was another something new. My dad spotted my eldest glancing at his copy of the Irish Times one morning early on in our stay. He passed it to her and said he reckoned she was old enough to read the paper every day. So she did. It became her after-school ritual, the thing she did to decompress after sitting in class all day. Perhaps not every story was appropriate for someone her age, but I can see now that her grandad has instilled a wider curiosity about what’s going on in the world, and if you’re really lucky, she’ll tell you what a Backstop is, give her thoughts on Trump, and full and very detailed bio on Boris (including his real name).
In case it’s starting to sound like some kind of Victorian time-warp, with everyone sitting around playing chess and reading, there were other less sedentary pastimes too. Like gardening. My kids, like their parents, don’t know one end of a weed from the other, but last Easter, my dad put them to work. He told them a story about Tom Sawyer convincing his friends that painting fences was fun and then went on to convince my kids that weeding was fun. And indeed, on that bright, sunny morning in Grandad’s garden, it was.
My youngest took this new active lifestyle a step further, and asked my dad if he’d take him out hiking the next time he was going. So the very next day, my dad did exactly that – off they went to Knockree for a 7km hike and picnic.
And it went beyond the time they spent with my dad – my sister was home from Australia for a week while we were there, and the trip took on a whole new dynamic because we were all effectively living together. Instead of catching up two or three times for specific visits, the kids got to hang out with their Auntie Dee for the whole week.
She decluttered her room, gifting them jewellery and scarves and makeup and books, she took them for coffee and cake, she came along for school pick-ups, she watched a rain-sodden school parade. It was a gorgeous week – they saw their aunt every morning, every afternoon, every night, and hung out together properly in a way that they’ve never done before. The house was very quiet after she left (and if you met my kids, that’s saying something).
And the thing is, worried and all as I was when we moved in with my dad, I realise now it was one of the loveliest experiences we’ve ever had. I’m very conscious that many children don’t get to spend time with grandparents – for all sorts of reasons, kids may not know all or any of their parents’ parents. Luckily for mine, they got to live with their grandad for four months, and along with eating all the biscuits, building a permanent Lego town on his sitting room floor, and importing 400 unnecessary stones from Killiney Beach, they got to spend time with my dad.
Not just time – really good time. Unprecedented time. I’m sure (though he denied it) he was a little bit glad to have his house back, and I know, especially now in a cocooning-social-distancing world, I’m a lot glad we had our time living with him. The good stuff. The best bits.