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Sweets

While living in Australia in my early 30s, I read a book called No Snow in December. It was written by a Polish emigrant who'd moved Down Under with her husband to start a new life. One day, the author's son came home from school and asked her what a cousin was. Living on the other side of the world to his relatives, he'd no concept of family beyond his own parents. This struck a chord with me as I was briefly flirting with the idea of hanging around Oz for a few years. Brendan and I knew we were going to get married some day and reckoned there are far worse places for kids to grow up than beautiful Australia.

But we also agreed it would mean huge sacrifices being away from our families, with our kids growing up hardly knowing their extended families. Skype and email may make the world a smaller place today but even back then, pre-kids, we were aware of the gap that would be left by grandparents living so far away. Thankfully we had choices, courtesy of a healthy Celtic Tiger, and we chose to come home to start our family. Fast forward five years, and our children see their nanas and grandad every weekend and cherish every minute of their time together.

When I think of my wonderful grandmother, Nana Flanagan, I recall the little china house on the shelf in her dining room in Dartry. Before we came to visit, she used to secrete sweets in the house and we'd almost knock her over on the doorstep trying to race past her to find her stash of goodies. In her kitchen we could always expect a Teatime Express coffee cake dotted with walnuts.

She baked wonderful apple tarts using fruit from her garden, and everything was served at her kitchen table on a freshly ironed tablecloth, with fabric napkins and china teacups.

On the one hand, little has changed in the modern grandparent-grandchild dynamic and I see a familiar pattern with my children. The china cups may be a thing of the past but visits to nanas are still all about the treats. They know exactly where their grandparents store all the contraband and know which cards to play to maximise their sugar intake on visits. They also know which nana is a softer touch when it comes to dispensing goodies!

On the other hand, there's been a huge shift in the role our parents play in our children's lives. Many of us depend on our folks to mind our children while we work, or to collect them from school or drop them to swimming. Without their help many of us would simply have to give up work. Look around you tomorrow, and you'll see grandads pushing buggies, nanas at the playground and countless grandparents in the schoolyard collecting children.

Everywhere, older people are selflessly helping to bring up a new generation while retracing decades-old footsteps they thought they'd never walk in again.


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