Third Age

November 2012

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

One day a week

Once a week I pick up my granddaughter from her school half an hour or so away and she comes to my house to play.

She is four. I am 76. The age difference is not a problem. I am an old grandma. Young grandmas jump in the car and pick up the grandkids from school and that’s it.

It’s different for me. One of the late Robert Hughes‘s attachments was to “slow art”; “art that holds time as a vase holds water.” My attachment is to slow life. Slow parenting is what old grandmas do.

Preparations for picking up Cordelia begin the day before. Planning her after-school treat for the car trip home is something I put my mind to. Then there are the balloons to pick up on the way.  The treats and balloons have to be duplicated because Cordy checks that her brother will get something later.

Because the weather has improved, I get the plastic slide from the garage. It has been a great thing, that slide. It provides opportunities for little kids to show off without coming to grief.  Cordy’s brother is nearly too old for it now, but Cordy has been asking for it all through winter. I assemble it on the back lawn before leaving for school.

I am shy around the young teachers. Cordelia is not. They are her friends. Have you noticed that children playing school these days don‘t stand as an authority figure before an imaginary class as we did?
In the car, Cordelia inspects her treats and smiles. “You know I like chocolate tiny teddies.” I glow.

Now for my indulgence. Classical music indoctrination in the car begins after a few minutes. It is terrible when the wrong kind of music is being played on ABC FM. You’d think they could plan their programs for after-school grandma-time. I talk to Cordy about horns and violins and clarinets. It is a wonderful day for me when she volunteers that she likes something. If the radio is not giving up the right sound, I use a CD. It has some Kats-Chernin on it. Cordelia loves the music and the name. Kats-Chernin.

There can be a problem for me hearing chatter from the back seat. Not with Cordy. She knows how to speak up for grandma. I feel brave enough, when Tchaikovsky is playing, to ask her why she doesn’t go to ballet any more. She hesitates. I coax: “You know I like to see you dance.”  She says, “Ballet makes me shy.” I have never seen Cordy shy and say so. “Ballet makes me shy so that’s why I don’t go.” She is a girl who knows her own mind. She is ready to sing for a bit. It is a song about a rainbow and she sings it a few times.

We pull up at my house. I wait for the cheer but Cordelia, with her mouth open, is fast asleep in her car seat. I crush my disappointment and settle down to wait. I am busting for the loo, but you can’t abandon a sleeping child for small necessities. The nap doesn’t last long.

After a long, noisy session on the slide, and cups of “tea” from the tea set that belonged to my daughter at the same age, I begin to think how nice a glass of wine and a sit-down would be. The former being out of the question, I go for the sit-down. It occurs to me that I am channelling my godmother, Aunty Mar (Mary) who looked after me on my Mum’s tennis days. Mar was a retired public servant, so it was slow life time for her too. It dawns on me that she switched activities so she had a fair number of sit-downs. That would be colouring-in time. Can I really remember this after 72 years? Yes.

Cordy and I share an interest in language. Her subordinate clauses are good. She sometimes gropes for a new word and looks at me inquiringly. I am happy to supply “coil” this week when she tries to describe my no-kinks garden hose. She understands when I say she must not touch my golden kingcup, flowering in the little pond, because it is toxic. She tries, and likes, “toxic.”

Inside the house she is allowed to touch everything that interests her except her brother’s aeroplanes. She tries the wind-up toy nun though it has never worked in her lifetime. It is a ritual. As is play in the bathroom sink standing on her stool. “Only three toys today,” she says reprovingly when I set her up. But it is getting to be slow time for both of us now.

She never asks to go home. I am proud of that. But Molly the cat and I know when it is time for me to strap her into her car seat again for the short drive home.
I come back to a quiet house where you can hear the clock ticking, as Cordy’s brother says. Toys are scattered from front to back. I choose to leave them like this for another 24 hours. To enjoy.  As a vase holds water, slow life holds time.



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