Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 20

April 2011


Each month we bring you this special column on grandparenting written by our expert contributor Jeanne Davis.  


If you have a subject you would like covered by Jeanne, please email us at: 


Reflections on a visit to the grandchildren

“Dear Grandmoo. I am so happy that you are staying a whole three weeks with us. A very big welcome. LOVE David XX00 XX00.”

“Dear Grandmoo. Happy Valentine’s day and Welcome. I made this card at a function. I hope you like it. I can’t wait to see you when I come home today. Lots of love. Xxoo Molly xoxo.”

These were the messages waiting on my bedside table when I arrived in South Africa in February for a visit with my daughter, son- in- law and the two grandchildren. David had written his welcome on a postcard he had saved from a trip to France and Molly’s message was penned on a card she had created in sand art, a traditional African art medium.

When I arrived the children were still at school. It was later that afternoon when my daughter and I drove to their schools to pick them up. I had not seen the children for more than a year. The tall broad- shouldered boy coming off the cricket field and walking toward me couldn’t be eleven and half year old David? This young man had to be a teenager. But when he came closer and put his arms around me with a hug and a kiss it was indeed my David. And unlike many boys his age who are usually quite diffident about showing affection he had wrapped me in his arms and planted a big kiss. Love welled up inside me and a few tears, too.

Molly, who had been given a lift, ran into the house trilling ‘grandmoo’ ‘grandmoo.’ She has just turned thirteen and has the most winning smile. Hugging her I realise she is taller then I am now.

By the way, I am called grandmoo, the other U.K. grandparents are granny and grandpa.

So why am I living in London so far from these precious children?

For the next three weeks I am part in their daily life. In the past I have visited at Christmas when the children are on holiday. This time it is real life.

Each morning Liz, my daughter, is up at 6:00am, packing the children into the range rover for the 15 minute drive to school. It’s still summer and there is swimming practice, diving practice, tennis and hockey. Before classes start at 8:00am! Son- in- law Tom has driven to his office Liz comes home and changes to go to her office in downtown Johannesburg. She heads a programme that recruits leading businessmen to mentor the young African entrepreneurs in the fledgling arts, theatre start ups, ballet companies, art galleries. They provide much needed know-how on marketing, fundraising, and keeping the accounts.

I spend mornings on the veranda, happy to read the local papers and enjoy the gentle warmth, a welcome change from frigid London. I listen to Elsie, the live in housekeeper, singing the lilting songs of her native Limpopo while she washes and irons, and comes to see if I need anything.

Liz returns around 1:00 pm. Some days we lunch with her friends, or I go with her to semi-business activities. Origins, a new museum, is holding a reception to announce the launch of its education department. Liz had provided the director with a mentor for the education programme. I meet a nun who travels out to the native villages to encourage embroidery workshops. The women have made the brilliant tapestries that hang on the museum walls depicting the history of South Africa.

Most days we shop for food at one of the malls. There is a Woolworths, the Marks & Spencer of South Africa. What a pleasure to enjoy the freshest of local fruits and vegetables before most of the harvest is packed and shipped to Europe.

We pick up the children any time between 4:00 and 6:00 depending on the after school activities, a football match, a water polo meet, swimming gala, or a squash tournament. Then the homework before supper. I help and learn. Molly is working on a diagram to explain the lungs and gas exchange. There are new words for me like the alveoli and she has to understand the process of diffusion for a test. I have quite forgotten, if I ever knew. So we both research it together. My mind is energised. It feels good. I wonder if I lived close to the children would I have become so involved. For those grandparents who are helping with homework it surely is good food for the brain.

David wants testing on his Afrikaans and Zulu vocabulary. Since the end of apartheid in 1994 all school children learn the languages of this rainbow nation. They learn English, Afrikaans and the tribal language of the province they live in There are 11 official languages. Zulu is the tribal language of Gauteng, the children’s province.

I am learning a bit of two new languages. This is new and thrilling.

I need the wisdom of Solomon.

From time to time I reflect. Should I or could I move to Johannesburg to be close to the children and grandchildren? Some long-distance grandparents do and make a success of it. Others have not been able to. A friend of Liz’s tells me about the mother of a neighbour who, widowed like me, bought a house and moved from England. Within five years she sold the house and moved back to the life she had known.

I am a city person. This is a suburban or rural culture. There is very little public transport. Taxis or jitneys as they are known pick up the workers on the main roads to take them to work. Everyone else drives everywhere. Back home in London I walk, or take the bus or underground to do what I want or need to do.

What would I do with my day? I am not a bridge player, nor a tennis player. I am not a very good homemaker. I would not be needed to help with the care of the grandchildren.

And then, I would have to be like Solomon. How could I choose to go live near the South African grandchildren, when I have twin grandsons age 8, living in the south west of England. And leave them. Visiting these children also allows me to see things new and thrilling. I couldn’t.

Resource: The long-distance grandparent by Jeanne Davis, September 2009 laterlife


Bookmark This Share on Facebook Receive more like this


Jeanne DavisTell us your experience of being a grandparent

Want to comment on this article or ask other laterlife visitors a question?

Then visit the comment section of the Later Lifestyle Network, click on the 'Discussion Tab' (you can't see this until you are logged in) and create a new topic or add your views to an existing one. 

feeling Good

Feeling Good

The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also associated regular columns of a more specialist nature such as Healthwise, Gardener's Diary, our regular IT question and answer section called YoucandoIT and there's also 'It could be you' by Maggi Stamp laterlife's counsellor on human relationships. 

Looking to the future

Looking to the future

Tell us about what you would like to see here on in the future or any changes you would like to see. Just email

Latest articles

To view indexes to previous articles click on laterlife interest index. To search for articles about a certain topic, use the site search feature at the top right of the page.
Back to Laterlife Today

Visit our Pre-retirement Courses section here on laterlife or our dedicated Retirement Courses site


Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti