I had been called to my younger son’s home on a matter of vital importance… almost a mission of mercy; I had to teach him the innermost secrets of baking my lemon meringue pie. It had been too long since he’d had one and he could wait no longer. Making one for him would have been fine…but, conscious that I am getting no younger, and afraid that the recipe might follow me to the grave, he thought it best that I teach him to bake it himself. I sent him a shopping list and arranged a time to bob round when he was not at work. Assuming that my decrepit and ageing bones would support me, of course…
Pushing open the gate to his back garden, I found father and daughter engaged on building garden furniture. Hollie looked up with a smile and the shout of ‘Grandma!’ that always warms my heart and wipes away all trace of worry and stress. Her father looked up with a more rueful expression. “I probably shouldn’t have started this yet…”
It was evidently a two man job and Hollie had manfully risen to the task, competently wielding spanner and hex-key. It was obviously not her first encounter with a tool kit. As she worked, she told me about going swimming with Daddy that morning and how they had been fishing together the day before when she had caught, and held, her first fish. Her father, proud as punch, downed tools to show me a video of his daughter casting a line and doing it remarkably well.
The next part of the job needed longer arms than Hollie’s, so I helped while she ‘read’ the instructions. “It says here that you have done it wrong, Daddy.” She rolled her eyes, shook her head and went to check on her sister while I built the coffee table.
By the time we went inside to start baking, her one-year-old sister was hammering ‘nails’ with a wooden mallet and wielding a plastic screwdriver. She was quite happy to play while Hollie, her father and I got down to some hands-on baking. As soon as the lemon meringue was out of the oven and cooling, Alex cooked dinner while his partner put away the laundry and I sat on the floor to get into mischief with my girls.
I love that my granddaughters are learning and growing without the imposition of stereotypical roles. They are both of them very ‘girly’ girls, but although Dad goes out to work and Mum runs a business from home sewing keepsakes, the girls see both parents cooking, baking and doing chores… and Dad is as likely as Mum to be changing nappies or painting plaster ponies.
I love that the girls have toy tool kits as well as dolls and tea-sets, that there are caterpillars metamorphosing in the kitchen next to their coloured pencils and sewing machine. That they can catch a fish, learn DIY and how to bake and sew.
Given my advancing years, imminent decrepitude or, indeed, demise, it is easy to divine that I belong to a generation whose gender roles were still fairly rigidly defined, especially in the north. We were on the cusp of change… still expected to marry, keep house and raise children, but also to be able to fend for ourselves in the meantime. The intervening years have changed many things; the pendulum of liberation has swung erratically, allowing women many freedoms hitherto denied, including some perhaps best swept under the carpet, yet still leaving behind too many inequalities and the residual image of woman as the inferior sex.
Watching this little family as it grows gives me hope that the differences, prejudices and inequalities may become, one day, a thing of the past. One family is a small beginning… but they are far from alone in giving their daughters a more rounded view of the world and of their own possibilities. The girls are learning to define themselves by what they can do, not what they ‘ought to’ do and in the care of two grown-ups who work in partnership, not in dominance and subservience.
Change begins with the smallest of things; a snowflake, for example, is fragile and ephemeral, but many snowflakes together can create an avalanche. Our days are made up of little things, but together they write a story that will last a lifetime and may even reach beyond and into a future as yet unwritten. Whatever we wish to achieve, there must always be a first step… Perhaps this is the next step toward a more egalitarian future.
Hollie herself was already looking to the future. She drew me a birthday card with a rainbow on it, even though my birthday is not for another four months. She sealed it in an envelope, wrote her name neatly on the front and had me address it. I wrote ‘Grandma’ with pride… but was instructed to add my first name and surname too. She drew the sun in place of a stamp and delivered the card… with strict instructions not to open it till my birthday, and then, “… only if you have been a good girl.” Oh dear…