One of the clearest memories I have of my Granny is her telling me over and over again how she was forced to leave school at the age of 14 to help look after her family.
My cousins and I would roll our eyes and mutter “Here we go again” to each other as we sat in the back of Granny and Grandpa’s car and she started with her heart-breaking story yet again.
It would always be whenever she had us trapped. We were a captive audience in the back of their car on one of our day trips out with them. We used to take bets about how long it would be before she started the story, which always began “The tears were tripping me up down the stairs as I left the school…”
And we couldn’t fall asleep either to try and get away from her doom-laden woes as she would deliberately re-arrange the rear view mirror (much to Grandpa’s annoyance) to make sure we were sitting up and paying attention to her in the back seat.
It was only after she had sadly left us and my cousins and I became parents ourselves, that we realised what a huge impact this moment had been on her life.
She was clearly a very bright lady. I have never known anyone who could carry maths figures around in her head as well as she could and know answers to sums instantly. She was always a whiz at helping with any difficult homework (if she stopped talking long enough to go through the work that is.)
Her maths skills were perfected in the family business, as she ran their baker’s store single-handedly. This was pre-decimalisation days. Having the ability to mentally juggle pounds, shillings and pence was a real art in itself.
Sadly, despite her brilliant brain, her family made her leave school before she could take any formal qualifications, as was so common for families to do in those days. It was the late 1920s and she was the eldest of a family of five children. Her parents needed to concentrate on making the business work so Granny was forced to quit school to look after her younger brothers and sisters.
Her sister-in-law had a similar tale to tell – as the oldest girl she was forced to quit school to look after my Grandpa after their mother died when he was only seven and she was 14.
When I try to explain this to my eldest daughter she is shocked. And the fact it was because Granny was a girl that this happened to her makes it all the more shocking for her. She cannot get her head round the fact that Granny was not thought worth educating, because of her sex.
I thought of my poor Granny the other morning when we were rushing to get three grumbling children ready to go out in the morning. My son refused to get dressed until he was fed. Instead of standing firm and making him get dressed when I wanted him to, I gave in, too weak to want to hear his tears. I even found myself secretly giving him his favourite chocolate coated cereal (but told him not to tell his sisters) which he is only allowed at weekends. As time was pressing I urged my eldest to help him get dressed and because he adores her he allowed her to squeeze him into his jumper and trousers without a word of protest.
Sometimes I bribe my daughter to help me feed the baby as well when she is being particularly difficult and is refusing to take anything I offer her. For some reason she opens her beak willingly to eat when her big sister plays games with her, like “hide the spoon”. I have never known dinner-time to be more entertaining.
But I hear my Granny in the back on my head telling me her tale of woe as I allow my daughter to assume some of my mothering responsibilities like this. I wake up in the middle of the night worrying what kind of precedent I have set and whether my daughter will be in therapy later in life as a result of me asking her to do things beyond her years. Luckily the moments of having to care for her siblings are very few and far between and are never really arduous tasks, so I think she may well escape unscathed.
However, it is estimated there are nearly 2,000 carers under the age of 18 in Sheffield who care for dependent relatives. Now a group set up to help make sure their voices are heard has scooped nearly a £1m of Lottery funding to help promote their cause. For more information please visit: http://www.chilypep.org.uk/voyce.htm