extended family playing on beach

You can always learn something new!

Rose O’Rielly spends time with her grandchildren during the holidays and everyone learns a thing or two!

During the summer holidays, Dan taught our grandchildren how to play darts. He showed them games he’d learned at bush pubs as a young man, such as Rings and Burma Road. At first, the kids thought there was nothing to it, and just hurled the darts at the board, but Dan thinks any game worth playing is worth playing properly, so he was insistent.

“Hold it this way, Jim.”

“Stand like this, Nell.”

“Throw straight, Suzie, but not so hard.”

They resisted a little, but he persisted, and soon they worked out that their scores were better if they did it his way. Their skills improved, and they were hooked. Now they play every time they visit, and although Dan can still beat them most times, it won’t be that way for much longer. In the meantime, they learn how to lose graciously – another useful skill.

We have plenty of toys for the grandchildren – mainly from garage sales and thrift shops – but they’re growing out of them. These days, as well as the hiding and chasing games, they like real games with rules and proper skills. Sporting skills are something many grandparents can help their grandkids develop – throwing and catching a ball, hitting with a bat or racquet or even throwing a dart. With a few basic skills, children will find it easier to enjoy sport. And sport means fitness.

According to my dictionary, it wasn’t until the mid-20th Century that the word ‘fitness’ came to refer to physical condition. For my grandmothers, fitness meant propriety: good manners, appropriate language and wearing stockings and hats when they went out (they’d be shocked at the casual way we dress now, let alone the way we speak).

When it came to body image, my mother and grandmothers used corsets and stepins to keep them looking trim, not exercise bikes, Zumba or muscle toning. In those days, exercise was built in to everyday life – chopping wood for the stove, washing in a boiler and lugging wet sheets out to the clothes line strung across the backyard, home vegetable gardens and walking to the shop. My generation of grandparents is the first to consciously work at physical fitness for its own sake. We walk, swim, go to the gym or lift weights, and when we play tennis or ride a bike it’s with fitness in mind as well as pleasure.

Pool walking is a low-impact exercise recommended for many older people. I saw a grandmother pool-walking one day, and was intrigued to see a young boy sitting at the water’s edge, fully dressed and bored, watching her. Up and down the lane she went for half an hour. It amused me, because usually the grandparents are the ones sitting and waiting while their grandkids splash and kick at swimming classes.

At the age of 10, our Clancy can shin up a palm tree, build a fort out of sticks and dig complex dams and canals out of sand (he can even fix my mobile phone, but that’s a different matter). He can also do flips into the pool, and last summer he taught us how.

It was Nell’s birthday, and we had a small family party at a swimming complex with a diving pool. Clancy demonstrated a backwards flip, and we – two mothers, one grandmother and three cousins – decided it looked downright dangerous. Then he did forward flip, which looked much easier, and offered to show us how.

We lined up along the edge, youngest to oldest, which meant he got to me last, of course. “Kick off with your arms by your sides, hit the water with the top of your head and curl over,” he said. I tried, splashed in awkwardly and felt the pool water blast through my sinuses. We climbed out and lined up again. This time the others were all experts, and took turns telling me what to do. “Lift off harder!” “I have more to lift than you!” I said indignantly, but I had another go, and this time I did much better.

It just goes to show you can always learn something new. I should have kept going until I could do a perfect flip, but as a senior citizen and matriarch, I didn’t feel the need to wreck my sinuses completely.

We all had fun though, with the kids learning yet another skill and another way to have fun keeping fit. And last week, for the first time, Nell beat Dan in four consecutive games of darts. She crowed about it to her parents all the way home.