Shift work with Justine Tyerman
Justine Tyerman can’t wait to return to her unpaid job with two ‘bosses’ who scream at her . . .
Mid-60s is rather late in life for a couple to start doing shift work but we took to it like proverbial ducks to a millpond.
The job description was extremely off-putting but we accepted the challenge with great gusto and enthusiasm. It involved up to 10-hour shifts cleaning up vomit and poo, being splattered with food, saturated with water, frequently screeched at and occasionally scratched.
There were also regular wrestling matches involving the application and removal of sanitary items and clothing. Other tasks included daily food preparation for finicky eaters, house cleaning, endless loads of washing, ironing and folding, shopping, sewing, pushing heavy loads up and downhill, singing, dancing, playing and counselling and companionship services.
The two youngest ‘bosses’ were the most demanding – regardless of the time of day or night, they wanted their needs met... immediately. If not, they would scream at the top of their lungs until their wishes were granted.
One would expect such difficult work to be well-rewarded financially but we were not paid a cent. However, we were overjoyed to provide our services, free of charge, and keen to be engaged again by the same ‘employers’... as soon as possible.
As you will have no doubt guessed, the ‘work’ involved helping to care for our grandchildren, Isabel, a newborn, and Francesca aged one year.
Justine and newborn granddaughter Isabel.
The pandemic has kept us apart from our Sydney-based daughters, sons-in-law and their babies for the past year, so except for a visit at the birth of Francesca before the outbreak of Covid-19, we have not had the opportunity to practise our grandparenting skills. We weren’t even sure if Francesca would accept us, or if we were up to the task of doing 10-hour shifts with a toddler when our elder daughter returned to work after a year’s maternity leave. Nor did we have any idea how we’d cope with night shifts if our younger daughter and husband needed help with an unsettled newborn in the small hours of the morning.
However, all our fears were completely groundless. Isabel slept well at night and boisterous Francesca loved us from the moment we started playing noisy hide and seek games, doing animal impersonations and singing Wiggles’ songs.
She was an exceedingly cheerful and sunny-natured child until it came time to change her nappies or clothes. Then she turned into a feisty wrestler who had perfected the art of the corkscrew. It was a two-man job, one occupying her windmill hands, the other executing a lightning-fast nappy change and getting her into easy-on/off clothes. Gone were any naive ideas of dressing her in the pretty smocked outfits with many buttons I’d made for her mother.
Mealtimes were quite a mission. She was a determined self-feeder which resulted in a monumental mess on the floor, herself and any well-meaning grandparent who attempted to streamline the process with a spoon. The trough-like silicone bibs from my young friend, Gisborne-born Emily Spear’s Petite Eats range were a godsend, catching at least 50 percent of the food that was dropped.
We were able to help with Francesca’s gradual transition to daycare, taking her for increasing time periods over a period of weeks. Being a sociable, adventurous wee soul, she adapted to the stimulating environment with great glee.
In the afternoons when we collected her, she would spy us at the door and her little face would light up like sunshine. She’d wave vigorously and come toddling towards us. Talk about heart-melting!
She was often tired and played-out by then so we took her for long shady walks in the pushchair until it was time for dinner, bath, stories and bed. By which time her mum or dad were home to take over.
Our time with Isabel was radically different. She was such a tiny, wee bundle compared to her robust cousin.
To begin with, she obligingly just slept and fed but after a couple of weeks, she ‘woke up’ and began to yell loudly and feed ravenously. She was not the easiest baby to settle, especially late in the day, but she seemed to like my over-the-shoulder burping technique and the rhythmical rocking of the pram.
We went for long walks along the Bondi Beach promenade two or three times a day with Isabel in the pram or front pack. It was very therapeutic to get out of the house and into the fresh air when she was fractious.
Justine and Chris pushing granddaughter Isabel in her pram at Bondi Beach.
I found myself gazing at her as she slept, marvelling afresh at the miracle of new life. In the time we were there, she changed from being a sleepy newborn still curled up in a foetal position, to being a lively, alert little human being, kicking vigorously, stretching her little limbs, exercising her healthy lungs and experimenting with a wide range of quizzical facial expressions.
The new parents, in their sleep-deprived state, were so appreciative of our help with meals, housework and shopping, and our daughter also welcomed her mum’s companionship and advice during the long hours of breastfeeding.
Being able to support them through this momentous, life-changing time brought us closer than ever. It was such a privilege to watch them discover the joys (and trials) of parenthood that no one can really prepare you for.
None of this would have been possible without laying the groundwork in advance. Well before we left home, we organised two key components — independent accommodation and transport. Our daughters live in small apartments about 10 minutes’ drive away from each other but now they both have babies, there’s no spare room for guests. Ideally, we wanted to find our own place midway between the two. I knew the cost of a hotel or holiday rental for an extended period over summer in Sydney would be prohibitive so I resorted to my favourite accommodation site, Love Home Swap. I’ve been a member of this international home swap club for over 10 years and during that time, we’ve stayed in some wonderful private homes all around the world – Santorini, the Swiss Alps, Paris, London, Piha, Wanaka... You pay a membership fee (see footnote below) and then stay free, absolutely free.
I searched for properties available in the Edgecliff-Bondi area, sent out a few messages and within hours, I had a positive response from a couple who live near Bondi Beach. We arranged a points swap which meant home-owners David and Imy were not locked in to a simultaneous swap with us with but could use the points or credits to stay in the home of any Love Home Swap member, anywhere, any time. Their scope is mainly limited to Australia at present due to COVID-19 but as soon as border restrictions ease, they will have the choice of thousands of homes in hundreds of countries all around the world.
Chris cooking dinner in the well-equipped kitchen at David and Imy's apartment.
David and Imy’s compact two-bedroom, two-bathroom, open-plan apartment worked incredibly well for us. Located on the top floor of a three-storey building in a great neighbourhood with excellent cafes, restaurants, seafood, bakery and fruit shops nearby, the apartment was absolutely immaculate, and equipped with high-quality appliances and everything we needed. Above all, it provided a quiet, tranquil haven for us to escape to at the end of a busy day with the little ones. We enjoyed many a relaxed glass of wine or beer on the balcony overlooking the rugged coastline on the famous Bondi to Coogee walkway, a great track for an early morning or evening run or walk.
Sunset from the balcony of David and Imy's Love Home Swap apartment near Bondi Beach.
Having independent accommodation also allowed our daughters and sons-in-law to have their own space, privacy and time to be together as a family.
We met David and Imy before they headed off on a road trip in New South Wales. They left an impressive 40-page guide to the apartment covering everything from security and access to neighbourhood shopping, dining and recreation - the most comprehensive compendium I’ve ever seen. They also left us some superb local wines to sample which was a lovely hospitable touch.
Having a secure covered carpark under the apartment building was another huge plus as parking can be a major problem around Bondi... which brings me to my next key component: securing our own means of transport so we were not dependent on family members. We organised a JUCY Rentals vehicle before we left home which turned out to be absolutely indispensable. JUCY provides an excellent pick-up/drop-off service at Sydney Airport which was very convenient. Our zippy Toyota Corolla hatchback did umpteen trips to the supermarket, delivered supplies and home-cooked meals to three households, and transported our elder granddaughter to and from daycare in the secure, back-facing car seat that JUCY fitted for us. The vehicle was big enough to accommodate the pushchair and other toddler paraphernalia for trips to the beach and playground but small enough to squeeze into tight parking spaces. Having our own wheels literally enabled us to be in two places as once – one with Isabel and the other with Francesca. We would often swap shifts in the middle of the day to make sure we saw both grandchildren every day.
Our zippy JUCY hatch-back was indispensable.
After six weeks, we said a tearful farewell and reluctantly returned to New Zealand to enter our compulsory two-week managed isolation period. We spent 14 days in a standard hotel room at The Grand Millennium in Auckland under the ever-watchful eyes of defence force, police and security personnel. We had great plans to do Pilates and yoga together but the room was so small only one of us could exercise at a time. We were comfortable, well-fed, thoroughly Covid-tested and kept safe from infection but two weeks in a room with windows that did not open and just 30 minutes of fresh air and sunshine a day was challenging to say the least.
However, it was worth every minute for the joy and fulfilment we discovered as grandparents. It’s given new purpose and meaning in our lives. I just can’t wait to go back to shift work in Sydney.
- In preparation for the time when we can again travel freely, check out thousands of Love Home Swap properties all around the world.
- There is a two-week free trial and then you choose from one of three membership tiers starting at around $NZ20/$AUS18 a month.
- Have a look-see at what’s available in New Zealand, Australia and the Cook Islands.
- Rent a car or campervan from JUCY Rentals who have been providing reliable and budget-friendly rentals in Australia for over 11 years.