Lifestyle & Culture

Grandparents in a Pandemic

November 19, 2020

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LEFT: Pandemic grandparents Christine and Dean. TOP RIGHT: Daughter Rachel and son-in-law Kyle with Tilly by way of Zoom. BOTTOM RIGHT: A Zoom visit features son Sydney and daughter-in-law Leti with Lukas and Mika. ON THE FRONT: The whole clan in more up-close-and-personal times, August 2019. / Family photos.

I’VE BECOME a grandparent on Zoom, and Im having a difficult time with that.

It’s been about 11 months since I’ve seen my son Sydney and his family in Rhode Island. We had planned to visit them several times this year, but you know what happened to that. Whenever we consider defying the pandemic to drive to the East Coast, the virus positivity rate worsens.

The family together.

My grandparent role models were my mother’s parents, who lived in rural Illinois, about two hours away from our St. Louis County home. The oldest of four children, I was sent to Kinderhook every summer to luxuriate in love and attention. They were hands-on—huggers and sometimes spankers. With my grandfather, the owner of the village grocery store, I delivered bags of food to housebound widows. With my grandmother, an Avon lady, I helped prepare wonderfully scented packages that we loaded into her Chevrolet Malibu. Some folks inevitably remarked that I looked just like my mother while others addressed me by her name, Patty Lou.

My memories remain visceral, eliciting images of white-paper-soaked hamburger packages, and smells of Honeysuckle toilet water.

When I was 10, my grandfather died. I continued visiting my grandmother every summer until I became an adult, and then I brought her to me. My daughter, Rachel, is her namesake.

I inherited the house in Illinois over 15 years ago, caring for it from afar until I retired. Then I moved to Illinois, to live in the place that was imprinted on my heart.

Nine months into the pandemic, I’ve been able to see Rachel’s daughter in Naperville a couple of times, strictly under Illinois’ guidelines. But I yearn to see Sydney’s two children too, and despair over time lost.

How do you measure missed memories?

We were not there for two birthdays, Grandparents Day at their school and Halloween. We won’t be there for Thanksgiving and probably not Christmas.

In the past 10 months, our 3-year-old granddaughter has been potty-trained; moved from a crib to a twin bed; and relinquished her binkie. Her vocabulary swelled, and she sings new sentences in original songs. When she faces a challenge, she calls herself strong Mika.”

Our precocious, gender-fluid, 9-year-old grandson reads multi-volume sagas like “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter.” Lukas prefers the personal pronouns “they” and “them.” A year ago, they were erecting 150-piece Lego sets. Now they’re undaunted by 600-piece creations. Always a sensitive child, Lukas is troubled by ugly politics, racial injustices and climate change. Sometimes, they cry themself to sleep.

I know many grandparents mourn being separated from their families. In my small village, some have it far worse. Several widowed and isolated neighbors have health problems and can’t drive. My husband and I visit a woman in her 90s, in her open garage, pandemic-style, for dessert once a week. She eats slowly, taking tips of teaspoon bites, to prolong the company. With winter coming fast, how will we continue to see her?

Time is always elusive, but it moves faster when you’re a grandparent. There’s just not that much of it left.

In the past week, news has turned more positive. We have a president-elect who believes in science, and new hope that a vaccine will arrive yet this year.

My plan is to continue reducing risks by wearing masks, limiting social contact and staying informed. I intend to stay strong and alive.

Because my grandchildren arent yet old enough to remember. Me.

—Christine Ledbetter 

Christine Ledbetter is a former journalist with The Washington Post, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Detroit Free Press.



2 thoughts on “Grandparents in a Pandemic

  1. Carol says:

    It is so hard but we must be like you, patient and wearing a mask.
    We can all do little acts of kindness in the interim, as you are doing.
    Very upsetting to hear about some friends ignoring the obvious and continuing Thanksgiving plans as usual with 10 or more coming for dinner.
    Will make Christmas sadder as so many more will get sick.

  2. cynthia tilson says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece!

    As a new G’ma CeCe, I feel the pain. Ollie lives a 10 hour drive, and a 1hour 14 minute plane hop from my home. I was there for his first birthday celebration in September, along with his paternal grandparents, but all the cousins, aunts and uncles participated on a Zoom party.

    Both my children, their spouses, and precious Ollie were planning to come to my house next week for Thanksgiving. Yesterday I made the decision to cancel the reunion and ask them all to stay home.
    It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but that’s what loving family means to me. Sometimes we delay our own happiness, for their future safety and security.

    We can do this. A vaccine cavalry is on the way to save us all…or so they say. In the meantime, Ollie and I share love and stories via the miracle of FaceTime calls at his bath time. I think of how surprised he will be to discover that CeCe is not just a tiny woman living in my daughter’s phone!

    Love is love, and it passes through generations, and transcends mountains and oceans snd all the miles in between. Don’t ever think otherwise. ❤️

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