I’VE BECOME a grandparent on Zoom, and I’m 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.
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 aren’t yet old enough to remember. Me.
Christine Ledbetter is a former journalist with The Washington Post, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Detroit Free Press.