How grandparents and grandkids can stay close from afar during the pandemic.
One of the most painful aspects of the pandemic lockdown has been the separation of grandparents from their children and grandchildren. We’ve all seen the photos of families on either side of a window, touching their hands to the glass because it’s as close as they can get to an embrace. It’s worse if there’s significant geographical distance; the risks of travel have kept extended families separated for too long.
Grandparents are at high risk for serious cases of COVID-19, so their protection from others is imperative. Add the loneliness that often accompanies older years and it’s been a sad situation all around. Even worse is the thought that the connection between grandparents and grandchildren could be weakened by the lack of presence in each other’s lives.
That was the situation I worried about as the grandmother of a 5-year-old girl. My daughter lives in Santa Barbara, close enough that I used to spend time with that bright-faced little girl once a month or so, not to mention during countless FaceTime sessions. She’s young enough for memory and feeling to fade — how could I keep that from happening? I could try talking to her more frequently, but children that age aren’t always in the mood to talk and often hate being asked what they did that day.
Then I remembered how my father had cultivated a close relationship with my daughter from nearly 3,000 miles away. In addition to visits a couple of times a year, he made weekly phone calls that always included 15 to 20 minutes of playing a game with my then-little girl called “Goofy Grandpa,” in which he would pretend to be a mixed-up guy and my daughter would delightedly correct his silly mistakes.
Their closeness remained through the years until, six years after his death, she would name her daughter, my granddaughter, for him.
Zoom and FaceTime didn’t exist during my daughter’s childhood, but my dad built that relationship through regular, affectionate interaction with his granddaughter. Even though it was mostly by phone, it was as loving a grandparent relationship as I have ever seen.
I’m not good at silly games, but I am a lover of books and so is my granddaughter. And my house still has a couple of shelves of children’s books from my own kids’ childhoods. My granddaughter especially loves my collection of a dozen or so Berenstain Bears books. I’m less of a fan — I happily gave away 20 of them as soon as my kids were past picture-book age — but the point here is a great relationship, not great literature.
So a week into the pandemic, we began an early-evening routine: Me reading her a book via video conference, showing the pictures into my laptop’s camera. She banishes her parents from the room — this is our time to share stories. Mostly Berenstain Bears, yes, and by now I’m pretty tired of reciting the same stories.
But these have become so much more than storytimes. Because I’m not putting her on the spot by asking her about her day, she volunteers information about her activities and her feelings and fantasies all the more readily. Sometimes the book will remind her of something, or in her relaxed state, she’ll suddenly start chatting about the play teatime she tried to get the Irish setter to sit through, or her adventures in the family vegetable garden.
Parents can help their own parents and children foster a closer relationship during this time of separation. Video conferencing makes it easy. Whether or not they’re artists, they can pull out crayons and paper on both sides of the screen and go at it together. Or they can just fill in coloring books together. You might have a parent who knits or crochets and can teach that, passing on a skill.
Grandparents and grandkids could share a daily or weekly joke, spending time to look one up. We all could use a laugh these days. Preteens and teens could carry out an oral history project with a grandparent, giving them a chance to tell the stories that too few people show an interest in hearing. Your child would learn some valuable family history and could record these sessions and turn it into a book to be distributed to the extended family.
Even in the electronic age, everyone loves receiving mail. Buy some blank cards and stamps and send them to the grandparent, who can use them to send regular notes to your child. Have your child reciprocate.
The bond between me and my granddaughter continues to grow every day during our evening storytime. So the other day, I gave in and bought a set of 10 more Berenstain Bears books on eBay.
By Karin Klein
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(Photo courtesy of Amber Faust/Unsplash)