My daughter is 12, and one thing she knows for sure is she loves her grandparents. Two of them live just 3 blocks away from us here in Upstate New York. Every Tuesday after school she walks to their house, makes dinner with them, and feels loved. She knows she’s lucky to have them so close, and they delight in this regular ritual.
The other grandma, affectionately known as Gigi, lives all the way across the country in California. We take turns visiting, and in between we email and Facetime. The next visit was scheduled for Passover/Easter 2020.
Intergenerational rituals are built into my daughter’s very being. She has been practicing them her whole life. In fact, many times she has told her parents that if something happens to her, she’ll move in with her grandparents. None of this is a surprise to us. Her mother has a soft spot in my heart for all forms of intergenerational community. But what happens now? How does one sustain these connections in the Coronavirus era, especially since Grandma & Gigi are in their 70s with minor but notable chronic health issues?
Being a sociologist of aging, I know how important social connections are for all of us. Daily survival and thriving is dependent on social connection. Luckily, these elders are, as I call them, technogenarians. They have smartphones and/or ipads that they know how to use, and they are comfortable with Facetime. But even if they didn’t know about these things, I’m certain we could work things out, “old school.”
So here’s where we are at with grandparent time, as of today, knowing that as things change, we will adapt.
Long-Distance Grandma Rituals
Gigi has a standing date with us for “brunch” on Thursdays. She eats breakfast at 10am PST time, while we eat lunch at 1pm EST time. And we do it together on Facetime. This last week we made a pot of soup and slurped our way through it at the kitchen counter while she sat at her dining room table munching on cinnamon toast. In between bites we covered many topics. It was almost like we were there with her! (You can always use a speakerphone if Facetime isn’t an option.)
Additionally, Gigi has worked with my daughter to pick out a puzzle they will each work on in their respective homes in the weeks ahead, over Facetime. I laughed when I saw that they chose a puzzle featuring puppies eating fried chicken on a picnic blanket!!! I am thankful for this common project for many reasons; most importantly I know their virtual puzzle dates will give my daughter a break from self- quarantine time with mom!
Local Grandparent Time
Last weekend, NY Grandma and Papa reluctantly signed on to a family video chat with us on zoom.com. (Zoom offers free 40 minute conference sessions, you just need to download the app.) Livestream images of all 5 of us, each in our own square, showed up on the top of the screen like the Brady Bunch. We pointed and laughed and then wondered aloud why Grandma’s image was so blurry. Maybe she hasn’t cleaned the camera lens in a while? In any case, we wanted to check in and see how they were feeling about in-person interactions at this stage of our social distancing period. Ultimately, it was determined that seeing their granddaughter is a quality of life issue, and that Tuesday dinner rituals would continue as long as possible. Everyone agreed to enforce the 3-6ft social distancing rules during these visits. And so, on Tuesday, they knitted and talked and prepared hot dogs, all from a distance. And they washed hands constantly. It was still the highlight of the week for my daughter.
Quality of life issues are important to consider for all of us. In NY we operate as an extended family of five, two households very much intertwined. The grandparents moved here to help us co-parent, so we share many common rituals. Separation and quarantine from one another may not make sense, especially when we consider what is most important in our lives. That said, we are limiting our time together and prioritizing grandparent time above all else. However, for Grandma’s 75th birthday at the end of March, we are planning an in-person celebration with: 1) a cake with no candles, 2) and all 5 of us spread out over several couches, distancing and having a good time.
When All Else Fails, Old School Options Work
These newly adapted rituals are working (at the moment) with the grandparents, but we are also using “old school” methods to engage the otherimportant elders in our life; our close friends and neighbors. Here’s a sampling of these methods:
- Playing pen pal with nursing home and home-bound friends
- Leaving inspirational chalk messages and drawings in elder’s driveways with their permission (e.g. “life is beautiful” or “welcome spring!”)
- Lending books informally through local networks
- Dropping off a plant/seedling “friend”
- Recommending a book and/or a movie to watch together and then texting about it
- Deciding on a common recipe to try and then comparing notes
- Phone calls!
In these uncertain times, who knows what tomorrow will bring? But for now, we have rituals in place that everyone can look forward to, and hopefully carry through for a few months, if need be. Regular routines and social connections will not only keep us thriving, but may even deepen those intergenerational relationships we tend to take for granted in our lives.
This was published in motherly.