When they asked me to write a piece about what I missed over the last year or so in interactions with my grandchildren it kind of felt like an essay about what I did not do last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last 15 months, all of our lives stood by while the world tried to avoid coming down with COVID-19. Many of us faced prolonged lockdowns that approximated house arrest by order of our government. Some scoffed at the rules and prolonged the pandemic; but most of us complied, drastically limiting social interactions of all sorts, including live meetings with friends and family. Some of us took the enforced separation poorly, others not as well. I have met nobody who liked it.
As hard as we found it to not see friends, siblings, and children, I suspect those of us with grandchildren found the complete loss or at least drastic reduction of direct interaction with our grandchildren the most difficult pandemic-imposed burden to bear, short of the death of a loved one. Most grandparents I talked to have concluded that. We need not consider the psychological or sociological reasons for reaching that conclusion. Suffice it to say that the special connection of grandparents and grandchildren makes for a difficult and painful situation when interaction gets prevented. I do think that part of the angst results from the fact that having gone through the role of raising children, grandparents realize even more with grandchildren than they did with their own children how opportunities to interact and to share the development of the child speed by and quickly become history. Part of it may relate to our own sense of mortality as we age, knowing we have limited time to interact with our grandchildren and we want them to know us and remember us as they get older.
A short background history: I have three grandchildren and we have actively involved ourselves with our grandchildren over their short life spans. My oldest grandchild is 11. Her brother is nine. My youngest grandchild celebrated her fourth birthday last March. My youngest grandchild actually contracted COVID-19, but fortunately remained asymptomatic. The two older grandchildren (her cousins) did not contract COVID-19. The parents of the two older grandchildren, my son and his wife, took very conservative approaches to COVID-19 to try to protect their children from getting infected and also to help protect us. My daughter-in-law works as a nurse practitioner at one of the local hospitals resulting in regular exposure risks. Fortunately, she never contracted the disease and neither did our son or their children.
As a result, while we had historically seen our son’s children almost every weekend, during the pandemic, we went months without seeing them. We have seen them only about three times during the last 15 months; with each visit consisting of staying outside and talking for an hour while wearing masks and socially distancing. Our littlest grandchild (our daughter’s daughter) came over for dinner fairly regularly on Friday evenings except when isolating due to the positive COVID-19 test. Those dinners usually lasted about an hour; but at least they allowed for the occasional hug, albeit limited to the official grandparents COVID-19 pandemic hug -- from behind.
In truth, we missed so many things that we more or less took for granted that I find it difficult to pick just one. Going to coffee (hot chocolate for the kids) on Sunday morning stands high on the list. The kids loved going to get frozen yogurt in the village and I loved seeing them love it. Holiday dinners have always proven special as they presented the rare occasion that we got kids, spouses, and all the grandchildren in the same room simultaneously. We often had a friend or two and sometimes other family members from our daughter-in-law’s family joined the party. I know that if you asked my wife, she would pick holiday dinners as the thing she missed the most; she has said so on each holiday that went by without a family dinner over the last 15 months. While I always enjoyed holiday dinners, she found them much more integral to her happiness. One of our family outings I enjoyed, taking the grandchildren to the Dickens Fair in San Francisco the Sunday after Thanksgiving also fell by the wayside during the pandemic. They tried to do the Dickens Fair virtually, but that did not work so well for me. Basically, it came down to you being able to buy the craft goods online that are normally sold at the fair. The atmosphere, the look of wonder on the grandchildren’s faces as they explored the stores and saw the costumed performers, their enjoyment of the foods served at the restaurants for the Fair did not exist online. The kids couldn’t even join us in the same room. It just didn’t seem worth the trouble of trying to make it work. We always enjoyed the Dickens Fair. Partly due to the fact I am an Anglophile. We took our kids and our grandkids to it. Everyone always had fun. I found it difficult to not do that in 2020. Hopefully, we can do it in 2021.
Some things kept a semblance of continuity during the pandemic; but not very many. My wife still went to the farmers market when they held it during the pandemic, and she picked up fresh fruit for the grandchildren as she always had. But now she made contactless delivery of the fruit by dropping it off on their front porch and waving to them when they came to the door with one of their parents who opened the door to take in the bag. Pre-pandemic she would get to go into the house and visit with everyone and give the grandchildren a hug and a kiss. Similar but very different.
We did get to talk to the kids on the phone, on Zoom, with FaceTime, and occasionally through Alexa during the pandemic. That helped, of course, but nothing substitutes for live and in-person meetings with physical contact. Grandparents need to hug their grandchildren. It comes with the position; it’s part of the DNA of most, if not all, grandparents.
The bottom line remains that I simply cannot choose a single activity that hurt the most to lose during the pandemic. As a result, I have decided to play Star Trek and emulate Captain James T. Kirk who, as many of you will remember, became the first person in the history of the Starfleet Academy to beat the no-win Kobayashi Maru simulation designed to teach cadets to cope with failure. He did it by hacking into the computer and changing the parameters of the simulation to allow him to prevail. Like Kirk, I changed the rules. I will pick a concept and not a single event. I do not know whether that approach will result in a commendation for original thinking for me as it did for Kirk, but I do feel like I beat the no-win scenario by doing it. What I missed most during the pandemic respecting my grandchildren was the easy regularity of getting together. For me, what we did had far less importance than that I got to spend time with them. Not spending as much time with my grandchildren as I wanted to or would have but for the pandemic hurt the most.