It’s been over seven months since I saw my granddaughters – Jane and Vera, identical twins, born five years ago. We held them within an hour of their birth, handing them around to their other grandparents, great-grandparents, and aunts in the hospital room. Even though they live six hours away, we managed to keep going back almost monthly, often picking up their Aunt Allison in Davenport on the way. We got to see them progress from ravenous amoebae to crawling, toddling, running people. It’s been glorious.
Now everything has changed. Our Thanksgiving in Dubuque won’t happen, and we won’t be driving a present-laden car for Christmas, praying for good weather. I cannot pretend it’s not hard.
Every family is doing this differently. Or rather, every family seems to have chosen among three options. Option one is what we’re doing, remaining apart until the virus is gone (not likely any time soon) or a safe, effective vaccine is developed, tested, and available to all. Option two is pretending nothing is different, still seeing and hugging everyone in the family, come hell or high water, even if they travel from far away. Option three is the murky one, a discomfiting combo of the first two, where each family weighs the unknowable until everyone agrees on some kind of, sort-of, safe-ish plan.
Of course there are grandparents who continue to see their grandkids because they are the sole childcare providers, and their grown children have no choice but to continue leaving home to work. Some of these families have gotten sick, and it’s tragic to make an impossible choice between health and rent, between risk and food on the table. My heart goes out to them.
Then, too, there are grandparents who live close enough to their grandkids to allow for socially distanced visits. I do not begrudge our co-grandma and grandpa who live just across the river from my son and his family. They have been able to host them at their house, where the girls play on the deck and talk to Bompa and Mimi through the screen, at a distance. They have even met in their big backyard for a cookout, with the girls playing far from the grownups, and visits kept to just a few hours. It’s a luxury, and they know it, and we would do that in a heartbeat if we could.
Why don’t we drive to Omaha and do that? It’s a long way, involving public restrooms and take-out food, as well as staying at a hotel once we’re there. What if the weather turns bad? I’ve met with friends in parks or my back yard, and those visits are sometimes cut short by heat waves and sudden thunderstorms. And in case you hadn’t heard, the virus is surging again, and who knows how safe even a car trip would be right now? We’ve already canceled two beloved summer trips. So long, Colorado. Too bad, Bayfield. See you next year, I hope.
Maybe my son is being too careful, too fiercely protective of his girls (and me), but I can hardly fault him for that. That’s beautiful. That’s what parents are for. I’ve heard of families who decided to go ahead with their annual family get-togethers after much “soul searching,” and I can only wonder, what does soul searching have to do with a pandemic? It’s not about how safe you “feel,” or how disinfected you think you and your relatives have been. It’s not about weighing your risk versus your emotions. The virus is everywhere, and to use a medical term, it loves to glom onto people. Look at that bar owner fighting for his life on a ventilator. Look at the people who have died right here in Dubuque. Look at all those gatherings – weddings, church services, beach vacations – that ended up with dozens falling ill, and worse. You can say few children get Covid-19, but “few” does not mean “none,” and I’m not playing that roulette wheel with Jane and Vera.
I trust science, which tells us sixty percent of cases are spread by airborne droplets that can hang in the air for hours. A new study reveals that asymptomatic children under five have as much virus in their noses and throats as adults, even up to one hundred percent more. I have no death wish, for me or other people.
I adore my girls. I feel so privileged to know them, to have this chance to be a part of amazing new lives as I approach the end of my own. I wish we lived down the street. I’ve dreamed for years of being their twice-a-week sitter, with Vera on Monday, Jane on Wednesday. But we live here, and they live there. So I mail them letters and books and hair clips and leggings. We make goofy movies with toys Allison saved from her own childhood – Jane and Vera go camping with the Care Bears! Vera and Jane meet the Troll family moving in next door! The girls grow up to be Barbie and Midge! (That one features ancient dolls from my own childhood.) They send back videos of their own. The last one was for Grandpa Bob’s birthday. There they are, standing side by side with their long hair shining, declaring in unison, “Happy birthday! We love you! We miss you!”
Me too, my darlings. Me too.