Being a grandma in a time of pandemic …

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Marian Green misses physical contact with her grandchildren but is finding new (and old) ways to keep in touch. 

A friend of mine became a grandmother for the first time this week. My heart went out to her as she wept while telling me how she wasn’t allowed into the hospital. Only her daughter’s partner was.  Baby had to go into intensive care. My friend was anxious and upset.

It’s always a bit special the first time. I became a grandma in 1994. I accompanied my daughter throughout her labour. Her husband took her in for the birth and as soon as my grandson was born, we went in to see him. I was holding him close to me within an hour of his birth. I have tried to be there equally soon after the birth of all 25 of my grandchildren. 

It’s the best news in the world to hear that a new baby is expected, and when a daughter or daughter-in-law goes into labour, I, for one, can’t focus on anything else. I probably do more pacing than the father-to-be! I long to hold and hug the new grandchild. 

It’s that closeness I miss during this interminable time of the pandemic. There are some grandchildren I haven’t seen for over a year now. 

Grandchildren

One daughter was due to bring her husband and eight children to visit us during the summer. As you can imagine, with that number, there had to be an efficient plan. Unfortunately, the day before the due date, the UK’s ‘Rule Of Six’ was imposed on us. Having them to stay meant we’d have 14 of us in the house. As we see them so rarely, we did consider breaking the rules, but then fear of being caught got the better of us, even though, morally, we felt we would have been justified since none of us were mixing with others. 

It was to be their only holiday, a few days, three maybe, at the seaside with Grams (the nickname my eldest grandson gave me and now all of them use, right down to the youngest) and grandad.  I looked forward to swimming in the sea with the older ones while their ever-patient grandad taught the younger ones to swim. It’s a family tradition of ours which has happened every year, and at least one under-six would end their seaside holiday with this new skill. The evenings would be spent with stories and hot chocolate – whatever the weather … But it was not to be.

Another daughter lives only three miles away, therefore we get to see her family a lot more often.  Like the above-mentioned daughter, she also homeschools and sometimes when we pop round, we get lured into their school day. 

My favourite time to catch them is the hour they call poetry teatime, even if it does usually happen at lunchtime!  

A teapot, cups and saucers, cakes baked by the children and poetry books decorate the large table.  We take turns to read a poem. They’ve been doing poetry teatime since before Maria, now three, was born. 

I would swallow back tears as I watched her ‘read’ her poem proudly to her brothers and sisters, who would all give her a hearty round of applause when she’d finished.  After poetry teatime I found it moving how my lovely husband, their grandad, would sit with his guitar and encourage the ones who are musical. What a picture. It’s hard to know who enjoys it more, him or them. 

At the beginning of the first UK lockdown my husband had a cancer operation, so we didn’t think it wise or safe to continue to see them. My heart felt as if it was cracked down the middle.  

When hubby was recuperating, we went to see them a few times. The house, set several feet above road level, had iron railings in front of it. The six children, with mum, would stand behind them like inmates in a prison. We’d be on the pavement beneath, about eight feet away. 

From there we’d chat, sing songs together and catch up with their news. I ached to pick the little ones up, to hug the older ones tight. But those railings did their dreadful job.

We resorted to zoom meetings which, as good as they are, are not the same. You can’t be personal. We’ve had some good ones, family quizzes like the one at Christmas which one of my daughters organised. Everybody joined in and a great time was had by all.  But what’s missing is the intimacy. Seeing all the grandchildren on the screen is lovely, but it can seem superficial and distant.

For my birthday I organised a zoom party. Just the idea of a party on zoom sent some of the older ones into fits of hysterics. I did see their point. Maybe it could even be described as an oxymoron. The session itself turned out better than I’d expected. 

Six screens, 17 grandchildren, and four great grandchildren joined me. 

Zoom

To try and have some order with so many, I asked them to prepare something, a poem to read, a piece of art to show, a song to sing. 

“I’m going to bake you a cake, Grams”, Livi said in a text, “and I’ll eat it for you.” I think that’s what you call 12-year-old humour. 

On the day the others thought Livi hilarious as she showed us all her beautiful traybake. I drooled as I’m sure they all did when I saw the chocolate and smarties covering the top. 

While Livi ate ‘my’ cake, my eldest grandson started off the proceedings. His daughter Rose, aged four, ran to get a book and asked her dad to read her favourite story. I watched her eagerly ‘help’ her dad in the telling of the story, her little smile warming my heart. This is the next generation, I thought. 

Although we had a special time at the zoom party, I still had difficulty with the lack of real intimate contact. 

For that reason, my New Year’s Resolution for 2021 is to write to each of my 25 grandchildren. I mean a handwritten letter, sent in the post, to each one personally. 

Letters

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it years ago. Letter writing has gone out of fashion, I suppose. 

I still have letters that I wrote to my grandmother from when I was a child. Unfortunately, I wish I had kept her replies. She always replied. She knew me better than anyone. Some of her words, the ones I remember still, influence my life today.  

I already keep in contact with the oldies via text, Facetime and sometimes email, so my focus was to start with the younger ones, all those under 15, many of whom don’t have their own phone. When there were four in a family, or in one case, six, I’d send the letters together, addressing them to the eldest in the group. I put Holy Christmas stamps on each envelope and, as I dropped them in the post box, I sent up a silent prayer that, maybe, one of them might answer me.

That was two months ago, and I have to say I’m delighted to report that my expectations were exceeded. I’ve had quite a few letters back. They give me a lot to think about.

In the letters, as I respond to each one, I’ll get the chance to help them with life’s questions. I expect to get more, but if I don’t I will try again and, if nothing else, maybe they’ll at least look forward to their personal letter from Grandma. 

Rediscovering the art of letter writing is one of the unlikely fruits of this pandemic. It’s one that can never replace the intimacy of a hug, but until governments and scientists allow us the real thing once more, it’s a hug in words, and one that will last for generations to come.

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35 Replies to “Being a grandma in a time of pandemic …”

  1. Avatar Kate says:

    What a loving, heartwarming and heartrenching read.
    The importance of physical contact has never been more visible as we all struggle to find other ways to ‘connect’. And like you say, nothing is quite the same.
    But the letters are a genius idea and bring such anticipation and joy and a different and just as heartwarming way to connect and build relationships.
    Food for though I will be pondering on.
    Thank you.

  2. Avatar Samantha says:

    Loved reading this. Especially as that first time Grandparent.
    Really described their family life, both past and present.

  3. Avatar Margaret carroll says:

    Read your story .really enjoyed it.read your stuff on face book.keep up good work.i can emphasize with u .its hard with the children and granchildren.anyway a light at end of tunnel now.hope it’s not long before u can hug them all again.xx

  4. Avatar Joy Cox says:

    Such a lovely article

  5. Avatar Joe Mankowitz says:

    Aside from being a heartwarming account of traditional family life in this hasty age, Marian’s writings are a valuable resource for future historians of Social History

    • Avatar Marian Green says:

      Well, Joe, Social History? Hadn’t thought about that.

      • Avatar Sue Du Feu says:

        yes, social History, Marion. I’ve just transcribed over 70 letters from my grandmother to my father between 1957 and 1961 when she died. Lettersfromajerseymother.blogspot.com

        sadly I don’t have my father’s responses, but her letters, which she wrote regularly every week, are a brilliant commentary on those times, very parochialised because she rarely left her small island, but none the less, we get her window on the world.

        so keep writing your letters Marian, they will treasure them in years to come

  6. Avatar Julia says:

    Great idea from Marian to write to your grandchildren.I will start my letter after posting this comment!

  7. Avatar SARAH WELLER says:

    Such warmth and love from Marian, a great writer of her extraordinary/ordinary family. During a time of great hardship for so many people, Marian’s spirit shines through with so much positivity. Head of such a large family seems a breeze in her hands. Each letter that she sends will be a gift as great as Marian herself.

  8. Avatar Kathryn says:

    Marian, I love immersing myself in your stories. I feel I am invited to your experiences. I can hear the children reading their poems and I can feel the joy you experience when writing your letters to them. These children are so blessed to have you writing to them. And we are blessed to have you writing for us here! Thank you!

  9. Avatar April Austen says:

    What a lovely story and a beautiful thing to do with your grandchildren writing them letters and sharing art and poetry and stories with them. I hope they keep their letters in a memory box and treasure them for years to come.
    I’m missing my eldest daughter we’ve not seen her for over a year so I understand the heartache and my niece and nephews I’m missing dreadfully. Sadly we’ll never have grandchildren but if I did I’d like to think that I could do something similar.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story.
    X

    • Avatar Marian Green says:

      April, we’re all missing the ones we love just now . It’s hard, but there are always things that we can do until the time comes when we see them again. Keep the hope alive. And if you don’t have grandchildren, maybe nieces and nephews or grand nieces and nephews might like a letter.

  10. Avatar Joshua Stevens says:

    Aw this is beautiful, Grandma! 🙂

  11. Sounds like you’ve found a way to get thru or manage the best you can. Since our grandbabies live in another state, we talk with them via text and FaceTime. Video chat visits with them make it seem like we’re closer than we are. We’ve done this for years with them after buying both of them an iPhone a long time ago. Of course nothing compares to being able to hug them and actually be next to them. These lockdowns are totally out of control. Hubby and I are safe as we can be and he has not missed a day of work due to the pandemic but when is too much really too much? We decided we’d had enough so went on vacation last summer. We also traveled out of state three times to visit our grandbabies. We can’t stop living, if we do then there’s no reason to live in the first place.

    • Avatar Marian Green says:

      Thank you for your considered reply Dee. It’s much appreciated. Yes, we certainly have to do our best. And there is so much joy to be had in every situation. You just have to know how to look. I am truly blessed with my family and look forward to seeing them all as soon as I can.xxx

  12. Avatar Carolyn says:

    A lovely article, Marian. I too have rediscovered letter writing because I remembered how much I used to love receiving them! Your grandchildren are very lucky to have you as their Grams

  13. Avatar Judi says:

    What a lovely piece, Marian! It does make me wonder what my grandparents would’ve made of this pandemic and lockdown we’re living through. I do have some postcards my grandmother sent to me when I was a child and now that she’s gone, I do treasure them. Your grandchildren probably don’t realise it now but you’re giving them an amazing gift to hold on to.

    • Avatar Marian Green says:

      Thanks for your lovey comment, Judi. Yes, I don’t think for a minute that they realise that in years to come they’ll regard the letters as treasures. I didn’t know whether to persuade their mums to encourage them to keep them safe for that very reason.

  14. Avatar Anne Worrall says:

    It was a lovely article. I know how you feel, if on a smaller scale. I haven’t seen my five grandchildren for a year and I miss them so much. Looking forward to the summer when hopefully we can meet outside. It was a heartwarming article despite the notes of sadness at not being close to our loved ones. We can keep busy,Keep faith and keep in contact with everyone by mail, letter, zoom or whatever.

  15. Avatar Ella Watkins says:

    Really enjoyed this window into Marian’s family lockdown experiences. It makes me feel each family member, young and old, must gain an incredible strength from being part of this huge and wonderful support network. It also captures the importance of actual physical contact and how much we have all missed this. Thank you xx

  16. Avatar Teresa says:

    This article really touched my heart. Going from looking after my local grandchildren every day to seeing them only at a distance or through a window has been the hardest thing. My other grandchildren live away so we don’t even get that and have missed out on having them come to stay for holidays this past year. We will have so much catching up to do when this ends – I don’t think I’ll ever stop hugging them.

  17. Avatar Carol Warham says:

    What a lovely, heart-warming article. As a grandmother, myself, it really resonated with me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this

  18. I loved this Marian. So well-written. So poignant. I can so relate to your plight. I miss those grandchildren hugs so much. Watching the newest grandbaby, now eight months, change from a newborn to a nearly crawling little guy virtually has been hard. He smiles at our faces, but I wonder what he’ll do with the 3D version of grandma and grandpa! We bought a trailer and visited all our kids and grandkids last summer. For the little guy, we had all quarantined so enjoyed some snuggle time with a two-month Simon. Hugs with the others were not to be. We’ll do the same this year. Maybe we’ll both be vaccinated by then and can grab a hug or two. In the meantime, we continue our storytimes (and now show each other your trucks and cars time) with a few of the younger ones. Writing letters to your grandchildren is brilliant! Well done grandma!

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