September 2, 2020
May you live in interesting times. Curse or blessing? There are varying origin stories of the phrase, from ancient Chinese curse (with no actual source for such, according to Wikipedia) to late 19th century beginnings. My favorite usage, though, is from Robert Kennedy’s Cape Town speech in 1966:
“Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”
I was a school girl in the sixties, and they were certainly interesting times for those who were a bit older than I was. I was mostly oblivious, at least until the waning years of the decade when I was in high school. (There was really good music, though.) I have lived in personally interesting times since then, but now we are in a collectively challenging time again, not unlike the WWII of my parents. Times that may forever change the trajectory of the future we thought we were on, for better or for worse; for worse and for better.
Six months ago none of us had a clue of just how interesting the times were going to get. Once we got over thinking the pandemic was going to be just a blip on the landscape, creative coping has been springing forth. We aren’t merely adapting to what we are told to do (because, let’s face it, there has not been much direction), we are all figuring it out as we go.
As it became clear that schools could not safely reopen, teachers and administrators have been scrambling to figure out how to make teaching happen. And parents have been scrambling to figure out how to make learning happen, and do their jobs at the same time.
Enter one solution: grandparents.
I dare say, a slew of grandparents are going to be a big part of the school and child care solution this year who have not been before. I’ve even heard of grandparents moving so that they can help. I also know of grandparents who are not able to see their grandchildren at all because of the health risk due to family members’ inability to isolate. Or not wanting to travel, which is why I won’t get to see the other half of my family this fall. They are figuring out creative ways to stay in touch, while dealing with the grief of not having in-person time.
I’ve been around the grands-care block. The two grandchildren I live within traveling distance of are four and six now. If you have been reading my blog, you are acquainted with them. Back when I was caring for my mother, I also traveled to Seattle (80 dreadful miles up I-5) every week to provide two days of childcare for my newest grandson, Elliot, during his first year of life. After a one year break, I did the same for his little brother, Adrian. After another year off, I returned one day a week to give Adrian one-on-one attention to help stimulate his delayed speech. (By the way, the child now talks constantly; I take only the smallest bit of credit.)
My mother is gone now, and since her death I’ve had two self-absorbed “me” years. And now there’s an opportunity to be of service again, and to expand my legacy in my family.
And that is the subject of this new thread on my blog. My new Big Adventure: Kickass Grandparenting in the Time of Corona.
So here’s the situation: My daughter Emma has a job she’s doing online; with hours each day in Zoom meetings. My daughter-in-law Wynne is a kindergarten teacher; online. Elliot is beginning first grade; online, of course not nearly old enough to navigate it himself. And Adrian is pre-K; ready to learn and play and do all the things active four-year-olds do, and no preschool to attend; and frustrated that his parents and brother are right there and can’t play with him. It’s a dilemma for families—with school buildings closed all over the country—and some are finding a variety of solutions while others are struggling to find any solution.
I am fortunate to live in my large childhood home on four acres, adjacent to a forest (outdoor classroom), with a heated two-room space detached from the house for parents to work without the distraction of children in the background, and a large family room to convert into a kid classroom and play area. And the private apartment (where my Airbnb has been) that I can occupy again, leaving the upstairs bedrooms and bath free.
And so, my city family is coming to the country four days a week and I am gearing up to do some badass grandmothering. (I told the moms they can repay me in 20-30 years, if I survive.)
It’s like the house has been waiting all these decades, since my sisters and I left home, to do service in these interesting times. It’s like my parents held onto it for this when, arguably, they might have been better served to have left it long ago.
School starts this Friday, but we are in week four of modified togetherness: getting acclimated, figuring out how things could work, creating space, adding an additional WiFi line. The boys and I have had some good times while the moms worked; the moms and I have brainstormed ideas while the boys slept. It’s a work in progress.
I thought it would be harder for me to give up my time and my solitude than it has been. Maybe the challenge is yet to come, but after these four weeks, I kind of think the downside may be minimal. I’ve lived alone for a long time: except for my mother, 16 years. I like having beloveds around. Also, the moms cook.
And if I can figure out some way to support the other half of my family on the other side of the country, who haven’t found a good solution, I will. Two parents who can’t work from home and have jobs that can’t be interrupted even for phone calls when the third grader needs tech support for his online classroom and the high school freshman is too busy with his own work to help.
Story of the week: This week I was with the family in Seattle while my last Airbnb guests were at Three of Earth Farm/School. Tuesday, both boys (who traditionally put off doing bowel business as long as possible, in spite of their penchant for all related words) suddenly needed to poop at the same time. Emma was on her last Zoom call of the day. Wynne was about to greet her new kindergartners. It was five minutes until Elliot, in one bathroom, was due to meet his first grade class. Adrian wanted someone in the other bathroom with him, and not me. The result: Wynne greeted her kids in the bathroom, trying to get the volume in the Zoom room muted fast enough to avoid transmission of sound effects. This is how working at home while parenting goes.
It is my hope that this blog can be a place for other grandparents to share their experiences for the duration of this interesting time. Follow it; pass the link on to friends; write responses to posts and tell me and readers your experiences; email me your own story and I will share it as a post.
We can do this. We are Kickass Grandparents!
Each Sunday, before the family arrives for the week, I am drawing a card from my beautiful Gaian Tarot deck (created by my friend Joanna Powell Colbert), with the question, “What do I need this week?” The first Sunday, four weeks ago, feeling some trepidation about the enormity of this change in my life, I drew the Elder of Earth, with the autumn orchard backdrop juxtaposed with the ripening orchard up my driveway. I held it with a full heart; it is exactly what I need to remember as I welcome the third and fourth generations to this home built and filled with love by my parents.