My daughter is 12, and one thing she knows for sure is she loves her grandparents. Two of them live just three blocks away from us here in Upstate New York. Every Tuesday after school she usually 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.
Her other grandma, affectionately known as Gigi, lives all the way across the country in California. We take turns visiting, and in-between visits, we email and Facetime. The next visit was scheduled for Passover/Easter this year.
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 us that if something happens to us, she'll move in with her grandparents. None of this is a surprise.
But what happens now? How does one sustain these connections in the coronavirus era, especially since Grandma and 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 are dependent on social connection. Luckily, these elders are, as I call them, technogenarians. They have smartphones and/or iPads 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.
Grandma Gigi in California has a standing date with us for "brunch" on Thursdays. We Facetime while she eats breakfast at 10 am PST time and we eat lunch at 1 pm EST time. This past 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 so many topics and engaged so genuinely, it was almost like we were there with her! (You can always use 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 their recent puzzle choice featured puppies eating fried chicken on a picnic blanket!) I am thankful for this project for many reasons—most importantly, though, I know their virtual puzzle dates will give my daughter a break from self-quarantine time with mom.
Last weekend, NY Grandma and Papa reluctantly signed on to a family video chat with us on Zoom. (Zoom offers free 40-minute conference sessions, you just need to download the app.) There are livestream images of all five of us, each in our own square, 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?)
These newly adopted rituals are working (at the moment) with the grandparents, but we are also using "old school" methods to engage the other important elders in our life—our close friends and neighbors in these seven ways.
1. Playing pen pal with nursing home friends.
2. Leaving inspirational chalk messages and drawings in their driveways (with their permission), like "Life is beautiful" or "Welcome spring!")
3. Lending books informally through local networks.
4. Dropping off a plant/seedling "friend."
5. Recommending a book and/or a movie to watch together and then texting about it.
6. Deciding on a common recipe to try and then comparing notes
7. Calling each other!
In these uncertain times, who knows what tomorrow will bring? But for now, we have rituals in place 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 our intergenerational relationships.