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.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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