A grandmother laments the effects of lockdown on her relationship with her grandchildren.
Lockdown means different privations for different people, and I am one of the lucky ones. Two of my grown up children are with me, while my poor mother is 25-miles away in total isolation. I usually live alone, and am hugely grateful that I am not now. Added to the companionship of my children, I am a teacher and going into school on a rota, so I have some glimpses of life outside my four walls.
However, there is one thing missing which really wrenches at my heart. One of my other daughters lives only 12-miles away, with her husband and her two small children, and it is the lack of those children that really marks my lockdown. There is FaceTime, of course, but for a grandmother used to seeing her granddaughters at least once a week, video calls are no consolation.
The younger one is only 10-months-old; in the last seven weeks she has grown four teeth, learned to stand and taken one tottering step. The elder is four, in her first year of school. She is lucky; she has parents who are keeping up with her reading and writing and maths, but she is aware of the ‘bug’ and its impact on her life. She is terrified that her great-grandmother will catch it and die, and keeps reassuring me that I’m not that old and I will be safe. She did, however, cry when she heard I was going into school as she was worried I’d get the bug. She is cross that she can’t see her friends, have sleepovers, all the things that she was just beginning to enjoy.
For a grandmother used to seeing her granddaughters at least once a week, video calls are no consolation. – Sophia Waugh
So yes, we talk. And yes, I have begun visiting her, standing outside the garden wall and talking to her from a distance. But none of this makes up for the warp and weft of our normal relationship. We can’t cook together, read together, play together. We can’t have ‘secrets’ from her parents, play tricks on her aunts, hide and seek. She is prohibited from coming to stay, so we can’t have the nightly ritual of saying her prayers together – something I remember doing with my own grandmother, whose rosary I have by my bed.
With lockdown rules set to be eased, there is a chance that I might be able to spend a little more time with the girls, but there is still a lack of clarity in what we can or cannot do. I am a young grandmother, admittedly – well below 70 – but I need to know what is allowed. Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, points out that “The conditions are neither simple nor intuitive. The fact that the guidance specifies contact with just one person at a time, external to your household, outside and two metres apart, will be confusing and impossible for small children to understand.” It is what my grandchild understands that really matters. Above all I do not want her to believe that rejection of physical contact is a rejection of her.
What I miss the most is the physical contact. The baby had just begun to take me on board as a separate person she quite liked – she would reach out her arms to come to me from her mother. I wonder whether she will let me near her after this long break. Her mother is worried that she will let no one touch her but her parents and sister: ‘do you think this is going to make her weird?’ she asks me.
I am sure she will overcome that, but I do long for the physicality of a chunky baby, the smell of her neck and the rough and tumble of play. I long to give the older girl an all-enveloping hug, to take her by the hand and go looking for tigers in the woods. I want to give her her bath and wash her hair and do all those mundane tasks that one undertakes without thought, but now appreciates so much.