One of many lessons from the pandemic is that grandparents can be remarkably creative and tenacious about staying connected to their grandchildren. Now as we slog through yet another month of our new normal, some of us are feeling COVID fatigue. We’re wondering how much longer we can enjoy Zoom visits, and what might substitute for bike rides and hikes when the days are cold, short, and dark. So, here’s one thought: grandparents can offer a true gift now that will last for years to come by signing on as record keepers of pandemic memories.
“How could we possibly forget this time?” you might ask. The reality is that our younger grandchildren — the toddlers and preschoolers — will forget that they wore masks, that people had to stay far from each other, that much of the world around them changed, almost overnight. Our older grandchildren — those of elementary school age and early teens — will remember more, but their memories will inevitably fade and blur. How meaningful it could be for them to one day look back and remember the experience, not through history books but through the personal writings or recordings of their grandparents.
How to start inscribing memories
Where to begin? This is a project you might do on your own or, depending on the child’s age, with a grandchild. While everyone’s experience is different, one goal is to recall personal details and perspectives on a worldwide event. I hope that the following questions will provide some scaffolding for your writing.
What do you remember about how the COVID-19 pandemic began? I think many of us can remember the day — perhaps even the moment — when we realized that our lives were about to a undergo seismic change. Where were you? What were you doing? When did it all feel real to you, and what actions did you take to prepare?
What were the first changes you and your family experienced in the pandemic? Did you or any family members immediately change over from going out to work to working at home? Did anyone in your family continue to leave the house for work? Did you use public transportation — and if not, when did you stop doing so? Did school close immediately? Did you stock up on beans and toilet paper? What else did you or your family buy? Did you scrub your groceries and treat your mail like contraband?
How did things shift over time for you, your family, and your community? Did you begin to take walks with friends staying six feet apart? Did you begin to worry less about touching your groceries and more about wearing a mask when in public or around others? Did you become angry with people who did not wear masks, or at those who did? How creative were you about finding a place to pee when it seemed too risky to venture into a public toilet?
What were the hardest parts of the pandemic for you and your family? Did the pandemic bring financial worries and other concerns? Did your home begin to feel crowded as all of you vied for computer time and wi-fi? Did the people you love most start to get on your nerves because you weren’t used to being with them so much? And what did you miss most: going out to eat, sitting down for a meal with friends or extended family, enjoying coffee with a friend? If you travel often — for family visits, work, or adventure — what was it like to suddenly be grounded? And when did it first feel safe to step on a plane or do a distance drive?
What did you like about the pandemic? As difficult as the pandemic has been for nearly everyone, there may be aspects to enjoy and appreciate: perhaps not having to dress up, having a more flexible work schedule, feeling fewer “shoulds” in life, and enjoying the freedom of simply being as opposed to doing. Some of us have reconnected in deeply meaningful ways with old friends. We’ve finally had the time to clean out the closets, organize the photos, learn new skills, and pursue interests long on the to-do list.
What did you learn from the pandemic? Was there a shift in your values and/or your priorities? Do you have a new perspective on what really makes you happy or brings you satisfaction? Has the pandemic prompted you to consider significant changes, such as a new career, relocating, a change in a relationship? Has it given you a new perspective on good health and on doing all you can to preserve it?
Turning toward hope
The pandemic has stressed and strained all of us, and continues to do so. We all live with enormous uncertainty. Despite these challenges, many grandparents maintain an abiding hope that one day this will be behind us. We remain optimistic that our grandchildren will reach adulthood in a world where people can hug each other, enjoy the intimacy of a dinner out, or the delight of sitting around a noisy, crowded family table for a holiday meal. I hope that if you decide to be your family scribe, you can hold these hopeful images in your mind, and envision your grandchildren one day looking back with gratitude for your efforts and amazement at what all of us endured.