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April 2, 2020

Grand isolation

A photo I saw on twitter today really touched me. It is of a new father holding his baby. They are stood in front of a window in an ordinary house, on an ordinary grey day. It’s a tender, familiar image.

But outside the window there is someone else, looking in. It is the child’s grandfather. He can see them and they can see him, but he cannot come in because of the situation with the coronavirus. This is the first time he has seen his grandchild and his face looks so vulnerable, full of love and sadness as he longs with all his heart to be with them. Today it isn’t possible. They can wave to each other and dad can proudly bring his baby close to the window, but that’s it.

Once I’d wiped my eyes, I thought about why that photo affected me so much as a grandparent. I usually look after my two-year-old grandson one morning a week and now that’s not possible we talk via video call.

If I’m honest, it’s a bit heartbreaking. You can’t cuddle via video. I can make a kitten out of playdough, sure, but I can’t put it in his hand and make it miaow. It’s harder to do jokes – making the fireman fall off the ladder just isn’t the same on your own. And it’s confusing for a two year old to see Grandma and not be able to “get in car go grandma house” and painful for me to hear him say it. Having sight and sound is good, but not the same as being in the same room.

So it is different spending time with my grandson this way, but I know it is worth persevering with. We’re learning what works and what doesn’t. Ten minutes seems to be plenty for him to talk me through each step of Mummy making a paper aeroplane, and to show me his den where, he explains, he ate crisps and grapes.

In the same call, he does not find Daddy funny when he blows up two balloons at once (although it amuses the grownups) and yet he tells me about the balloons. He doesn’t seem at all interested in a game I have prepared.

Just like Time To Shine it’s all about test and learn, and I realise I need to let go of it being perfect and appreciate the chance to connect with my family in this way. Many grandparents keep great relationships with their grandchildren with video calls.

There are lots of tips and suggestions online for staying in touch with grandchildren, especially for those children who are a little bit older, as in this lovely facebook post.

American organisation NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) has some great tips for video chatting with very young children.

Harriet Walsh
Administration Officer Time to Shine