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My Turn: Grandma's tales from the trenches of pandemic parenting

 Call me weird, but I wish I’d experience that one-Zoom-too-many sensation everyone’s talking about. Other than watching a YouTube clip of Simon Cowell almost blubbering, I’m totally out of the loop. I’m part of a legion of grandparents who, during the pandemic, are serving as parent stand-ins. To use a ’70s’ expression, it’s been, uh, real. But there have been glitches. The biggest glitch: my age. I am 68.

My typical day begins at 6:30 a.m., when the kids carom onto my bed, and I become a human mosh pit. I pretend they are a sack of potatoes that I try to wrap and send. (I’m such a fun grandma!) Breakfast follows, followed by cleanup. I amuse the younger one while the older one is at camp, then snack, then more amusing the kids, and then lunch. At which point I get this irresistible urge to be horizontal, whereupon I sink down upon the nearest object. Yesterday it was the vertical branches of a wooden coffee table (the un-child-friendly glass top having been removed). So what if my body resembled a medieval torture victim on the rack? Wisely, my daughter has recently instituted my “off the clock” time.

My problem is, I thought my body hadn’t aged at all since I turned 18. (Ridiculous. I know.) This delusion was encouraged by everyone who dubbed me The Energizer Bunny. Then, nine months ago, I had a bad fall, but I figured, hey, my Forrest Gump-like stamina, my mojo, would return. Um, no.

Yes, there had been clues my body had changed, like that time my daughter treated me to a SoulCycle session and the only burn I worried about was rug burn I’d suffer if I passed out. And there was the time when Facebook told me to wish a “friend” I barely knew a happy birthday, and I wondered: Who could I possibly know who was that age — until I realized I was that age.

I now understand that while I am still capable of walking if there are no ruts, elevations or obstructions in my path, if I turn suddenly, stoop, bend or get down on my haunches, the action will be accompanied by a pain squeal and a Raggedy Ann-style movement. It’s not pretty, although I could see myself as a potential TikTok star.    

Happily, I learn new things every day, such as looking before depositing myself onto a toilet seat — we are in the throes of toilet training. But should I worry that I’ve grown a fifth and six appendage: my mop and broom?

There are two occupational hazards I could do without, however:

1) the always painful Lego-to-bare-foot encounter, the result of the 3-year-old casting the Legos to points unknown as if he were Johnny Appleseed (Inventors out there, take note: There is a hole in the child toy market for some new construction toy that does not cause ouchies.); and

2) children’s song-lyric ear worms. Lyrics I could do without include “I like to oat, oat, oat ohpples and banonos.”

I confess: I do worry about losing it. I do. Yesterday, when my son-in-law played me a Rolling Stones mixtape, my giddiness bordered on hysteria.

I have also learned to use some parental — and kids’ — coping tools. I let them watch short videos. (OK, fine. Maybe they’re all not short.) Their current favorites include a cheetah wreaking havoc on a gazelle — but hey, it’s on National Geographic — and other animal mayhem. When I deny them this for bad behavior, I know to expect a harrumph and two foot stamps with hands on hips — theirs and mine.

Yes, caregiving is rugged and real. But I wouldn’t change this arrangement during this odd, extraordinary, difficult time we are living in — although if the parents offer, I’m definitely game for an additional nap period.

Ellen Pober Rittberg,

Southold

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for My Turn are original works by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com, including name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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