Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon

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,


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