By: Mary Guerin
As we have all needed to modify our schedules, adjust to challenging and changing health guidance, and balance new and different situations as the pandemic continues to alter our lives, I have collaborated with my grandchild to find our standard, even as that typical day has changed multiple times. In March 2020, my grandchild had their last day of in person learning. Later that year, they began their 5th grade courses over Zoom. New class, new teacher, and a continued array of blank black boxes staring back at my grandchild as they struggled to stay focused on school and maintain peer connections with classmates they have known since kindergarten. I set up their bedroom classroom as cheerfully as possible but the teacher’s sporadic attendance coupled with a lack of available substitutes, led to a sense of alienation bordering on depression. The new principal tried to rein in the situation which often led to her trying to fill in as the class substitute. One day, she simply gave the kids the day off. I quickly pivoted and we went to a field trip at a national park and afterwards my kiddo announced that that was the most they had learned in months.
The natural flow of life and their connection with lifelong friends is disrupted leading to a sense of being lost. The few park outings arranged with friends are riddled with fears and the ever-present masks. Gone are the days they could hang out at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, gone is the basketball team at the Y and birthday parties. The phone became both a source of comfort and connection and a tool for gossip and misinformation. My kid was sinking fast. We doubled up on counseling sessions. We even changed therapists after our initial counselor took an extended maternity leave. There was still a growing and confusing hostility between my grandchild and myself.
We set up a family routine of daily walks and scooter runs at an empty nearby college campus. A surfer from our surf therapy group offered to mentor my kiddo with private sessions at a nearby beach. They got real and fun connections with a trusted adult that lifted some of the load off me. I, in turn got to relax on the sand as they surfed in the way too cold waters. Once the Covid numbers grew in December of 2020, we stopped meeting up because the mentor was traveling for work pre-vaccination. Fear creeped in trumping mentorship and friendship. We doubled back to board games, Netflix and family cooking sessions and took up gardening. Despite all my efforts, a growing divide developed between us, my grandchild was hiding from me. Was it the pandemic or something else?
My grandchild finally revealed to me that they no longer wanted to be called by their given name because they identified as male. They had introduced themselves as Alex at their new middle school and wanted me to recognize them as Alex at home too. The change has not been totally smooth, but we are learning to be patient with one another as I keep the pronouns straight and they learn to be patient with my learning curve. I can see that they are operating in a happy and confident space now that their gender identity is recognized and accepted by family and close friends. They are teaching me, just like with technology issues, that my generation has much to learn. Alex’s strength and self-assurance is a gift to our relationship. My acceptance and continued love and respect is my gift to Alex. Covid isolation has speeded up the process of maturity for both of us.
Relatives in other states caught Covid but luckily, we have dodged the Covid bullet. Thankfully, they all recovered so we haven’t experienced any personal family deaths. But other challenges have arisen: My daughter, who has recovered from a drug addiction, gave birth to a 2-month premature baby girl in March of 2020. After time in the NIC Unit, she was adopted by her foster care mother. We struggle now to maintain cooperation with the court-ordered monthly sibling visits. My daughter is hoping she will get visits with her baby daughter.
Relative-free Christmas seasons in both in 2020 and 2021 caused some depression and feelings of abandonment. However, we are adapting as things continue to evolve. We get park play visits with my new 11-month-old grandson. Middle school began in person accompanied by rapid tests every time there’s a fresh outbreak. We’re masked and vaccinated, and I’m boosted but still living life on the edge like a nervous chihuahua. With Omicron, I’m back to Amazon groceries. I miss my friends, my out-of-town children and grandchildren plus all my connections to the world beyond cyberspace. Thanks to walks and the peace that nature brings me, virtual Tai Chi and writing groups, I’ve not totally lost my sanity. Hopefully, this Covid madness will end soon as I continue the balancing act of guarding both our mental and physical health.
I continue to attend my weekly kinship support meeting where kinship caregivers share both our struggles and resource solutions. I also attend and support outside activities offered to the kinship group. I contributed to a cookbook meant to encourage healthy eating for caregivers and will be involved in the planning of a virtual GRG (Grandparents Raising Grandchildren) Symposium this spring. I have shared my story at past events and continue to bring attention to informal kinship families that share the same responsibilities as the formal and foster care families but don’t have the same level of service and financial support. I want to play a part in leveling the playing field so all children in out of home care are treated equally.
Alex and I are looking forward to basketball, resuming surf lessons and visits with my new grandson. We’re in this together.