Can we? If my brother can stay with his grandchildren, does that mean I can visit mine? If states start opening up for business and allowing small social gatherings, does that include grandparents seeing their grandchildren? All the generations in our family have been quarantining since mid-March, working from our laptops and going out only for exercise and groceries; are we safe enough now? If Jeff and I showed up at our granddaughters’ house, would we have to wear masks and stay six feet away, or could we get down on the floor and take them in our arms?
Read: It’s okay to be a different kind of parent during the pandemic
The guidance about the transmission and lethality of this virus keeps changing, making it hard to understand what the real risks would be of seeing and hugging our granddaughters. Early in the pandemic, the only acceptable groupings seemed to be the ones that started quarantining together on day one. COVID-19 was presented as a disease of greatest risk to people over 60; the living situations everyone was most worried about, after prisons and nursing homes, were the intergenerational households in which children could be asymptomatic carriers who might be putting their grandparents’ lives at risk. That described about 10 percent of U.S. households, according to the Census Bureau, or about 64 million Americans.
Back in March, Jeff and I, ages 68 and 66, respectively, and therefore in the high-risk demographic, briefly toyed with the idea of visiting our granddaughters anyway; we were that desperate to see them. What stopped us from driving over was, in part, the uncertainty of whether the real danger was to Jeff and me, or to our daughter and her family. Yes, the risks are highest for those of us over 60, but that doesn’t mean the risk for everyone else is zero. I personally know of four ruggedly healthy people in their 30s and 40s, the same age as our kids, who were ravaged for months by COVID-19. News accounts of the struggles of these young people are what keep me up at night. And even our granddaughters aren’t as safe as we once believed, now that doctors have identified a rare complication of coronavirus infection, a multisystem inflammatory syndrome. If something happened to our children or grandchildren because of what Jeff and I had brought into their home, I would never get over it.
In the end, the combination of so many scary omens—the wail of sirens in our neighborhood, officials’ fear of running out of hospital beds, and the pervasive belief that grandparents were in need of protection—made our nascent plan seem foolish and self-indulgent.
How long can we keep away without sending the girls the wrong message? Especially as states start opening up, and allowing some reconfiguration of out-of-household gatherings. Especially when my older granddaughter knows that her cousin is with his grandparents. Especially when, as summer traditions make families everywhere rethink their doleful separations, she hears that other kids she knows are with their grandparents too. What will she think of Jeff and me—or worse, of her own lovability—if the weeks go on and on and we’re still not there? And what does the younger one make of this all? She’s only 2 years old, and can’t possibly understand why Grandma and Grumps have changed from real-world people who held and nuzzled her into screenshots as two-dimensional as the characters on Sesame Street.