May 2021 - Domer Grandparents Step Into the Breach
by Jeanine Sterling ‘76
With COVID vaccination rates increasing and mask mandates being rolled back, “normal” social interaction is on a comeback in the U.S. … and none too soon, especially for seniors. Grandparents have felt especially bereft, however – no surprise – Domer grandmas and grandpas spent the past year coming up with creative ways to stay linked to their grandchildren.
Many hit the ground running and immediately leveraged Amazon for some long-distance gift-giving. “COVID-19 hit us like a ton of bricks and turned our normal life upside down,” explains Jack Bergen ’77. “For my husband and I, that meant we could no longer watch our two granddaughters every Friday while their parents were at work. To stay connected during the first few months, we would often send them treats from Amazon like “Pirates Booty” and big boxes of goldfish crackers. Thank goodness for home delivery!”
Others were able to step into the breach during those chaotic early days and provide in-person assistance. “When his daycare closed for a couple of weeks due to the pandemic, we watched our adorable grandson Jake,” state Christie (Gallagher) Sever ’76 and Mark Sever ’76. “Once daycare reopened, we presented Jake with a diploma from the Grammie and Gramps COVID-19 Supplemental Staycation.”
Some Domers had to grapple with unexpected situations. Sharon McAuliffe ’74 and her husband Lowell Seifter, based in northern New York, report that two of their five grandchildren were stuck in New Zealand since the country went into quarantine and the family could not return in the spring of 2020 at the conclusion of their parents’ five-month sabbatical. Although they couldn’t be together in person with four of their five grandchildren (two more live in Brooklyn), they used Facetime to connect on a virtual basis.
McAuliffe and Seifter utilized Facetime in very creative ways, mixing in a healthy dose of fun. “Over time, we learned to personalize the Facetime call for each grandchild based upon their interests and personalities,” recalls McAuliffe. “For our seven year old grandson in New Zealand, we sent him an international cookbook (at his request!), and the weekly Facetime call would include our grandson answering assigned questions regarding the country, and then grandfather and grandson would each cook the selected recipe during the call. For our five year old granddaughter in Brooklyn, the calls evolved into story hour with each taking turns adding to the story and generally involving the use of stuffed animals as props.”
Barbara Ondercin Gowan ’76 took on a full-time, in-person teacher role with her three grandchildren. “For over a year, I was their “science and specials” teacher for their home school. And it was SPECIAL,” says Gowan. “It gave me the opportunity to share my love of nature and sense of wonder with the grandkids. I got to be a kid again.”
Kindergartener Maeve, second-grader Finn, and fifth-grader Tom enjoyed a creative, hands-on curriculum. “We performed chemistry experiments. We dissected owl pellets. We perfected the recipe for slime. The kids raised butterflies and ladybugs. And Zoom webinars from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History introduced us to everything from beetle wings to dinosaur bones,” states Gowan.
Bergen and his husband quickly evolved from gift shipments to an in-person connection with their granddaughters. “We created an expanded bubble to feel comfortable being with each other indoors. I would visit once a week to hang with the kids and help the five-year-old Lucy with her Zoom kindergarten class, not that she needed it (“Pa, I know how to do it” said in a toddler tone).” Pandemic or not, grandchild spoiling continued its time-honored tradition. Bergen’s long list of fun activities included decorating donuts, playground visits, making pancakes, and watching a much-delayed recording of Opening Day at Fenway while enjoying boxes of popcorn.
In summary, whether it was upping their videoconferencing game, assisting with childcare, tutoring on-site or from afar, these Domer grandparents look back at this part of the past year with great fondness.
“We became closer with all of our grandchildren.” – Sharon McAuliffe
“All in all, it was a unique bonding experience between generations.” – Jack Bergen
“When I look back on this pandemic I’ll remember how blessed I was to spend hours of one-on-one time with these special people. I hope they will, too.” – Barbara Gowan