Participating in a young life
Six-year-old Alina reads a book with her “abuelito.”

Participating in a young life

For one retired couple taking care of their 6-year-old granddaughter, the pandemic strengthened a family bond

DUMMERSTON — To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many changes in people's lives is an understatement.

It has certainly diminished the frequency with which we see friends and even family. We have learned to plan ahead with great care and to efficiently run errands less frequently. We have also learned to improvise meals, projects, and personal entertainment based on whatever we have on hand. In short, we have learned to simplify many tasks to minimize going out in public and minimize interactions with other people.

On the plus side, for some grandparents, there are also many advantages.

As grandparents who took care of a grandchild after school, our home routine has intensified. My husband and I were already accustomed to taking care of our now-6-year-old granddaughter, Alina, from infancy. We provided child care for her when her mother returned to work. When Alina began kindergarten last September, we met her at the school bus stop every day.

Things changed, of course, when schools closed in March.

At that point, Alina came over nearly every day while her parents worked. We supervised her doing school tasks, watched her participate in Zoom meetings with her teacher and classmates, and we have become her playmates. We have been able to watch her grow and learn with an intensity we didn't have with our own children.

Fortunately, as retired folk, we have ample time, so taking care of Alina has been such a marvelous and a positive experience. We are grateful for this opportunity to be able to participate so much in her young life.

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We are also grateful for the time to engage in activities with Alina - showing her how to plant seeds and care for plants, baking and cooking together, telling stories and listening to her improvised tales, going through old photos and family movies, and learning about her extended family. She has a strong sense of family, places, and cultural customs.

At the same time, we realize we also learn from her. We find ourselves doing many new activities with her, an experience we missed to some extent with our own children as we were working parents.

Now, we are learning new songs, drawing and sketching dragons, and playing games we never knew. Alina likes to pretend and role play. She assigns the roles - sometimes my husband is a tiger and I am a zookeeper, a taxi driver, or a hotel clerk. She misses her classmates and since she has no siblings, we are her willing playmates. It is fun and interesting, and often her energy often outlasts our own.

Since our home is a fairly typical Latin cultural setting, while I cook, “abuelito” reads stories with her, or they create stories together. The stories are often narrated in Spanish or Italian and keeps her exposed to our heritage languages.

Alina loves to draw, so she has created her own little books, which she writes (phonetically) and illustrates. She titles them All About Chipmunks or All About Dragons. At other times, while my husband is doing yard work, Alina helps by picking up twigs. In the kitchen, she helps to make salad, homemade pasta, or her favorite, empanadas.

Like most children, she is full of curiosity and questions. She wants to understand the how and why of everything. It is not uncommon for Alina to ask questions for which we have no ready answer - about thunder and lightning, life and death, heaven and God.

In today's world, however, even at the age of 6, she may say, “Look it up on Google.”

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We are fortunate to be surrounded by nature here in Vermont. The outdoors provide wonderful opportunities for learning.

Having attended Wonder in the Woods child care for two years, Alina is used to observing and exploring nature. She has developed a love for plants and creatures (everything except spiders). She documents and draws the creatures she sees - chipmunks, squirrels, and birds.

Her favorite game is to play veterinarian, and she pretends to fix a broken leg on her stuffed-animal squirrel or a stomachache in her cat. Children's capacity to remember things, events, and words is also amazing. Her ability to speak in Spanish and English, to understand Italian, and to sing a few songs in Chinese (learned at school) is amazing.

I am sure many grandparents have similar experiences with grandchildren. I feel for the grandparents who have been separated from their children and grandchildren. Hopefully, videoconferencing technology has helped bridge the distance during these times of separation.

For us, this pandemic has created an opportunity to spend more time with our granddaughter than ever before.

To quote a common phrase, we could say this is the silver lining of the pandemic, but really, it is gold!

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