March 11, 2020 – or was it March 12 or a few days before or after? Each of us has a date and time in mind when we knew the COVID-19 pandemic was coming. Now the anniversary of that date is fast approaching. What, if anything, do we do to mark it? And how do we convey our thoughts and feelings about this milestone to our grandchildren?
Everyone who has achieved grandparenthood has collected anniversaries along the way. There are anniversaries of joyful occasions and those that serve as painful reminders of loss. There are the personal anniversaries – the births and deaths of loved ones – and public ones, including September 11th, the moon landing, and (for those of us in our 60s and older) the deaths of JFK, RFK, and MLK. For many of us, the upcoming pandemic anniversary has elements of loss and triumph that feel both deeply personal and safe communal.
How has the pandemic affected your grandparent relationship?
Many grandparents could not see their grandchildren up close. Others were luckier and spent time with grandchildren from the start, but nonetheless that time was interrupted by COVID anxiety and fear of COVID. Nobody was without challenges. Still, many grandparents look back not only on loss, stress, and frustration, but also on creativity, ingenuity, and discovery. Who would have thought that on March 11th – the exact day the World Health Organization recognized the pandemic – we’d be hosting car parade birthday parties, Thanksgiving dinners in our garages and board games and more through Zoom?
Why – and how – would you like to celebrate this anniversary with your grandchildren?
I’ve thought a lot about why and how grandparents want to celebrate March 11th with their grandchildren. Marking this time with our grandchildren can help them better understand what they went through. Years of looking back on the pandemic can keep memories of the way their grandparents were their fellow travelers.
To get hold of these thoughts, ask simple questions. What disappointed? What felt sad Were there any unexpected gifts and moments of joy? Was there something that you really wished you could but couldn’t – and something that you did successfully, albeit perhaps differently than in the past? As we near the anniversary of the day that has changed so much for all of us, consider these questions and additional ideas to help you reflect on this year with your grandchildren.
Infants aged 3 to 7 years
Young children may not understand how much loss the pandemic has brought about and what it means to create rituals. But they understand birthdays and holidays. It may be best to keep it simple and approach March 11th not from a loss and pain perspective, but rather use it as a time to celebrate what you – and you – have accomplished. They may have learned to wear masks, study online, and live with the loss of activities that they truly enjoy and appreciate. Something as simple as a cake with a frosting mask or a “pandemic birthday dinner” delivered to you with pizza or some other favorite food can tell young children that this strange time began and, eventually, will end.
Older children, ages 7 to 12
Your elementary and middle school grandchildren are old enough to remember March 11, 2020 and the changes that occurred in their lives over the following days, weeks, and months. You can remember the feeling many adults had at the beginning – that the disturbances in our life would last for a few months and then we would return to normal. Instead, a new normal of mask-wearing and greater social distancing developed. These children have witnessed and participated in these changes. March 11th has a real meaning for this age group: life as they knew it has changed. Depending on how creative they – and you – are, you may want to get them to create a collage of the year. Assuming you can’t do this together in person, creating a collage via FaceTime or Zoom will help make this project a memorable one for the year.
Youngsters understand. The pandemic changed her life in many ways. Youth touchstones have been dramatically changed or put on hold: proms, college tours, graduation ceremonies. School plays and concerts were pushed aside. Religious festivals and celebrations such as bar and bat mitzvahs have moved to Zoom. For many, classroom learning was interrupted at a time when they were most busy. You have certainly seen losses during the pandemic. Creating a ceremony or ritual with your teenage grandchildren can help them make a place for the pandemic in the story of their lives. This will ensure that this time will pass. Let them take the lead on what this ritual or ceremony will be like. Perhaps you can help them by sharing your memories of some of the complex times you went through, including the Vietnam War and the aftermath of September 11th.
As March 11, 2021 approaches, the pandemic is far from over. However, vaccines give us all hope that life will be very different by March 11, 2022. This knowledge holds promise and provides an opportunity to approach the pandemic anniversary with curiosity and creativity, seeing this not only as a painful reminder of all that we have lost, but also as a time of ingenuity and resilience.