Today I was finally able to physically meet up with my 3 year old (minus one day!) grandson. My husband, aka Gramps, and I drove over to near Oxford to see my younger daughter, her husband and Ethan my grandson.
Until today, throughout lockdown my contact with him has been via Facetime, chats and also reading stories of books he and I have. He has seemed far more at ease with seeing us on “screens” than his cousin who is 18 months older. By the end of April she flatly refused to join a family Zoom meeting screaming “I hate screen people”. After that she occasionally would briefly speak to me when I was talking to her Mum, my other daughter, but mostly she communicated through posted artworks. I responded with creating cards for both her and Ethan each week, which I posted to them each week along with a sheet of stickers.
On our way over today, a journey of about 60 miles, my daughter sent me two photos of Ethan who had been told we were coming. He was so excited waiting for us. Sarah, his Mum, told me that when she told him we were coming he kept saying to her “On the screen?” and she had to keep explain that we were actually coming in real life. This conversation was repeated several times. Finally he grasped it and then said, “When?”. The answer was in an hour. Turns out an hour can be like an infinity of time for an excited 3 year old and his mother!!
And so we arrived and his smile was so huge. It was so wonderful to see them all again after a 5 month gap. We had a lovely time with them – as always we commented on how much he grown, how he had come on leaps and bounds. We met his new Peter Bunny soft toy and read stories. He showed us his new birthday climbing frame and he opened our presents – the wheelbarrow was an instant hit!
Then late afternoon I began to gently say to him that we would have to go soon. At first he didn’t seem to be listening. But after a couple of repeats and me explaining we had to go home to feed Molly and Smudge (our dog and cat) Ethan’s smile disintegrated into a heart-rending huge sob of “No, no, no”. His heart was literally broken and my heart feels like it broke along with his. His parents hugged him, we all tried to console him with promises of seeing us again soon (please God no further lockdown). But it was a very sad and chastened little boy clinging to his father who saw us off. A very different experience from past goodbyes.
All the way home I just felt so angry at what the virus is doing to innocent little children like Ethan – how do you explain to an almost 3 year old that the reason his grandparents vanished out of his life for months, other than talking to him on screens, was to do with a thing that is utterly invisible and could make people very sick or even die. From his point of view we have abandoned him or rejected him. A card through the post with stickers is not the same as him sitting on my knee and us reading Oi Frog for the thousandth time.
On Saturday his Mum went to get her hair cut and she had to wear a face mask – he hated this too. Of course he would – he could not see most of her face, he could not see her expressions. My heart just hurts so much as I write this and my head feels full of worried thoughts as to what the social distancing and isolation and face masks etc. is doing to our young children being brought up in this strange anti-social fear-filled Covid world.
Next week he returns to nursery – this will be different too. All the staff will be wearing PPE. The old world Ethan knew is gone but I don’t know how you explain this to him without scaring him. He is a very sensitive little boy with a very big heart. His cousin is older and more robust, she has a clearer sense of what is going and her anger with it all. Ethan is younger and a different temperament. My heart goes out to him this evening. The best I can do is to video a message to him – yes it’s back to the screens again. Hopefully we might meet again in a few weeks’ time …..I do hope we can for both our sakes.