Patient waiting game for the long-distance grandparent

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Every morning since COVID disrupted our lives, I’ve woken to images of my son and his young family managing their splendidly unrestricted existence in northern NSW. There are five of them and they’re in this together: mother, father, toddler, newborn and Norman. (Norman is a greyhound but try convincing him.)

The sun rises early in their part of the world and they are usually up to greet it. The mornings find them on a quiet stretch of beach near their home, making friends with crabs and discovering bear caves. I watch video of the almost-two-year-old running, falling, picking herself up and running some more towards her father to show him the treasure she clutches in her pudgy little hand. I laugh out loud at images of the two of them doing whizzes that leave them both staggering around like a couple of sailors on shore leave.

There is a still photo of her standing behind Norman and holding his lead. Their heads are on a level, but he is 50kg of couch potato that can turn into coiled spring at the sight of anything white and fluffy. I have seen footage of her waving away all attempts on the part of anyone else to ‘walk’ Norman. No matter how often she drops the lead – diverted by a shiny stone or clump of sea foam – he stands just like he does in the photo, waiting for her to pick it up again.

Later in the morning, images of her craft activities start to flood in. She is busy at her new craft table, squishing paint out of tubes and rearranging shells in her ‘fish pond’. Every so often she downs tools to show her baby brother some love. This is often a vigorous demonstration that involves the circling of at least one chubby arm around his neck. He accepts it with grace and equanimity – he even seems to like it.

He is an unknown quantity, this new addition to the family. When I first met him, he was a tiny wizened old man, frowny and unimpressed with life outside the womb. He screwed his eyes closed and didn’t seem to like what he was seeing behind his eyelids. Or maybe he just didn’t like his new environment with its harsh lights and loud noises.

When I last inhaled his scent, he was six weeks old – a wide-eyed cherub wearing the trace of a smile, even in his sleep. That week of his visit, we ‘distant’ relatives jostled for position inches from his face, competing for his first full-on beam. Weeks later, on my solitary two-metre distant obstacle walk around the park, my grandson and I FaceTime. He smiles right at me – not a wind-induced grimace but a deliberate ‘I like what I see’ smile – and somehow I manage to capture the moment on a screenshot. Grandmother and grandchild – crinkly eyed – pleased as can possibly be with each other.

My son’s family lives in a world of ocean sunrises and shorelines that go on forever. COVID changes have been good to them. Norman especially is loving the breakfast barbecues, strolls by the river and post-stroll takeaway puppycinos, judging by the images flooding in daily.

Back in chilly Melbourne, the children’s aunt, uncle and grandmother watch on with amusement and a little envy of their sun-kissed lifestyle. Seeing photo evidence of their day-to-day life is the highlight of our day. We are privy to so much more detail than we would be if they lived in the next suburb. From 1600km away, we bear daily witness to the small steps and major milestones of my son’s offspring, and to the transformation of my firstborn from fun-loving young man to a fun and loving father.

Watching from afar the accelerated development of these two small humans creates the occasional twinge of this once-reluctant grandmother’s grandmotherly FOMO – a fear that my absence from their lives at such a formative time will render me inessential. And then I remember Norman – huge, barrel-chested and utterly still – waiting for my granddaughter to remember his existence. 

And inevitably she does. Once the crabs have all scuttled into their holes and the bears have retreated to their caves, she will pick up his lead and together they will continue on their way. The ties that bind them are naked to the human eye, but the connection is real.

In a week, my granddaughter will turn two and – thanks to the miracle of technology – I will be able to share in the celebrations. And when we are able to be reunited, it will be my turn to wait patiently until she picks up the lead. As I know she will.

Elizabeth Quinn is a writer, Francophile, mother of three adults, writer and creator of This is an edited version of a story that first appeared The Big Issue.

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Total Comments: 2
  1. 0

    So true. Our first grandchild was bormn in Outer North Sydney, prem. My daughter, a teacher, was told to self isolate from early March. Both myself and my hubby (her dad) are in high risk category given disability and the other transplant and more,
    The day our little grandson was born, the unknown, the following eight weeks were hell,as the new mum anddadstruggled with prem birth, taking him home, a few probs with prem birth meant when my daughter rang she made no sense.
    Two months along she started placing her laptop in a place where I could see both of them or three of them (hubby) and dog too sometimes. These facetimes are what keep me going. Seeing him smile, my daughter telling me “He hasn’t rolled mum but I have to go to the loo, just yell if he tries too.” I am sure she is standing just out of site but I feel like a I am babysitting and think to myself how blessed I am to have a daughter who understands. We FaceTime frequently, I allow her to instigate at all times.Ivesent good morning. Videos, she has sent me back a video of him watching me and smiling on the screen, I sing songs on video to him, read books. They FaceTimed when he first rolled, or thought he was going too…five times till he did it. I got to see it. We watch bath time. Yummy time, picnic in their backyard, so many wonderful times including “Is this a tooth coming through mum.” Showing me his gum as he is crying. I agree, I never want to be one of those grandparents that raises their grandchild, I e raised my children,but am grateful to have a daughter and son in law who share their son so willingly with us and we’ve seen more than we would if they lived in next street. When will we see him, hold him…who knows. For now, I am best to keep myself and hubby Covid safe and look forward to our grandchild’s daily adventures,

    • 0

      What a gorgeous story. We long distance grandparents have technology to thank for the fact that we can still keep with our grandchildren’s milestones, even from far away. The day we get to meet them (again or for the first time) even more precious. Hoping it won’t be long now.



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