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Letter from Israel

Grandparenting in a pandemic

There’s a joke going around Israeli parenting social-media sites: A mom complains, “I am really tired of watching my mother’s grandchildren!”

And oh, how we miss watching those little ones.

The ironic reality for us in this crazy covid world is that our five grandchildren in Israel and two in Oregon are equally out of hugging distance these days.

Or at least most of them are. Usually. The situation is fluid and unpredictable.

Thank God, my husband was able to travel to Portland before our daughter gave birth on October 31. He landed in time to celebrate our grandson Lavi’s second birthday on the 28th and to take care of him when it was time for baby Adar to be born.

To be sure, the trip required wearing a mask for about 24 hours door-to-door, except at mealtimes. He had to get special health insurance and present a health declaration at the airport. But it was definitely worth the extra effort. No question about it!

And where was I on the day Adar was born? I was 7,000 miles away, at home in Ma’aleh Adumim. Which is 13 miles away from our Israeli grandchildren (and their parents, of course).

Our 10-year-old granddaughter, Elisheva, kept me company that Shabbat. Our nearly 12-year-old grandson, Yehuda, came the following Shabbat. Happily, these visits were possible because ever since Israel’s month-long national lockdown (“seger” in Hebrew) ended on October 18, fifth- and sixth-graders have continued distance learning and therefore are not exposed to classmates and teachers.

Their younger siblings, however, have been back in daycare, nursery school, and second grade, respectively, and therefore are more exposed to possible spreaders. To be on the safe side, we see them only on video calls and occasionally outdoors.

On the Friday that my son drove Yehuda to Ma’aleh Adumim, he brought along the three youngest children so that we could spend a little time together in a park.

As 4-year-old Avital ran toward me, her 8-year-old sister, Tehila (wearing her mask properly), gently reminded Avital not to hug or kiss me. And 17-month-old Techelet eyed me warily. She clearly wasn’t sure she recognized this woman in a facemask.

It’s frustrating to be missing so much time with the kids, who seem to grow up at the speed of light. But this is the situation facing families across the world. We are among millions of grandparents who are grandparenting remotely most of the time, even if our grandchildren live nearby geographically.

I do hope to take a week off work in a month or two to fly over to Portland so that I can see Lavi and newborn Adar (and their parents, of course). That is, if there isn’t another lockdown in Israel. And if Oregon doesn’t extend the quarantine requirement for incoming travelers that they’ve put in place for November 18 through December 2. And if we all, God willing, remain healthy.

There’s just no such thing as long-term planning during a pandemic.

Meanwhile, we are grateful every single day for FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, and all the other magical technologies that enable us not only to hear our grandchildren’s voices but also to play peekaboo, read them books, make funny faces, and admire their latest arts-and-crafts creations.

I daydream about having the seven kids together in our house for a real live visit, the five who live 13 miles away and the two who live 7,000 miles away.

They’re all being raised bilingually — the Israeli ones in an English-speaking household and the American ones in a Hebrew-speaking household — so I am curious to discover in which language the two sets of children will speak to one another when that day comes.

And more than anything, I wonder when that day will come. Until this pandemic finally loosens its grip, let us all do our best to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, even if it means missing out on too many hugs.

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