Ellen Rank

Grandparenting from a Distance

Two children wearing masks

“Can we use the whiteboard, Savta?” I hear that question almost every weekday at 3:00 when I meet with my grandchildren on Zoom. Before Covid-19, I would typically see my two grandsons, ages 4 and 6, who live in California, about every three months. And about once a week, I would take the train and spend a day with my two granddaughters, a 16-month toddler and her 4 year-old big sister. I haven’t hugged my grandsons since January 2 nor my granddaughters since March 7.

I can’t remember how it started, but when it became clear that there would be no in person pre-school or first grade classes, my kids asked if I would meet up with the grandchildren. “Savta Study,” as one of the grandkids named it, is now part of our daily schedules. And the structure of our time together has taken on its own routine.

By popular demand, in other words this is what the kids want to do, we begin with Whiteboard time. For about 20 minutes, the kids and I draw together on the Whiteboard. We talk about what we are drawing, what we think of the colors and the shapes. The kids use “Text” to practice spelling words and writing messages. As we draw, we get a chance to talk with one another about our days, new games the kids are playing, foods they are making with their parents, and more. Most days, my husband – their Sabba - and our daughter – their aunt – will visit the Zoom room to say a quick “hello.”  Their parents – my children – are in the room, but we are talking with the grandchildren. This is time devoted to them.  

Sometimes after the Whiteboard, the kids will show one another a new toy or book. Sometimes they share their screens to show something interesting they have seen online. Then it’s my turn. I share my screen, show a short fun video, such as a popular Israeli song or a close up on animals in Israel, and then the kids talk about what they saw and which parts they liked. I often follow this by showing a Shalom Sesame of the Count counting in Hebrew. I can hear the kids laughing as this is playing. The kids’ favorite part of “Savta Study” is watching a Shaboom cartoon from BimBam; these cartoons focus on Jewish values. The kids take turns choosing which cartoon to watch. We’ve been doing this since March, and they have seen many of the cartoons multiple times, but every day the kids ask when can they watch a Shaboom. I’m okay with this… they are practicing taking turns and are learning about Jewish values.

Outside of our Zoom time, I look for other ways to connect with the kids. I’ve sent a few books – such as one on family card games – and simple board games. I happen to enjoy knitting and sewing, and have made different items, including masks, for the kids and mailed them out to them.

As you can see, these Zoom meet-ups are quite simple, and I’m not sending anything expensive or extraordinary. But, I believe, that doing these things is a win-win for all of us. Our relationships are stronger: cousins “play” together, we are a part of one another’s daily life, and we all get to enjoy hearing the 16-month-old practice saying, “Hi.” I long for the days when I can once again bake with the kids, have them sit on my lap, or go to a park together. In the meantime, it’s nice to have something routine in a world that is anything but routine.

Ellen Rank is a Senior Educational Consultant for Jewish Education and Engagement at The Jewish Education Project. 

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