It’s hard to social distance from your grandchild. Every instinct is to stoop down and embrace him as you meet, sit him on your lap as you read to him, hold his hand as you stroll along the water’s edge. When you have not met face to face for twelve weeks, social distancing is gut wrenching. The joy and delight in seeing his face, his smile, his enthusiasm is immense, but the inability to reach out and touch him, even to go closer than two metres feels traumatic. But it has to be.
His father and mother are working as hospital doctors, at enhanced risk of infection with, and transmission of, Covid 19. My grandson knows things are different at this first meeting, even at two and half. He attends an NHS Hospital Nursery, with children of healthcare workers, and they all know about the “Naughty Virus”. His mother sent a video clip of him, saying “ ’scuse me Naughty virus, go away, wash hands” with appropriate gestures of handwashing.
It was a wonderful, sunny day on the beach. A socially distanced picnic, on separate rugs, we collected driftwood to build a pretend campfire, cooked imaginary sausages and burgers from opposite sides. He collected a pebble and I scratched his name on it, so he can take it home to remind him of our day. He gives hugs to, and receives hugs from, Granny’s Teddy Bear, because “Charley Bear is a teddy, so he can’t catch the Naughty Virus”. We took turns to bury our feet and play “where are your toes?”, an appropriate game for social distancing. We watched the Coastguard Helicopter combing the coast, wondering what it was looking for - somewhere nice to land for lunch, we decided.
All day, with reminders from his dad, my grandson remembered things were different. Amazingly, he kept his distance, hugged the Teddy, stepped forward and back from the sandcastle and campfire. Then suddenly, he forgot. His enthusiasm for a stone he had just found overwhelmed him and he raced towards me, hands outstretched to show me. I was kneeling in the sand and could move away at all. Together his dad called “stop” and I said “stop there” and he did. Stopped dead. His face crumpled, tears in his eyes, as my son scooped him up, and we reassured him that Granny longs to cuddle him, to hold him but she can’t, just now, because of the Naughty Virus.
In that moment, I felt as if I had just been punched in the gut, a physical, visceral pain. It only lasted for a few seconds, as I saw his face crumple and his tears well up, but with need to reassure him, and throw him Charly Bear to deliver my hug, it passed. But, I have not forgotten it. I hope, I pray he will only remember the happiness of that sunny day, the fun, and joy of spending time together after months apart. Nevertheless, I do wonder.