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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Screen Time: Grandma Finds Covid-19 Affects More than Jobs & Health

It Also Affects Relationships: A Poem

by Phoebe Wise

(One month into the Covid-19 quarantine, April 20,2020, in Southern California. It’s technically against the law right now to meet with another household, even if they are family.)

Peter, I cannot see you.
On the screen, yes.
But not you.

A streaking form,
Shrieking your babble,
"Bad lion, dinosaur,
Bite you!” 
Your mommy’s leg
Gets the real bite.

I’m left laughing, 
Holding my screen.
Image upside down now;
Your phone, Peter, I mean
Your Mommy’s phone,
Dropped on the floor,
Camera staring at
The ceiling fan, 
Twirling around.

You, unheedful,
Off to chase
Your big brother
Through the tunnel
Of a safari tent, 
Set up in your bedroom
To amuse a three- 
And a five-year-old.

Outside the virus blows.
Smaller than a prowling dinosaur
But real, more deadly.  

Deadly for grandmas.
You, the dangerous carrier,
Locked in your house, to keep me “safe".

But how can I live without my heart?
My.  Sweet.  Heart.  
Just turned three.
Still a baby.  
Little man.  All boy.
Roars like a lion,
Big as Tyrannosaurus,
But wants his diapers
And his nursies.  

Peter, you can’t see me.
Me--who once was
Your preferred diaper changer.
Mom you pushed away,
Chose me to deal
With the smelly mess.  
Privilege unparalleled-- 
If you’re a Grandma.
And know how to reckon
In baby coin.  

Coin I have 
But none to spend.
I can't trade up,
Can’t take you to the park
Or mall, to ride the little cars
That go nowhere, everywhere
You can go in your baby mind:
Legoland.  The county fair.  Outer space.

Just out.  Space.  The playground.
Places you can’t go.  Grandma’s house.

Oh, you came once.  One time.
Your mommy brought you with her
In her car when she was
Dropping something off.
I knew you were coming,
And left.  Escaped in my car.

I knew how it would be--
You would want the full ritual:
Come inside, shoes off,
Straight to the play kitchen,
That becomes our pretend Starbucks,
Make a mocha for grandma,
In a plastic cup,
Accept intangible payment
On your delicate, upturned palm.
Then onto the carpet
To play with trains and blocks.
Finally, outside, 
bubbles to chase,
Balls to kick
On the lawn, with Granddad.

Time to go.  Shoes back on.
Into your car seat.  
A Hershey’s Kiss for your baby hand,
A bribe from Grandma—don’t make a fuss--
Think of me as you ride back home,
Not just me, but all of it--the whole shebang
That happens at Grandma’s house.
I wait patiently as you sit in your car seat,
peeling the foil away, 
Neatly handing me each tiny piece,
Until you pop the Kiss in your mouth,
And give me five.

Car doors slam and you drive away 
With your mom and your brother.

“Goodbye, Grandma!”  he yells.
You wave goodbye, too,
your mouth full of chocolate.

"Goodbye.  Goodbye till next time,
My pride and joy boys!”

That’s it.  That’s all there is
To this precious ritual
that looms so large
in the three year old brain.

All there was.

Peter, you won’t understand
Why you have to forego
The beloved rite,
The pleasant routine:
Pretend Starbacks greeting,
Hershey’s Kiss farewell."

I fled.

Granddad stayed on bravely
To face the happy greeting,
Peter waving “Hi, Granddad!”
From his car seat.  
Then the disappointment
And wailing
When there was no 
Getting out
And going inside to play--
A mocha for Grandma,
Bubbles for Peter.
Just a long ride back home,
Tears, exhausted sleep.

I’m a coward.  I can’t face it.
The tears.  The incomprehension.

His brother is bigger.  James understands.
Knows it’s a germ.
A tiny thing you cannot see.
But it can kill you. Me.  Mostly me,
One of the “vulnerable”, 
Because I am old, a grandma.
He misses me but understands.
He must protect me.

But Peter, you're three.
You cannot see me.
Except on a screen.
And screens are not real.
Babies know.  Know better than we do.
Screens cannot change diapers 
Or draw bubble baths.
Screens have no kisses,
Chocolate or otherwise.
Drop the screen,
Run away laughing,
Leave Grandma 
To stare at the ceiling fan,
Twirling above.

Sometimes at night
I come to visit you.
Drive the few miles
That divide us.  
Come bearing gifts 
That are just the excuse
To be near, even though
I can’t touch,
Can't see.  

I go when you are sleeping, 
upstairs, safe in your room,
Safe in the safari tent
That at night becomes your bed.
Curled up together,
With your brother, 
Breathing as heavily
As baby dinosaurs,
Or so I imagine.
I cannot hear you.  

I put my offering on the doormat:
A loaf of homemade bread
For mom and dad,
Toys for my grandsons.

I see there is something for me:
A sack of geranium stems
For starting new plants.
I pick it up with gloved hand
And back away.

Taking out my phone 
I ring the parents.  
Mom comes to the door,
Screen in hand,
My baby, once, my own, 
Her face all grown up
In the porch light. 
Behind her Dad, 
Face in the shadows,
My son-in-law.
The last time I saw them,
A month ago?  I’ve lost track.

They are smiling, funny,
Charming as ever,
Standing warily behind their screen door.
Me at a good distance,
Six feet minimum.

Why this mandated measure, six feet?
That’s how far down we put our dead!

Is this forever, I wonder?
Or is it just till the memories fade
In a baby man’s brain,
Of bubbles and chocolate and Grandma’s lap.
And screen time is all that remains,
Cold, flat, odorless, tasteless.  Empty.  

“I love you,” I whisper
And drive back home.

  • California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 19, 2020, making it one of the first states to issue mandatory social distancing policies in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

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