En español | Tina Gould can't wait to put her arms around her five grandchildren, a closeness she hasn't shared since COVID-19 hit in early 2020. She has met her youngest grandchild only briefly — and that was with a mask on.
But now that new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allow fully vaccinated people to visit unvaccinated, low-risk family members (from a single household indoors), she has the green light to reunite with them.
"I'm thrilled,” says the 64-year-old, who splits her time between Columbia, Connecticut, and Palm Harbor, Florida. “I feel like I've been cheated out of a year."
A lot can change in 12 months’ time, especially when all five grandchildren are under the age of 5. In the past several months, one of her grandkids has seemed shyer during video chats, so she “won't rush” at the child when they can finally hug again.
"It could be just my imagination,” says Gould, “but I'm curious to see if we can re-bond quickly."
When thinking about being able to touch all of her grandchildren again, she adds: “Oh my God, oh my God, my heart will grow one million sizes!"
'Will there be any changes?'
Bob Hughes, 73, of Penfield, New York, is preparing for a different kind of change when his four grandchildren — ages 11 to 14 — spend the night at his house this weekend, for the first time since before the pandemic.
On a typical sleepover, he and his wife, Ann, would play board games with the kids before sharing a dinner they called “pizza chicken,” watching a movie and eating ice cream sundaes. The next morning always meant pancakes, bacon and fruit salad.
"That was our routine, but this is a whole year later now,” Hughes says. “So maybe they don't like that anymore."
The yearlong separation has been difficult for the grandparents, who received their second dose of the vaccine in late February. They took care of the adolescents as babies and later watched them after school while their parents were at work.
"FaceTime is nice, but we really miss being able to hug them and having them here,” says Hughes.
He wonders whether he will need to do night patrol duty on Saturday night like before to make sure the children, from two different families, get some sleep.
"Will there be any changes in what they want to do, or will they reminisce and want it to be like it always was?” he says. “It will be fun and interesting either way. I'll keep an open mind."
Spending quality time together
It's not just the littlest ones that grandparents miss immensely. Penney Jones, 70, typically sees her three grandchildren — ages 30, 29 and 22 — three or four times a year. She lives in Mansfield, Ohio; they live in Atlanta. But the last time they were together was over Christmas in 2019.
With spring break coming up in April and “leery about venturing out,” she had been hemming and hawing about whether to “take a chance” and fly down for a long weekend.
Now that she's vaccinated, Jones has resolved to make the trip. The new CDC guidance makes her feel even more comfortable about spending time with her grandchildren unmasked.
"I don't want to do any shopping or anything,” she says. “I just want to sit around and talk and spend quality time with them. It's been hard. They've been a big part of my life."
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Being ‘cautiously optimistic'
Wendy Moore hasn't seen three of her grandchildren, who live in Hood River, Oregon — 2,800 miles from her home on South Carolina's Fripp Island — since June 2019.
"It's been terrible,” the 71-year-old says. During the virtual video visits she and her husband, Bill, have had with the young ones, ages 9, 7 and 6, there have been tears, Moore says. “We've had them break down crying, saying, ‘We miss you so much. We just want you to hold us.’ “
Now fully vaccinated, the Moores are planning a 10-day trip to Oregon, which will involve fly fishing together at the family's second home on the Deschutes River.
While she's excited, Wendy Moore is “cautiously optimistic” about reconnecting, because of the virus variant discovered in Oregon just last week. Since she and Bill could still be carriers, she asked her son if he was comfortable with them all in the same home. He said he was.
Even so, Moore can't help but think of her mother, who survived the Spanish flu when she was 5 but only after being severely ill for three weeks, including 10 days in a coma. Her mother had compromised lungs for the rest of her life and ultimately died of pneumonia.
"So I respect it,” she says of the COVID-19 virus.
At the same time, she's overjoyed about being with her grandchildren again — a date that can't come soon enough.
"We just want to get our hands on them,” she says.
Robin L. Flanigan is a contributing writer who covers mental health, education and human-interest stories for a number of national publications. A former reporter for several daily newspapers, her work has also appeared in People, USA Today and Education Week. She is the author of the children's book M Is for Mindful.