Growing up with online family

One of the aspects of the current pandemic that I have found super frustrating, is the lack of options to see our family in The Netherlands. For the past year or so, we have seen all of them only in digital format (like many others have, I’m sure). Although I personally can deal very well with seeing family mostly via video calls, I am not so sure what effect this has on my son. Do the little muppets realize at 20 months that there is a real person on the other end of the screen? He does quite happily interact with the grandmothers and grandfathers, and calls for them when he sees the telephone, but still, it feels odd. I think grandparents and extended family (including cousins of similar age) can be very important in these early stages in life.

I know our parents are super strict with all the social distancing, so if they would have lived closer by, we would have certainly included them in our tiny circle, so they could at least be with our son. My mother is vaccinated because she works in elderly care (in one of the very few care homes that has not experienced any cases pre-vaccination). Two doses of Pfizer Biontech should make her a safe addition to our circle – I would have no issues with that. Our boy also has great-grandparents that are 80+ and vaccinated and fit, at least for now. They all live relatively close to the German-Dutch border, but the problem is that this border is about 650 km away from where we live. In Germany, it is not allowed to book any recreational apartments or such. Technically, we could cross the border if we wanted to, but it would require tests and quarantines on both ends, which is quite a disruption to a travel itinerary – or to our work schedules upon return. For short stays, apparently it is allowed to cross borders without quarantine. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help us one bit as this border is still a good seven hours’ drive away on a good day. We have thus far not succeeded to make the full one-way distance to The Netherlands by car in one day with our son sitting in the back seat. About a quarter of the ride in, he starts to complain. A brief stop may douse the fires for a little bit, but after half the ride, he is turning quite hysterical. Continuation of the journey at that point feels like proper child abuse. This is when we usually rent an apartment or room somewhere and we resume the last leg of the trip the next day. I am just guessing that our son would not enjoy the two-way ride for a quick visit much better- and probably neither would we.

In August, we are expecting our second child. I just hope that there will somehow be a way for family to visit or stay in a hotel somewhere close. We have accepted that the situation is as it is and that this means that Rafa gets to know the extended family on a screen – however much it sucks. However, I am not sure how much fun it is to proudly introduce the newest family member in a Zoom or Skype meeting.

“Hey everyone, this is ‘NAME OF KID #2’.”

Confused faces, soon followed by a “We can’t hear you, you’re muted”.

Or even worse, frozen screens and the dreaded ‘Your internet connection is unstable’ message.

The thought of it makes me quite sad.

In the meantime I just hope they pick up the pace of vaccination. This current pace does not make me very hopeful that any form of normal will be reached in the coming year. Maybe I’m a pessimist.

One thought has been going through my head for weeks. Because pregnant women have a higher risk of severe Covid-19 disease symptoms, the partners are currently listed in the second group of people to be vaccinated. I knew this more or less since the vaccinations started in December. In my registration profile, my ‘group 2’ status is prominently staring back at me from the screen. It feels sort of nice to be offered a faster oportunity to be vaccinated without having had to do much for it. Still – at this pace of vaccinating – what happens after the baby is born and I have not received a shot? I wonder whether I will be kicked back to the end of the list?

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of one but almost two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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