He just knew…

The past two days we have spent together with Heike’s parents. We hadn’t seen them in a year, and although we make video calls to family regularly, it’s implausible that my 2 year-old son remembered his grandparents from the previous physical meeting. At age 1, there’s little that is saved on the hard drive, I think. But who knows, maybe family recognition is saved early and long-term. I’m no expert in memory formation.

My son does see a small handful of people in our neighborhood. We find it important to not let the pandemic impact too much in terms of bonding to adults that are not his parents. We get along well with our neighbors, who are also not from around here, and have a similarly aged kid. They’re also fun people. Both families shared the same worries about the pandemic side effects hurting the kids at a more social level, so since this spring we also more actively interact with each other’s kids, and this is noticeably nice for both parents and kids. Rafa now feels comfortable with both parents of the neighborhood kid, and he now happily plays in the neighbor garden without us having to be around (of course the others are there!). However, although he’s clearly comfortable and engaging socially, he also keeps a distance at some level. He wouldn’t ask to be picked up, or hug or talk much. There’s a certain level of shyness.

I was curious to see what would happen with grandma and grandpa around. I hoped for them (and for him, too, I guess) that he would feel comfortable and respond similarly to these ‘new’ real versions of the screen time grandparents. I was quite perplexed to see that within a matter of minutes he was in their camper, having full-on toddler conversations with them. This morning, the moment we opened our campervan door, and they opened theirs, he was gone. For the first time in two years, we had no son around. It was the weirdest thing. Where he used to come to me or Heike for everything, now it is all ‘opa’ and ‘oma’. Hugging, playing, talking. It goes on and on and on. Mom and dad? We’re mostly ignored. And that’s alright. He seems to just know that they’re his and he’s theirs. It’s quite special and I’m happy that the pandemic apparently did not affect our boy in that sense.

Aside from the apparently unbreakable bond between kids and grandparents, one other thing struck me hard. What a ridiculously tough ride has it been, throughout this pandemic. Juggling childcare with Heike throughout each day, every day has become the standard. We have no help or family anywhere near. I’m now typing this post at 5pm while taking some self time. Self rime… I forgot what it felt like. Heike’s outside, enjoying the sunshine, while Rafa is playing with grandma. This has been unthinkable for a long time. Writing before he’s in bed is just not an option. I barely manage to keep doors closed for work, during the work week, as he knows very well how to open them. As a result he regularly storms in and interrupts whatever is happening. Obviously he’s always where we are, almost at all times. There seems to be an end in sight. From July we will have child care again, and this will give us some more space. I think the time is right.

In moments like this I realize how tired I am, and how much the virus has disturbed society, without even getting into our own bodies.

Published by Robin Heinen

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

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