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How we Hosted “Camp Grandma & Grandpa” During the Pandemic

By Kathleen M. Rehl June 13, 2021 Family

My cellphone rang after 10 PM, as I put on soft pajamas. Screen said it was my Chicago son.

“Hi, what’s up?” I forced a chipper voice, my intuition light flashing red.

“Sorry it’s late, Mom… but we need help!”

Trouble Stirring or Great Times Rising?

I sat down. My heart hammered, fearful for my four-year-old grandchild, afraid Covid-19 caught their household. Did my son get laid off? Most calls from him during the pandemic weren’t joyful.

He continued, “My wife and I are going nuts in our cramped townhouse. Working virtually plus taking care of our son is tough! Can’t go anywhere in Chicago with this lockdown. That plus getting our place ready to sell makes everything impossible… We argue a lot.” His voice broke up, but not from a bad cell phone connection.

“We want to drive out and stay with you and Charlie (my husband) for a month, maybe more, and bring the dog, too.”

An hour later, I said good night, after talking through a plan to bring my son’s family to our upstate NY house. (That included everyone getting tested for Covid-19 and following CDC guidelines.) Two weeks later, they dragged into our driveway in their packed SUV, after almost 19 hours and 900 miles on the interstate.

Bringing the Family Together

A few days after our clan arrived, another four-year-old grandson and his parents joined the fun! Our New York City daughter also wanted to escape from their crowded townhouse with no backyard for their kiddo to play. Family #2 ended up overlapping time with Family #1, spending many extended weekends and a few full weeks together at our house.

Good thing we have 5 bedrooms, 3½ bathrooms, big double office, large kitchen, great room, huge deck, and an acre lot with interesting outdoor activities. We could accommodate everyone – even the dog.

The cousins loved being together. Living about 1,000 miles apart, they rarely spent more than a few days at each other’s house during special visits. While they played and did activities with Grandma and Grandpa, their parents could do their professional work uninterrupted, accomplishing much. We also prepared most meals and managed household tasks to free them up.

These 42 “Camp Grandma & Grandpa” Activities Made Each Day Special

  • Gathering wood for the crackling firepit – to toast marshmallows and make delicious sticky s’mores with graham crackers and chocolate.
  • Riding in a restored vintage Radio Flyer wagon – originally was daughter’s ride 35 years ago.
  • Running through the spray from a gigantic, inflated plastic elephant’s trunk in the backyard.
  • Building castles, roads, and water moats in a big sandbox shaded by towering trees.
  • Swimming in the refreshing pool with floaty tubes and wind-up fish toys.
  • Drawing colorful rainbows and designs with sidewalk chalk.
  • Baking and eating yummy gingersnaps, chocolate chip, and peanut butter cookies.
  • Picking lettuce from the garden and watering the other growing veggies previously planted—tomatoes, green beans, carrots, beets, and basil.
  • Helping set the big brass table and for family dinners together on the deck.
  • Laughing in the bathtub bubbles before nighttime jammies.
  • Hitting colorful wooden croquet balls through the hoops.
  • Speeding scooters down the driveway and trying out a junior-sized bike with training wheels.
  • Turning the great room into a big playroom, complete with a camping tent for two.
  • Dangling from a tree rope swing.
  • Trying to catch fireflies at dusk.
  • Reading favorite books while snuggling close.
  • Writing poetry with Grandma’s prompts and proudly framing the result to display in the hallway.
  • Chasing the dog around the fenced yard after she figured out what real grass was!
  • Helping make homemade waffles for breakfast and filling the little squares with maple syrup.
  • Playing with a life-sized stuffed tiger cub toy and a menagerie of others.
  • Packing a picnic lunch, colorful tablecloth, lawn chairs, and frisbees, for a state park outing.
  • Assembling picture puzzles without forcing pieces to fit.
  • Building little racecars with tiny-sized Legos and racing them across the great room.
  • Watching popcorn tumble out of the hot air popper and turning this into an impossible-to-resist sweet caramel candy corn.
  • Begging for “just one more story, please” before bedtime tuck in.
  • Walking masked up through the neighborhood for a change of scenery.
  • Running across the lawn after the kickball.
  • Building a fort with sheets and chairs.
  • Popping 4th of July “bang snaps” (with supervision) for a minuscule explosion and audible crack.
  • Playing simple board games including Chutes and Ladders.
  • Creating a birthday card and putting lots of candles on a cake baked for dad.
  • Keeping screen time to a minimum to watch a few educational shows during cool-down breaks.
  • Assisting to grill burgers on the deck.
  • Planting bright pink geraniums along the front walk, with Grandpa’s guidance.
  • Printing alphabet letters in pre-school practice workbooks.
  • Building tall towers with red plastic Solo cups and crashing them down.
  • Jumping in backyard puddles after a rain shower, splashing each other.
  • Making homemade popsicles and sucking these on hot afternoons outside.
  • Hiking a mile around a municipal park lake trail and skipping rocks in the water.
  • Shucking sweet corn for roasting and eating it on the cob.
  • Listening for different bird songs.
  • Being in the fresh air outdoors whenever possible!

Every day was an adventure with our grandsons. Grandpa and I tumbled into our bed most evenings, falling asleep faster than the time it took to eat one of the kids’ homemade popsicles.

Here’s a one-minute video including some of our active days together:

Plans for the 2021 Summer Are Underway

This coming August, our family will be together again. Indeed, several aunts and uncles also want to join us for a few days. Some will base out of a nearby Airbnb, depending on everyone’s travel plans.

Being past the worst of the pandemic, we can add activities such as enjoying a nearby playground, amusement park, miniature golf course, local ice-cream shop, boat ride, some restaurant dining, and more without fear. With everyone vaccinated except our ineligible young grandsons, we expect to be masked in some public spaces. But mostly, we’ll be freer than we were last year.

Treasured Time Together

The best benefit of “Camp Grandma & Grandpa” for us during last summer’s pandemic peak was precious time with our grandsons and their parents. We never shared this many weeks together with them since their own childhood… and they probably won’t be able to spend this much time together with us in the future.

The parents caught up on professional work. Family tensions lessened. The cousins bonded beautifully. Our Chicago family even sold their townhouse virtually while out-of-state. Then they started the process of buying a more spacious house in the suburbs. That included a backyard “to run around outside… like in NY.”

Was all this hard work? Yes, certainly. I’d be Pollyannaish if I said everything went smoothly all the time. But everybody put in effort to make it work, and I believe we became closer because of our treasured time together. These happy memories will linger long in my heart.

What have been some of your most cherished times with family members? Have you hosted a variation of “Camp Grandma & Grandpa”? Has the pandemic impacted your gathering with grandchildren? Have you considered writing a brief memoir like this as part of your own legacy writing?

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The Author

Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, wrote the award-winning book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. She owned Rehl Financial Advisors for 18 years before an encore career empowering widows. Now “reFired,” Rehl writes legacy stories and assists nonprofits. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, and more. She’s adjunct faculty at The American College of Financial Services.

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