Getting ‘mean’ with Grampy in these days of a pandemic

‘We love Mimi and Grampy very much,’ my daughter told my grandaughter. ‘But we want to make sure they follow directions to stay home and not risk exposure to the virus.”

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Older folks are being urged by medical experts that they stand a greater chance of dying from COVID-19. They are being urged, especially by their children, to stay home and safe.

Photo by JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty Images

“Why were you being mean to Mimi and Grampy?”

The question from my 3-year-old granddaughter, Summer,which she posed during the family dinner hour, caught my daughter Janet and her husband,Kevin, by surprise.

Janet, who is teaching her high school English classes online during the coronavirus pandemic, and Kevin, a program director for IBM who also is working from home, were patient and frank in answering her.

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We love Mimi and Grampy very much, they told her.But, they said, they wanted to make sure Mimi and Grampy — that would be my wife, Marianne, and me — followed directions to stay home and not risk exposure to the virus.

“Germs” was the term they used with her. Mimi and Grampy, they explained, could get very sick if the germs got inside them.In the same way that Summer needed to follow directions not to touch the stove or run into the street,Mommahad“loudly” toldMimi and Grampy to stay away from the germs.

The whole thing started the day before when Marianne let slip in a phone conversation to our elder daughter, Jackie, that I had gone to Home Depot.This led to multiple text messages between both daughters, and then finally to Marianne, that the two of us were not being sufficiently safe and responsible.

When Janet and Summer came in with the groceries the next day and Janetrepeated her concern, I nodded. I think I smiled.

I assured her that I had acted safely.And that it was, in fact, necessary travel in order to buy a roll of 12-gauge wire to repair an electrical connection.At the store, Iwore gloves and stayed clear of all customers and clerks, which is easy to do in Home Depot’s cavernous isles and at self servicecash registers.

Back home, I cleaned the wire with alcohol and ditched the gloves.No worries.

Which is probably when Summer first thought she sensed meanness. She ran behind Grampy’s chair whenher mother “emphatically” reminded methat Mimi and Iwere over 65,and that she’d alreadytold us she’d go out to get anything we needed, since we were too vulnerable to the virus.

For both Marianne and me, it was anepisode of role reversal.

To my children, I’ve always been the dadwho can fix anything:A car that won’t start.A bad light switch.A school term paper that was stalled.

And Marianne has always been the problem-solver:Financial decisions, dating woes or how to gracefully decline a friend’s request.She is the ultimate mom, having raised not just her own three children, but also some of their playmates for several years. She provided day care for a handful of teachers’ kidsbefore she went back to teaching herself.

We are still those same capable people, to whom our daughters lately have been “mean,” at least in the innocentblue eyes of my granddaughter.

Marianne countered. She told Janet that she reads several newspapers daily and is thoroughly up on the dangers of the coronavirus and how to stay safe.I chimed in that my daily hour of aerobic exercise renders my immune system likely stronger than Janet’s own.

Now we were being mean back,I suppose, andJanet was exasperated.She saidshe just cannot bear to lose us.Or to have to break the news to her daughter thatMimi andGrampy are gone.

Her words, not to mention her tears, jarred some sense into my thick skull.

Yes, we are the baby boomer culture, famous for not accepting the status quo.For not blindly accepting the mores of our parents and ushering in the sexual revolution.For not blindly acceptingthe proclamations of our government and opposing the Vietnam War.

But when we balk at accepting the evidence of medical science that aging naturally causes theproduction of white cells in the bone marrow to slow down, precipitating a decline inimmune function, our children are absolutely right to yell.

Corona virus does not care about our daily exercise, our yoga, our herbal teas and supplements, or our low-fat diets.Like a hungry wolf on the prowl, it kills more easilythe sick, the weak and the old.

And though unpleasant, it’s probably good for our granddaughter to see her parents doing the right thing, even if it means acting mean toward Mimi, who gives the best hugs, and Grampy, who sings “All the Pretty Little Horses” at nap time.

Because this is a matter of life and death.

Andof love, above all else.

David McGrath is emeritus professor of English at the College of DuPage and author of “South Siders,” a recently completed collection of columns about life in the Midwest. He can be reached at: mcgrathd@dupage.edu.

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