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Catonsville parents find a way to stay connected to family despite coronavirus social distancing edicts

As area residents continue to largely stay at home, some families are trying to be creative about the ways they see loved ones while respecting social distancing guidelines meant to control the spread of the coronavirus.

Grafton “Grady” Will turned a year old at the end of March, shortly after Gov. Larry Hogan began announcing the closure of certain public spaces and businesses and prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people.

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His parents, Meg and Andy Will, had planned a birthday party at their Catonsville home to celebrate. Instead, they invited family and friends to watch Grady eat his cake from a safe distance, over the video conferencing app Zoom.

“And that’s all we did,” Andy Will said. “He’s starting to walk, he’s saying his first words; the families are kind of missing out on that.”

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Like other families, the Wills have been adjusting to life in the throes of a global pandemic. With Grady’s day care closed, Meg juggles tele-working with caring for him throughout her workday. Andy works in a Columbia laboratory three days a week, and follows the same routine when he gets home.

“You’ve got to wash your hands, wipe down everything you touch, go to take a shower,” Andy said. “It’s been an adjustment. Sometimes it feels like a never-ending marathon.”

Unable to safely see her grandson, Meg’s mom, Dawn Godwin, would drive by and leave gifts and clothes for Grady and knickknacks for his parents on their porch.

“It’s just so hard,” Godwin said through tears. “I’m willing to wrap myself in cellophane just so I can have a hug.”

The Wills devised a simple solution: two lawn chairs for Grady’s grandparents — disinfected with a Clorox wipe — placed along the sidewalk across from the Wills’ front yard, where Meg and Andy sit with Grady on a picnic blanket.

Meg and Andy rotate weekly visits with their parents, giving them a chance to see Grady in person and witness milestones they otherwise would have missed. Great-grandparents Grafton and Janice Squires, of Pasadena, also take part.

“That first visit was heart-wrenching,” said Godwin, who hadn’t seen her only grandchild for a month prior to the visits. “Just to see him and not be able to touch him; I had such a bond with him and I’m afraid I’m gonna lose that and that he won’t remember who I am.”

“It’s been weeks with this thing going on,” said Andy’s father, Paul Will, sitting more than 6 feet across from his grandson.

In the five weeks that the grandparents missed the face-to-face interaction with Grady, “all of a sudden he’s sprouting teeth and talking and walking,” Paul Will said. “We were missing it.”

“We want to be respectful of social distancing measures; we understand they’re important,” Meg said. “We respect them and want to do our part. We’re just trying to be creative with it. It’s essentially the equivalent if they were in their cars with the window rolled down.”

Besides Zoom calls, the Will family has gotten together over Google Hangouts. They play games and even staged an Easter egg hunt for Grady.

Godwin said to hear her daughter’s voice and text with her “is one thing; but to see them in person and know that they’re well and know the baby is doing well is such a stress reliever."

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“I can almost reach out and touch him,” Corinne said, as Grady sat with his mother on a picnic blanket. “I think that’s what people are gonna miss the most, the human contact.”

Health experts say social distancing is one of the most effective methods currently available to curb disease spread, and is especially important for the immunocompromised, people 65 or older and young children — those most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

Still, the lack of human contact can be taxing on one’s mental health and emotional well-being, mental health professionals say.

“Social distancing may increase economic stress, social isolation and loneliness for some people,” Mark Reger, chief of psychology services at a health care center in Seattle, wrote in a viewpoint published online April 10 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The visits help keep Corinne from going “stir-crazy,” she said.

“They were blowing dandelions for [Grady] last time they were here,” Meg said. Grady grinned as Corinne blew another dandelion, the pappus floating in his direction. “Stuff like that you don’t get over a Zoom call.”

Although they keep visits to an hour or less, the sessions have allowed Grady’s grandparents to witness his growth. He stood on his own for a minute-and-a-half, and he’s been saying his first words like “mama,” “dada,” and “uh oh.”

Usually during the summer, the Wills spend time outside with family and friends, attending Orioles games, using their season passes to Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton and eating seafood at local restaurants.

When larger social gatherings are no longer prohibited, “the first order of business” will be holding a belated birthday party for Grady, Andy said.

“I’m sure we’ll have some crab feasts and barbecues,” Meg said. “There will be a lot on the docket.

“I would just encourage people to get creative with it if they’re missing loved ones and there’s a way for them to safely connect,” Meg Will added. “Feeling connected with people is super important and is definitely something that can be lacking in these times.”

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