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Kathy Helms: Creative family connection during a pandemic [COMMENTARY]

I have not had the luxury of having my family with me during the stay-at-home order, but the pandemic has done nothing but melt the miles between us.

As a mother of four grown children and a grandmother of three, traveling to be together has been the norm in the past for our family. With two boys living in Kansas and a son and daughter in two different states on the East Coast, I have gotten used to flying every other Christmas to the Midwest trying to divide my time equally among my four children during the holidays. Seeing grandchildren was always intentionally planned trying to avoid Interstate 95 and taking the back roads down to Virginia. Other years my grandchildren would come up to visit paw-paw and grandma in Maryland.

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Before the pandemic, phone calls and Skype sessions were getting to be fewer and farther between with each member of the family getting busier living his or her own lives. But then, the universe decided to shift and wake us all up to what is most important. We all took this unusual circumstance to see an opportunity to get creative in how to spend more time together.

It all started with one simple request from my daughter Jessie. “Mom, would you consider meeting with me over Skype or Zoom to teach me how to cook some meals?” My immediate response was, “I’d love to!” I was thrilled she had expressed a desire to spend more time with me bonding over cut vegetables, measured flour and the smell of sumptuous home-cooking.

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My daughter’s request reminded me of what I used to do with my children when they were younger. In an attempt to share equal time and make each child feel special, my husband and I would plan weekly one-on-one time with each child. I thought, now that my children are grown, I wonder if they would still be interested in doing something similar? I decided to reach out to my three sons and to my surprise they took me up on my offer. I must admit I had to put more thought into what we would spend time doing together, but that was part of the fun. I took the approach of considering what interested them and then figured out a way to do that activity virtually.

My oldest son Shayne is a collector of a variety of “toys,” but the connecting activity for us was playing board games. He had so much fun setting up camera angles, getting the lighting just right and picking out the perfect game we could both have fun playing virtually.

My next oldest son Austin has always had an interest in tattoo art: collecting various tattoo guns, practicing his original designs and classic skills on skins and on paper. Since I too have an art interest, for the first time I spent an afternoon with my son challenging me to draw an anchor, a butterfly or an hourglass and me challenging him in return. We shared our love of art together, mother and son.

My youngest son Chase likes the challenge of the virtual mobile games and chose to play Scrabble Go with me. This allowed us to connect even though he has a crazy work schedule.

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What has been wonderful about our one-on-one time together is how a single idea will create a “domino effect.” One son struck up a conversation with me to get everyone together for a family game night. The universe agreed by aligning our schedules and lives to stop at 6:30 p.m. every Thursday to have intentional time together as a family; playing games, being creative and laughing together at private family jokes. Somehow the pandemic has given us the excuse to morph into a new family tradition.

As May approached, I asked my children if they would spend a virtual Mother’s Day dinner with me. It was as if we didn’t want the evening to ever end. Spending four and a half hours with my children laughing together, reminiscing about childhood memories and watching old family movies was priceless and so magical. I couldn’t help but think that during this pandemic we had made a choice to participate in a way that feeds the soul.

And as if these times couldn’t get any more special, the pandemic has also caused me to think on creative ways to spend time with my grandchildren. I decided to record a series of videos called “Story-time with Grammi” that they can enjoy hearing me reading a book to them anytime they need it. These strange times have transformed my thinking into new ways of leaving legacies. But what is most important is prioritizing hope, optimism and the resilience of living thru time spent together.

Kathy Helms writes from Taneytown. She can be reached at robotmom@live.com.

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