Mothers and Daughters: A Pandemic View
Hadassah women display terrific ingenuity and digital fluency in the many stories we received about how mother-daughter and grandmother-grandchild relationships have evolved—and sometimes grown closer—amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
My daughter’s text on April first was no April Fool’s joke. Two weeks into the quarantine, her 5-year-old was going stir crazy. “Mom, please video chat with Pauline. Read her some books. It’s been hard to entertain her.”
Certainly. But a children’s story takes perhaps 10 minutes to read. I needed to keep Pauline’s attention for an hour while her mother in New York cooked dinner.
With my granddaughter on FaceTime 1,600 miles away, I wandered through my house until reaching my collection of Madame Alexander dolls. These dolls had been standing in a glass cabinet untouched for decades. Each was a gift to me from Pauline’s great-grandmother. No one had ever played with them.
“Take them out,” my granddaughter squealed. “Take off Scarlett’s bonnet, put it on Alice in Wonderland. Take off Heidi’s aprons, tie them around Snow White. Take off Sasha Cohen’s ice skates.”
Did I dare? Would Madame Alexander understand? Of course. Madame Alexander was really Beatrice Alexander Berhman, a Jewish bubbe like me with a Russian-born father. She believed dolls play a role in a child’s educational development.
So, Pauline and I embarked on a daily story hour, starring the dolls. I read aloud from Alice in Wonderland, Heidi, Little Women and One Thousand and One Nights. The pandemic provided the time to spend time with my granddaughter, who in the process learned to read.
Hollace Ava Weiner
Fort Worth, Tex.
Last March, the most un-expected thing happened—something I hadn’t experienced in 31 years. I took in a roommate! Short in stature but big in heart, Miriam settled in quickly. This resilient “silver fox” Holocaust survivor who sounds like Dr. Ruth captured my heart. Helpful, engaging and polite, she was none other than my 92-year-old mother!
Miriam had resided in an independent living facility where she was crowned “Queen of the Prom.” But pandemic restrictions had tightened, and I feared her decline. Alzheimer’s had already overtaken her brain, and her safety was my main concern.
I became chief cook, hairdresser, manicurist, activities director and best friend. We scrambled eggs together, solved simple puzzles, competed in Rummikub, colored and sang. Shabbat services are a regular part of our repertoire. My postings on Facebook about her daily activities, which I have dubbed “Moments with Miriam,” catapulted her to instant fame and developed into an adoring fan club. She now receives daily letters and cards from her fans.
Through it all, our relationship has grown. She is not just living but thriving. Miriam has become my hero, inspiration, mentor and, above all, my precious roommate.
New York, N.Y.
My mother, Elaine, is not a phone person. She’s not much of a conversationalist, either. Given the hard topics, she’d rather play golf or have a glass of wine. I’m a writer and a deep thinker. I can spend hours by myself.
When the pandemic hit, she was alone with my father in their Florida condominium, trapped on the 21st floor, afraid to leave. I was in New York, editing my novel. “I think you’ll like this,” I said, calling one day. I read her chapter one, which was loosely based on both of our lives and who we were decades ago.
Sharing writing with a parent is a risky business, and I was nervous. Would she like my prose? Would she take offense?
“I enjoyed that,” she said. “Let’s read more tomorrow.” It became our routine. Every day at 4 p.m., she’d pour herself a glass of vodka and I’d call using FaceTime. Giving each other undivided attention, I read a chapter a day, and while quarantining, shared with her my entire book.
“That was wonderful,” she said when I was done. “I really related.”
New York, N.Y.
It’s Friday at 4 p.m. we enter the black squares with smiling faces and touch without touching, a 77-year-old grandmother and a 17-year-old granddaughter coming together to cook virtually. Week after week, we Zoom into each other’s kitchens and into each other’s hearts. It started back in April, when Rachel called with an idea. Let’s get together and cook. We were each seeking some semblance of normalcy and we found it preparing Shabbat dinner together. We both love to cook and are adventuresome in our eating. Our dinners have included Spanish paella and Russian cheese dumplings; Ethiopian spiced lentils and savory crepes; cauliflower Alfredo and quinoa-stuffed peppers.
Rachel grocery shops wearing a mask and navigating one-way aisles. I purchase my ingredients online. Together, we measure and chop, compare and question. What’s a good size for the cheese dumpling? Do you think this crepe is too brown? We set our timers and our tables. And then…dinner is ready. We wave goodbye from our squares, blow a kiss and say Shabbat shalom—see you next week. We are making dinner and making memories. We do indeed touch without touching.
My 85-year-old mother, Florence, has been living in Florida for 22 years, the last 12 as a widow. She has a very active life with a circle of like-minded women. Her phone never stops ringing. When she visits, my phone never stops ringing. Since Covid, her social life has come to a halt. No more shows, dinners, mah jongg or canasta games, or sitting by the pool.
My mother taught me how to knit when I was 7, and knitting has become my passion. I started a knitting group in my town, and pre-Covid, we met every Thursday night, usually at Panera Bread. When my mother visited, she would join our group and enjoy the company of these fiber fanatics. We are now Zooming on Thursdays, and my mother has joined us. There she is, in a beautiful Chico’s top, freshly painted lips and a drink in hand, in her little square engaging with all of us. According to her, it is the highlight of her week. I feel it has added another layer to our relationship, even though we are so far away from each other.
Yorktown Heights, N.Y.
When my daughter was 12, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the small intestine. Hospitalized and severely underweight, Leah had literally stopped growing. Getting her into remission was a difficult journey. I began creating recipes that would nourish her body without causing more inflammation.
Fast forward seven years. Although fully in remission, Leah’s journey with Crohn’s still brings unexpected physical and social obstacles. While we knew the decision to pull her from college housing due to Covid-19 was safest for her, Leah struggled with her loss of independence.
Now back home, Leah and I are cooking together as a distraction from pandemic madness. Food has become our love language as well as our mission. When we realized that her friends on campus could no longer access communal dining halls, we knew we had to do something. We started a cooking channel—Because I Said So-Cooking for College (find us on youtube.com)—to not only teach college kids how to make easy meals for themselves, but to provide levity and a sense of home during lonely times.
This is not a story about going through Covid with my mom; it’s about going through it without my mom. Gloria Solon was a beautiful, vibrant 95-year-old great-grandmother when she died on February 27, 2020, just as the virus was starting to spread. She was spared the isolation of living in senior housing, cut off from friends and family. But for us, it felt like an extra lonely time as we navigated the isolation ourselves. I longed to pick up the phone when my dad passed away just two months after her, when my first grandchild was born in May, when my second grandchild was born in August and almost every day in between.
My mother was an optimist, always seeing the joy and beauty in everything, feeling grateful for everything in her life, and she gave me that ability. While it was hard, I tried every day to think of something for which I could be grateful. The hole in my heart is huge. Losing both parents within two months is unimaginable, but I am resilient. I know she is smiling down on our beautiful family and her spiritual guidance is with us always.
It started the first week of the pandemic: My 9-year-old son, Yaron, who has significant delays due to Fragile X Syndrome, saw that our family was communicating, like most families, via Zoom. Calls to grandparents, cousins and even his own third-grade classmates made the computer a communication tool.
But it was his self-initiated daily 6 p.m. Zoom with my mother, Roz, his savta, that has shaped this pandemic and their relationship. Their conversations include reflections on each other’s day. My son always asks about her schedule and what she’s planning for dinner, and he loves to tell her about his teachers in his remote school and which Peloton classes he has “taken” that day.
They’ve read together, practiced idioms, reviewed spelling words and even started a Google doc where they write sentences back and forth. They’ve debated the merits of Hamilton (the man and the musical) and talked about the recent election. She’s taught him about sports and conversations (ask questions, listen for answers).
While I pray that the pandemic ends soon, I know this special bond between my mother and my son will not. It’s one of those pandemic silver linings for which I am so grateful.
Rabbi Ilana C. Garber
West Hartford, Conn.
My daughters and I were frightened that our family included both older and younger people who were vulnerable to the coronavirus. We isolated from each other in the beginning. It was sad for all of us!
Restrictions gradually eased and we happily got together. Then we realized that if the children started attending school, and adults went to work, we would all have to isolate from each other again, perhaps for a very long time. We decided to approach the problem as a united family.
One daughter was working hard for her Ph.D., so the other daughter in the city and I divided up the child care, with support from my out-of-city daughter and their other grandmother, who read books to the children on Zoom.
I am so grateful to my daughters for creating a joyful time in the midst of disease. We helped each other out with shopping, computer savvy, companionship and homemade challah. The out-of-city daughter maintained regular family meetings on Zoom so we could all be together with extended family in the United States and Canada. We are closer due to this joint effort, and so grateful.
In April, my 99-year-old mother, who was living in an assisted living facility in New Jersey, contracted Covid. Her only symptoms were extreme fatigue and loss of appetite. When her breathing got more difficult, my brother and I decided she needed to go to the hospital for observation.
Fortunately, her symptoms did not progress, but she needed to go to rehab to regain her strength. After a month away, my mom returned to her apartment, still weak but with basically no side effects, except one. My tough, strong mother was more vulnerable and emotional. She would easily cry if something wasn’t right. Since May, I have seen a dramatic change in my mother—she is open, communicative, connected and reflective. Our conversations are amazingly deep, loving and real. From a woman who was businesslike, efficient and bossy, she is tuned-in, loving and sensitive. At 99 (turning 100 in February), she is an example of the capacity to grow and change, even this late in life. No one knows how long she will live, but I feel so blessed to have these precious conversations.
Our mother-daughter connection was already shifting, but Covid amplifies this. Perhaps the change is more within me, the daughter.
As my mom became caretaker of my father, and as they got news the apartment opened up in the senior community to which they intended to move, our family suddenly had three months to move my parents out of their home of 36 years (my childhood home).
My mom, Merrie, always gives her heart, soul and extra oomph for everyone. It’s a gift, but certainly not balanced in my perspective. She is a free spirit, an utter creatrix, a cancer survivor and pretty much the toughest woman I know.
But she’s been weighed down by life over the past few years. So as in the past I’d call her to air my grievances, share my journeys and be the daughter looking to the mother for comfort, I now feel in my heart that it’s my responsibility to support this woman every which way I can. To hear her grievances and see how I can show up for her so she knows just how loved and supported she is.
We’ve always been dearest friends, but perhaps now I’m really growing up.