Grandparents rely on drive-bys, tech to stay in touch

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Tom Spangler of Jasper, left, and his wife, Penny, wave to their great-granddaughter, Carter Snyder, 11 months, held by their granddaughter, Abbey Snyder, after dropping off a plate of muffins at Abbey's home in Huntingburg on Saturday. The Spanglers have been visiting their grandchildren and dropping off food instead of eating a weekly meal together like they did before social distancing. Penny said the distance hurts because they are a close family, but they are trying to stay safe. "I cry every time we leave," Tom said.


Michelle McCain misses holding her grandchildren.

And they miss her.

“Not being able to hug, kiss, and hold them has been so heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s been really hard with our youngest grandchild, Lakelyn. She is 7 months old now and it’s hard not to snuggle with her.”

But Michelle does get to visit with the children from time to time.

Her two older sons, Tim and Tyler Rainey, have done “drive-by visits” with the grandkids in the backseat. So while Michelle and her husband, Brad, are on the porch of their rural Holland home, the grandkids are talking and beaming smiles to them out of their truck window. Doing this has given the grandparents the chance to see 10-year-old Addysen, 8-year-old Hadley, 6-year-old Remington, 2-year-old Canyon and 7-month-old Lakelyn. The grandkids even left Easter flowers for Michelle.

“We have developed a game of blowing and catching kisses from each other,” Michelle said. “They all remain in their trucks and we stand on our front porch and talk and blow kisses.”

Daughter-in-law Erica came up with the idea.

"Hadley wanted to see us," Michelle said, "and [Erica] parked on the other side of the highway on the county road and let us holler and wave to Hadley. Then, Tyler followed suit with his three kids, but he drove up through our front yard next to our front porch.

"Our front yard now has a path developing in it," Michelle said, laughing.

Grandma and grandpa did their own drive-bys on Easter, delivering barbecue chicken, potato salad and Easter baskets. They’ve also been involved in their grandkids’ education, ordering activity books for them at the beginning of their e-learning sessions at home. Michelle’s also done some online videos of the grandkids.

“Just fun things for them since Grandma’s hugs are on hold for a while,” she said.

Penny Spangler of Jasper, left, watches her husband, Tom, reach out to their great-granddaughter, Carter Snyder, 11 months, as Carter's parents, Abbey and Collin Snyder, watch at their home in Huntingburg on Saturday.

Tom and Penny Spangler have also gotten to see their granchildren and great-grandchildren through drive-by visits.

Before the pandemic, the Spanglers had a tradition of having the grandchildren and great-grandchildren over for dinner on Monday nights, called MeMe’s Monday Night Meals. That would include the grandkids and great-grandchildren in Huntingburg, Ireland and Tell City, if possible. They also have grandchildren in Indianapolis.

“We found that food really attracts grandkids and great-grandkids,” Tom said.

MeMe and Poppa Spangler would provide a home-cooked meal with dessert, and the grandchildren would bring their families over to spend time eating and catching up.

“When the pandemic started, I know they couldn’t come see us,” Penny said. “So two weeks ago, I fixed a big old meatloaf, butter noodles and bar cookie dessert. And we went around and we delivered meals to the kids that day.”

“We put them on their steps,” Tom said. “And then stand by the car, and they’ll come out.”

Since the family can’t be around the table together sharing the meal, “they send a video of them eating, something with the baby, something creative. It’s been funny,” he said.

On Easter, the Spanglers went to see their Tell City family, including 18-month-old great-granddaughter Madison. That time, they stood on the porch and talked to the kids through the window.

They also keep in touch by phone, calling and using the many video communication apps.

“We love Snapchat,” Penny said. “We have a family group. So we’re taking pictures and sending pictures back and forth. When we send it to family, then we know it gets to everybody.”

The latest video app they’re using now is Zoom. “We had 11 people on Zoom on Easter,” Penny said. “We’re hoping to do that every Sunday night.”

All this helps them keep in touch with their family. “All the videos, Snapchats, Zoom, all that keeps us in touch,” Penny said. “We are thankful to have a way to see our grandkids and great-grandkids.”

Grandparents who have been active with their grandkids may find it hard to be separated from them now.

“There hadn’t been a week or weekend that I hadn’t seen some of them,” Michelle said. “And now, honestly, I have cried myself to sleep a couple nights. I miss them.

Technology has helped. “A couple years ago, I got each household an Alexa from Amazon for Christmas,” Michelle said. “So they can call me and we can see each other. Technology has come in handy during this difficult time.

“But the ‘drive by visits’ are the next best thing to getting and giving Grandma hugs!”

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