Patch readers shared what was happening. “This is all a real nightmare for us! Especially as a single working mom,” said one, while another said her dad was saving the day by helping.
One Patch Neighbor noted an increasingly common scenario. “One of our long-term employees retired early this year to help both of her daughters with child care.”
Patti Emmons retired last April from the Chester County coroner’s office, a year and a half ahead of her original plan, and she said everyone is happy about it. She didn’t retire with plans help her grandchildren with virtual learning, but that’s how it’s turned out.
“It has been a godsend for my family,” she said.
Emmons, 68, stepped in to help two of her grandchildren when schools opened virtually this fall. She drives 10 minutes to Kennett Square three days a week to help a first- and fourth-grader with the virtual work their charter school requires.
The family planned virtual school around the schedules of two working parents. Mom is the director of Building Blocks preschool, Dad is a police officer in Chester County. Each parent takes a day of teaching, and Emmons, a.k.a., “Nana,” is responsible for the other three days.
When schools closed last April, the family was getting through it because Mom’s preschool also was closed. But, that ended in fall and distance learning began. Emmons said her son told her, “We’re going to need your help. I hate to ask you.”
“They’d have had no one else,” she said. “Who would they trust? Who would have time to be a tutor?” She acknowledged that many grandparents can’t retire, even if they want to.
Emmons describes a happy experience for everyone, as she manages learning, provides encouragement, and digs up supplemental materials for fourth-grader Noah, and first-grader Rylee.
“Noah can navigate the computer and bookmarks; he can get to the videos he needs to,” Emmons said.
Her daughter-in-law redesigned the kids’ playroom as a classroom, and Emmons said at first she would situate herself between the two.
“When they’re doing work, I’d sit with them and help. Keep them on task.”
She found her grandson was often looking around during videos, and later didn’t know what the material had been about. She decided to stop the video along the way, and discuss it.
“He would retain it, then we’d go on,” she said.
Emmons described the excitement of doing a science experiment with Noah, putting pepper on the surface of water, and watching what happens when soap is dropped in.
“The look on Noah’s face!” she said. “It’s such a joy to be part of their learning.”
At first Emmons said she tried to sit with both children, but she realized quickly, “It’s impossible.”
“Now I separate them; I help one, give them work for, say 15 minutes, then go the other.”
Emmons notices that some of the children on the Zoom class seem to be left out; not really following along or engaged. She knows her grandchildren are lucky to have her giving them the extra help they need.
“I’ve been going to library to supplement what they’re doing online, because I feel that they need more.”
Emmons said in the past four weeks, she watched her grandson gain confidence. “I try to get him to think on his own,” she said.
Her granddaughter who’s in first grade is busy with spelling and math. Both read aloud to Nana and Nana reads to them. “We’ve started doing a game together at the end of the day.”
Before retirement, Emmons worked for the coroner’s office, and before that was a senior systems analyst. She said she’s had to learn some new technology in order to help her grandchildren, but mostly it’s things like “figuring out which cord goes where.”
Emmons think older people are much more capable than is generally realized. “Many, many years ago it was the grandparents who were the wise ones you looked up to, and I don’t know when it happened, but the old people were seen as doddy, stupid, incapable of doing anything.”
She admits she knows some older people who never figured out how to use an answering machine, or even a microwave oven. She said, “The older people today, we know about computers, but as new technology comes along, we have to keep learning.”
Emmons is one of an estimated 3 million older people who have left the workforce since March 2020. According to research by The New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, that figure of nearly 3 million represents 7 percent of workers between 55 and 70 who were working before the economic shutdown last spring, Forbes reports.
Unlike Emmons, who chose to retire 18 months ahead of plans, many of these early retirements are involuntary. Reports are showing what may seem obvious, that some of those retirements are motivated by concerns about COVID-19 exposure at work. The risk of symptom severity is higher for older people, and particularly those with other health issues.
Emmons says she’s thought through the risks of being with her grandchildren, exposed to a household with two working parents who could possibly bring home COVID-19.
“My grandchildren are around their parents and myself. It is true that (their parents) are at work every day. And the kids do sports and gymnastics. However, I personally feel comfortable around my family,” she said.
Her life otherwise includes little social interaction right now. “I’m not going out anywhere — except for the grocery store. I feel that I am not exposed that much, directly, with people I don’t know.”
“My family has been coming over to visit me for months, so I don’t see it any differently if I go to their house to teach.”
As 2020 would have it, the pandemic and early retirement brought the unexpected and turned Emmon into an in-demand teacher. “They listen to me better than their parents. If I’m not going to be there the next day, they say, ‘We want Nana to teach us!'”
Noah’s and Rylee’s charter school is moving to hybrid learning in late October, but “Nana” will still be working with them three days a week.
Emmons regrets that the children are not enjoying more socialization with other kids. “It’s very bad,” she said. Noah plays some socially distanced football, and Rylee does dance, she said.
Emmons mused on the difficulties of the pandemic, and what these times mean for children.
“I’m so thankful I raised my three boys when I did. I worked when they were little, they were outside with their friends, riding bikes, in tree forts. Now the kids in the neighborhood — you don’t see the kids. Everyone’s inside.”