Generational divide: Area families get creative with social distancing

Mary Jane Willis and granddaughter Savannah Snow, 10, play Tic Tac Toe while practicing social distancing. Submitted photos

SMYRNA — For the Willis couple and their children and grandchildren, every Sunday night is Burger Night.

“Mary Jane and I grew up in families that had Sunday dinners,” Bill Willis said. “So we have Burger Night.”

Mr. Willis cooks burgers and hotdogs or sometimes Mrs. Willis makes Maryland crab soup or crab imperial.

“We are a very tight knit family and we’re very blessed that we’re close together,” said Whitney Snow, Mr. Willis’ daughter. “We just meet every Sunday night and all the grandkids get to play, we all get to be together.”

With the stay-at-home mandate and the ongoing requirement to social distance, Burger Night is on hiatus, but families and friends are finding new ways to connect despite the distance — and that involves being creative.

When social distancing came into effect last month, Mr. Willis recounted that Mrs. Snow called to ask if they had Windex and paper towels.

“That was the question,” Mr. Willis said. “I said, ‘Yes, we have Windex and paper towels.’ … She said, ‘We’ll be there in a few minutes.’”

The Snow family came over with an assortment of dry erase markers. Mrs. Snow’s children, Savannah, 10, and Wyatt, 7, sat outside while the Willises remained inside. Using the glass pane, they played Tic Tac Toe and Hangman.

Mrs. Snow said she got the idea from a post that circulated online and decided it would be a good activity for her children and parents.

“The kids are used to going over to their house at least once a week for dinner or Burger Night,” she said. “With us being that close, and with what’s going on keeping us apart, it’s just finding ways to still try to be together with that distance between us physically.”

Mr. Willis said it is important for all their grandchildren to know that they must social distance, but they don’t have to totally isolate from one another.

“We talked through the glass and we played Tic Tac Toe,” Mr. Willis said. “It’s important for us to see that they’re OK, but it’s also important for them to see that we’re OK.”

Other than the games, the family has connected by seeing each other at a distance. He said he’s seen all his grandchildren who live in the area from some distance, and Savannah read a book to him and Mrs. Willis while she was in the car in the driveway and the Willises remained at their doorway.

Bill Willis plays Tic Tac Toe with grandson Wyatt Snow, 7. The grandchildren came over to talk and play games but were also practicing social distancing.

Mrs. Snow said that the family has also been delivering dinner and snacks to the Willis family and her in-laws.

Like others, the family has also been utilizing technology. For a cousin’s birthday, the family was getting together through Zoom.
Others are keeping in touch through social media, like Facebook.

John Rieley, Sussex County councilman, said that four generations are living on the farm together — spanning from Mr. Rieley’s in-laws to their grandchildren. The Rieleys have 11 children and 16 grandchildren.

“Just for family dinners, we’re over the amount you’re supposed to have in one place,” LouAnn Rieley noted.

Among themselves, the families are practicing social distancing, Mr. Rieley said.

“We don’t get them all together at once, we just have one family at a time,” he said. “We have a couple members of our family that are in Washington, they live over there, so they’re not able to visit right now. And then we have a couple of members of the family that have occupations that they tend to be around people moreso, so they’ve not been visiting in the last few weeks.”

He said that Mrs. Rieley’s parents, who are 89 and 90, have been keeping mostly to the house, and he and his wife have been doing the grocery shopping for them.

“We’ve always been very close. Most of our kids live on their farm with their kids. So, somebody in the family is together every day,” she said. “So, all of our kids have always been each other’s best friends.”

Keeping in touch with friends and support systems has evolved to meet the emphasis on physical distance.

Where the Delaware Mom Time group usually meets every other week in the Health and Wellness Building in Smyrna, the group has gone virtual and meets every week.

Brittney Passerell, who runs the group as well as a yoga and book club for moms, said connecting with peers is important now more than ever.

“In this super weird time where we have to physically be separated, these virtual meetings have just been really imperative to our self care,” she said. “Even though we want to take care of ourselves and our families and we’re doing the right thing by practicing social distancing, we still have this need to connect with other people, and, in this case, with other moms. We still need connection.”

The group has been meeting through Zoom to carry on the objective of providing peer support to help prevent perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

“It’s just really nice to be able to see faces and feel like we’re together. And it’s something that we can look forward to every week,” she said.

Mrs. Passerell added that using FaceTime to connect with friends and family has increased, too.

“Even for my daughter, to stay connected to her little preschool friends,” she said.

For many, circumstances have changed significantly within the period of a month and communicating with family and friends is more important.

“My parents are very used to being on the go,” Mrs. Snow said. “So for them to stay inside is a big deal, so [we just want] to make sure that they have enough going on, enough to keep them occupied to stay there.”

Mrs. Passerell said there has been a lot of adjustment and uncertainty.

“I think so many of us, our roles have completely changed. We’re now trying to work from home, while we’re also watching our kids. We’re trying to be teachers to our kids. We have to keep our kids entertained,” she said. “Even though everything feels very isolating right now, it just makes you just feel more connected just to be able to see someone’s face. I think as humans we have this inherent need to connect and to support each other and be supported.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 1 guidance

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