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‘First time in a year’: Vaccinated grandparents reunite with family members as the pandemic wanes

The Peckenpaugh family, clockwise from left, Cindie, Dave, Tom, Caleb, Barbara, and Chloe.
The Peckenpaugh family, clockwise from left, Cindie, Dave, Tom, Caleb, Barbara, and Chloe, get together for the first time since grandparents were vaccinated.
(Susan Hoffman)

When his parents got their first COVID-19 shot, Jeff Chon told them, “We’ll see you one week after your second dose.”

On March 10 the family of four set off to visit grandparents Jay and Jawoo Chon at their Irvine home. It was the first time the elder Chons would meet and be able to hold their 2-week-old grandson, Colton.

“It felt normal again for a second,” Jeff Chon said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine can gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing masks. They can also spend time indoors without wearing masks with unvaccinated people from another household, such as relatives, the CDC says, with some recommended restrictions.

Jawoo Chon holds her new grandson, Colton for the first time following her COVID-19 vaccination.
Jawoo Chon holds her new grandson, Colton for the first time following her COVID-19 vaccination.
(Courtesy of the Chon Family)

Chon said until last December, wearing masks made visits a challenge between his parents and another grandchild, 3-year-old Emilia. “My dad had difficulty breathing due to his COPD and would take his mask off whenever they played,” Chon explained. His parents “also didn’t want Emilia to think that they were sick, being only 3 years old and all of a sudden wearing masks she wouldn’t understand.”

Chon, who owns Costa Mesa eateries Tabu Shabu and Oak & Coal and is tested weekly for the coronavirus due to potential exposure at work, made the decision in December to suspend visits with his parents until they were vaccinated. With the third wave of the pandemic raging, the risks involved given their age and health concerned him.. Then as if to confirm his fears, his wife Melissa’s mother died due to complications from COVID-19 in January.

Barbara and Tom Peckenpaugh with grandkids, from left, Chloe, 8, Caleb, 14, Henry, 16, and Megan, 14,
Barbara and Tom Peckenpaugh with grandkids, from left, Chloe, 8, Caleb, 14, Henry, 16, and Megan, 14, can now hug after grandparents have been vaccinated.
(Susan Hoffman)

In nearby Corona del Mar, Tom and Barbara Peckenpaugh waited more than a year before allowing their children and grandchildren inside the house.

But soon after they received their second vaccine dose on Feb. 16 they gathered once again with daughter, Sally Bartz, son-in-law, Aaron, and their teenage grandchildren Henry and granddaughter Megan to celebrate February birthdays.

“It was the first time in a year we sat inside the house at the dining room table,” said Barbara. “We have been far more careful because of age and my autoimmune problem. Our daughter was concerned for us and offered to do shopping.”

Barbara explained that following the rules and spending Thanksgiving and Christmas on their own was difficult. Last Sunday was the first time in 13 months the entire family, including son Dave, his wife, Cindie, and their kids, Caleb, 14, and Chloe, 8, visited in honor of Grandpa Tom’s birthday.

Phone calls, drop-offs and a couple of socially distanced meals outdoors weren’t a replacement for close physical contact. “The biggest loss was time spent in the car with the grandkids,” said Tom. “I drove Henry to his lacrosse games and Barbara drove Megan to dance class, or we’d pick them up from school. Driving them around is a time to talk with them, find out what’s going on in their lives. They’d tell us about activities, but we didn’t have that, it was hard for a year. We are close to the kids, they are comfortable hugging and being around us both.”

Tom noted his grandkids’ development in the past year and how much they’d changed. “Megan has filled out and Henry’s voice got lower,” said Tom. “Megan speaks more like a teenage girl.”

Dick and Happy Parks with grandson Cade Parks at Newport Harbor High School football game.
(Courtesy of the Parks family)

Grandparents Happy and Dick Parks noticed similar changes in their own three grandkids after a year of not seeing them.

Until the pandemic hit, they hadn’t let the nearly 3,000-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean stop them from visiting several times a year. The retired teachers (he a football coach at Newport Harbor High School, she a Newport Mesa middle school teacher), who moved to Kauai in 2000, cut their visit short last March and barely made it out of California before flights were reduced and a two-week quarantine went into effect in Hawaii.

After getting vaccinated, the pair hopped on a flight and returned to Newport Beach on March 11. “When our son Tyler picked us up [curbside] at the airport, I saw someone lifting our suitcases into the car and had no idea it was our 13-year-old grandson, Hudson,” said Happy. “I didn’t recognize him at all. In the year he had grown to my height.”

They headed straight to the Newport Harbor High School stadium to see grandson, Cade, a senior, play football. “We arrived at halftime, and the rest of the family, including [9-year-old grandson] Steele, came running toward us, which was really special,” said Happy.

“We are planning on seeing all of the games, with the last game in April,” Happy said. “With all the kids in sports we want to spend more time here.”

A little more than a year after the pandemic began, the COVID-19 vaccines have made that possible.

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