La Jolla

Sweet Story Time: San Diego Grandma Tries ‘Distance Reading' to Grandson

Like a picture pulled straight out of a happy storybook, Marie DeNies – known as “Beba” to her grandkids – figured out a way to read to her grandson, Rafa, in person, but at a safe distance

Courtesy of Marie DeNies

A San Diego grandma missing the simple joys of reading to her grandson during the coronavirus pandemic got creative: she brought storytime to him, reading from her parked car as the toddler sat on the sidewalk, listening to her every word.

Like so many grandparents around the world, Marie DeNies misses her grandkids. She wants to hug them. She wants to play with them.

But, as the COVID-19 crisis continues, DeNies – known affectionately as “Beba” to her grandchildren – knows those precious interactions need to be different these days; they need to be safer.

She and her husband haven’t been visiting her 2-and-a-half-year-old grandson, Rafa, quite as much in person these days because his mom – one of DeNies’ five daughters – is pregnant.

“And we’re not taking any chances (with anyone’s health) by visiting them,” DeNies told NBC 7. “I’m terrified, truthfully.”

Instead, DeNies and her husband have been chatting with Rafa on FaceTime. Each time, DeNies said the tot has one request: for Beba to read him his favorite book, “Please, Mr. Panda,” over the screen.

This week, though, DeNies needed to see Rafa in person. So, she and her husband put on their face masks and drove to their daughter’s house in La Jolla with a mission in mind: to read, from a distance, to Rafa.

DeNies parked her car in an alleyway behind her daughter’s home and pulled out “Please, Mr. Panda.”

Rafa, in his pajamas and rain boots, sat obediently on the sidewalk, with his dog, Otis, and listened to Beba read.

The family snapped a photo of the heartfelt moment and shared it with NBC 7. In the photo, Beba is showing Rafa one of the pages of the book. He is sitting, intently following along.

DeNies – who is a retired reading tutor – said she paused a lot to ask Rafa questions during the “distance reading/learning” session. It helps that Rafa has half of the book memorized, she said, so his answers were sharp.

“He was adorable. He sat right where his mom put him – the whole time – and read the whole book with me,” DeNies recounted, warmly. “It was just like normal, just like sitting there with him, with a book. He loves books.”

The encounter took all of 10 minutes but DeNies said it was nice – and just what her heart needed. Not being able to jump out of the car to hug Rafa was the hardest part.

“It’s very difficult; it’s frustrating,” she explained. “That’s the worst part of this whole experience, for us.”

“We want to see an end to this, and we know we can’t count on an end soon,” she added. “So, we’re having to try to figure out how to cope with it, and keep that relationship growing, without touching.”

So, we’re having to try to figure out how to cope with it, and keep that relationship growing, without touching.

Marie DeNies, San Diego Resident

DeNies said after the reading session, Rafa asked to keep the book. In true grandma fashion, she agreed.

The toddler also showed grandma and grandpa how he had learned to zip around on his scooter. It was a solid catch-up session.

DeNies and her husband moved to San Diego from Connecticut eight months ago. They retired, sold their home, and moved across the country specifically to spend more time with their family and grandkids.

The couple lives in San Diego’s UTC area, in the same complex as their other daughter and her 3-year-old grandson, Gregory. DeNies said they still get to see Gregory in person, but that's also a bit different now.

The grandparents will take Gregory out for a walk in his stroller wearing masks and they watch him play, from afar.

“It’s distance visiting,” she said.

Photos, videos, and stories of families practicing social distancing in this way have been making their rounds all over social media.

DeNies said she can’t wait for things to get back to normal so she and her husband can enjoy their retirement, hand-in-hand, with their grandkids.

“It is the highlight of my life, to be sure. It’s a wonderful, wonderful experience to be Beba,” she said.

Photos: Signs of the Coronavirus Impact in San Diego

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