The ‘senior Wiggles’ connecting with kids during COVID-19
Spending time with grandchildren and playing a pivotal role in their development and family memories is a cherished Aussie tradition.
And it is one that has undergone a necessary change as we social distance and reduce the impact of COVID-19 on all generations.
Enter The Grandparents Club, created by performers who met doing the gig circuit across Australia and bonded over stories about their grandchildren.
And now in a time where families are denied face-to-face contact, an idea for a new corona-era song has been born.
Home isolation has put pressure on family units across the board, even more so for grandparents who are often providers of informal childcare.
The Grandparents Club hope their music and video messages they've been recording from home isolation will help with everything from keep fit tips and technology help with keeping in touch with loved ones.
"In these extraordinary times I was wondering how other grandparents might be feeling being cut off from their grandkids, and also how grandkids, who can't see their nannas and grandads are feeling," says Tony Williams, or Poppa Tony as he is known in the group, said.
"I wanted to write a song that was heartfelt, but also uplifting; to share that this is only for a time, and that things will get better."
The eight member group - Poppa Tony, Nanna Maggie, Poppa Calvin, Nanna Kokil, Poppa Pat, Nanna Tiang, Nanna Patti and Popa Vinod - are now signed to Universal Music and ABC Music and have just released their first single, Hey There - a reminder of the importance of checking in with our loved ones.
"Hey there, I know it has been a while. Hey there, here's a song to make you smile when the world has gone topsy turvy and you might be feeling blue," the lyrics read. "Here's a little song just for you. Hey there, have I said how much I've missed you. You know how much I'd love to hug and kiss you but when the world is in lockdown and we are feeling far apart, I'm sending hugs and kisses from my heart."
Of the lyrics he penned, Williams added: "That was one of the inspirations for me when I wrote the song because I knew how a lot of grandparents must be feeling at this time. Their grandkids might be just down the road but because of keeping safe, they aren't able to actually see them."
At 61, Williams describes himself as a young grandfather, whose "delightful and cheeky" grandson Max lives in Austria. Connection is now more important than ever.
"We connect at least once a year but now with things at this stage, we don't know when we might be getting over there but we Skype regularly so that we maintain that connection with him," he said. "I sent the single over with the video and little Max had a listen to that and apparently he really likes it although I am sure if there were pictures of Mario Brothers characters in there, he would have liked it more."
All grandparents, whether they live around the corner, interstate or overseas in Williams case, are in the same boat.
Zoom, Facetime, House Party and the like are the only real way they are able to connect with their loved ones.
For Nanna Patti Gilbert, who is based on the Gold Coast, her grandkids are aged from four months to 29. With the younger kids, she likes to Facetime while the older ones prefer to text or speak on the phone.
"I am a distance grandparent so I am used to contacting them via Facetime and phone calls and texting," she says of her grandkids who are based in Sydney and Melbourne.
It is really tough because you do worry about them. You just have to keep communicating with the best methods that you can. I tell you what I have noticed is we are inclined to ring each other a little more often than we normally would because we don't know when we will see each other. You're missing that human touch. Everyone likes a cuddle, don't they? I think that is a positive thing, we are actually contacting each other a bit more often. It is a natural thing to do."
The video clip for Hey There features still photographs and moving footage of members of the Grandparents Club with their grandkids. They individually shot their segments from their respective homes across the country.
"They think it is a hoot," Gilbert said of her grandchildren's reaction to the clip. "They think, 'what is nanny doing now'. So they all think it is a bit of fun too."
Also involved in the project is John Field, who wrote many of The Wiggles most famous hits like Hot Potato, Dorothy the Dinosaur and Do The Propeller.
Field is producing and writing tracks for The Grandparents Club and is of course the older brother of Wiggles manager Paul Field and Blue Wiggle Anthony Field.
Looking at The Grandparents Club promotional shots, there is a touch of Wiggle
"I think our demographic is 60 plus, that baby boomer generation," Williams says.
"It is the baby boomer generation that has really taken up the whole digital connection with Facebook especially. We come in all different shapes and sizes, we are not all super old or anything. Grandparents are the people who sing lullabies to their kids and tuck them in to bed when they come over for visits. It would be really nice to have an album of lullabies that grandparents can sing to their kids."
Of their demographic, Gilbert continued: "Definitely for the senior population I would suppose, we are aiming at trying to reach people that are probably a bit more isolated than the norm, that are retired and not going to work and haven't got much to do, especially at the moment sitting at home probably bored to death. I think we will make a real connection with any of those people and really anyone that has little kids might think it is a bit of fun. We are a fun bunch and perhaps we can fill that gap a bit."
The Grandparents Club members range in age from 61 to 69 and they're eager to hit the road and play live shows as soon as the coronavirus crisis is over.
"I think it could take off, I don't see any reason why once things settle down and gigs start happening again, we would love to get out there and do some concerts on the road," Williams said. "We've been getting great support coming from people so if it continues to build like this, it would be great to get out there and do some concerts.
Gilbert, who says she is "67 and not out", is also keen to hit the road as soon a possible.
"Wouldn't that be fun?"
* Go to thegrandparentsclub.com or https://www.facebook.com/TheGrandParentsClub/
Originally published as The 'senior Wiggles' connecting with kids during COVID-19