While it’s not uncommon these days for Bostoniani to find many miles on a road map, or even a world map, separating their kids from their grandparents, it’s also easier than ever before to minimize that distance by incorporating some easy techniques for bringing the generations closer in heart and mind.
Planning and partaking in a family vacation, reunion, or outing can sometimes rejuvenate familial bonds, or just provide another excuse for getting together. Whether it’s a day-long family reunion, a fun meeting spot between states, or a leisurely travel destination, an occasional trip provides a welcome retreat. The preparation and post-vacation photos may provide just as many enduring memories.
Getting away is a great opportunity for inspiring life lessons and history, too. A few years back, my parents joined me and my family on a trip to Italy, where my dad was born, and we traced the paths he walked as a child. My children learned about their nonno’s roots, and those roots became theirs.
Friends of mine who live out-of-state often hop in the car and overcome the nearly 700 miles to Norwell, especially at Christmastime, and share a lovely tradition of watching the Polar Express with their two young grandsons. They all read a favorite book called The Night Tree, and then decorate an evergreen with food for woodland creatures.
Communicate via Technology
Staying connected during the time spent apart is easy to do with technology. Don’t know how? Ask your grandchild. They know technology better than anyone, so why not ask for a few lessons.
Chat regularly, and face-to-face, with Skype, ooVoo, or Facetime. Converse anytime, anywhere, in real time. Technology allowed our family in Massachusetts to watch a relative’s wedding ceremony take place in Tuscany, while it was happening. Email and social media play a big part in helping long-distance grandparents stay connected, too. Copy and email a report card, recipe, or sports score; post pictures on Facebook; or Tweet funny jokes; download a video game app on a tablet or phone and compete, or play together split-screen online with game devices. Join an online fantasy sports league. Join an online book club via Skype.
Communicate the Old-Fashioned Way
Staying connected the old-fashioned way (picking up the phone to chat) works just as well. No need for an excuse; just call and tell him or her that you love them.
Here are a few other ideas:
• Write a letter, slip a silly note into a care package, or mail some pictures.
• Get crafty, and then mail it.
• Journal back and forth through the mail.
• Send fun or educational postcards from travels.
• Regularly gift grandchildren a disposable camera, for snapping random shots of their life and gaining insight into a child’s perspective.
Learn to Adapt
Generations sometimes find it difficult to reach each other on common ground, no matter the age, or the distance. Long-distance grandparents must learn to adapt.
My mom sings an Italian lullaby to her younger grandchildren now, just as sweetly as she did with me and my brothers. But nana also tunes in to her older grandkids’ music on occasion, so that they have something to chat about over the phone.
Grandparents are also invaluable mentors, especially while participating in a shared activity, like baking, painting, or canoeing. Exploring books, movies, television shows, and art together may yield surprising common affinities.
Maybe it’s not what you talk about that brings you all closer, but the activities you share:
• If there are games, they are families having fun together. Pull out a deck of cards and deal out a hand of Scopa, and have fun.
• Make the most of what Boston has to offer when they visit.
• Explore the grandchild’s state’s attractions.
• Attend church together.
• Make pasta with the older kids, or roll pretzels with the younger ones.
• Fly kites in the backyard.
• Volunteer in a child’s classroom when you visit.
• Work on tandem projects from afar (a birdhouse, a recipe, a garden, etc.) and then snap photos of each other’s progress to share.
• Plant a tree in the backyard together, and watch the tree, and children, grow.
For long-distance grandparents and their grandchildren, it’s the time spent together, near or far, with moments captured of one-on-one conversation that is most valuable, so plan for it, make it happen whenever possible, and cherish every minute of it.