Grandma at the Beach is the title my grandchildren have given me, Grandma Shannon. It's adorable until their little voices shorten it to Grandma Beach and not everyone understands every syllable. I am privileged to live in Seaside Oregon one block off the beach, and for many years, 800 miles from my nearest relative.
When my first grandchild was born to my daughter, Erin, she was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany with the Army and I was at home at the beach. Little Mark's birth began my first important long distance relationship. Luckily, now we live only 800 miles apart and its easier to see each other more frequently, right? Oh, how I wish!
Thank heavens for modern technology!
If the thought of using technology frightens you, quick, find a 12-year-old! There are several ways a family can talk almost daily:
Video messages uploaded through social media like Facebook.
Text messages between adult phones and children's phones sharing photos, events and even short videos.
Facetime and other online ways of talking face to face using web cams and microphones like skype or google+. With new tablets, I can be drug all over the house to a chorus of "look grandma, watch grandpa!"
Email messages to individual children and groups.
Uploading photos to locations that groups can share, like dropbox, or picasa.
Voxer is an app for your phone, and a new way to communicate. Using the app is like using an old walki talki and recorded messages.
And if all the electronics are not available or fail, there is always good old fashioned letters and of course, our favorite, packages.
One of my favorite ways of communicating with Mark, my grandson, is sending a blank journal with an entry and photo on page one from me and a return envelope. Mark would then write in the journal, paste or draw pictures and mail it back to me.
When grandchildren are able to travel and spend time with you, traditions give them something to look forward to. Here are a few of our traditions and ideas ranging from simple to the more complex:
Grandma's goodie jar
Grandma's house has a bottomless cookie jar that everyone hits after the long drive.
The grandchildrens' special place
There is a room at Grandma's house just for kids. A girls' bed and boys' bed and special decorations. Its a magical place.
Our Childrens' room has a fairy door in the wall under the bed. There is another one in the garden. My granddaughter loves to feed the fairies. They prefer chocolate chips and thimbles full of water.
Simple things like a walk on the beach and hunting for shells feels magical with Grandma at the Beach.
Teach your grandchildren something new and help them be proud of what they have learned. We taught our grandchildren how to clam on the Oregon coast. Yum, yum, sandy clambled eggs.
Here are some ideas Erin uses to help her children keep in touch with grandma and grandpa:
Traditions make memories
Grandma has a tradition of kidnapping all the grandkids at midnight and taking them out on the beach for a bonfire and brownies with grandma. Kids are returned only after the brownie ransom is paid.
Make it a game
Have your children send email or letters to grandparents with questions. We try to help the kids understand they are part of a larger family, their ancestors can be very important to them and can teach them a lot. Grandparents are hardly ancestors, but may know stories about great grandpa Fisher and the time he became an outlaw, or great grandma Belva and her Oreo jar.
Letters, letters, letters
I cannot say it enough. A phone conversation or video may be great but nothing beats a childs joy when they get a letter from Grandma in the mail. It makes them feel so important to have their own pen pal. Pictures colored for grandpa, stickers for grandma, even small necklaces for a grandchild and hand-made valentines with sticky fingers. Technology can be great but snail mail will never be beat.
Play by Play
ESPN does not have the market on play by plays. I think our family may have them beat. Camera phones are great for this. I can keep grandparents updated with pictures and commentary on soccer games, ballet recitals, sledding trips, anything you can imagine. The kids love to see the responses they get when the phone dings.
Make it fun
Grandpa sends my kids fun videos he's taken with his phone. Stories about little toys or objects with funny voices all done by grandpa. These are a great way to just be silly from far away.
When all else fails, love them and listen to them. The connection is magical no matter what the distance. Our family has always been important, but living far away has taught us just how valuble grandparents can be in helping to raise grandchildren. As a family seperated by hundreds of miles, we try our hardest to stay connected on a personal level. Erin hopes someday to find her daughter on Facetime with grandpa about her first date, telling him all the things she doesn't want to tell mom. Or have her son call grandma when he get's his Eagle Scout to thank her for her help. Love can be sweet, even over a distance.