My daily routine on the way to work has a brand-new step that I enjoy very much but wish I didn’t have to do: I hold my iPhone up to my face and record a 30-second video greeting to my 4-month-old grandson.
Bryson, you see, has moved to Boston with his mother and grandmother, and I’m in Chicago. Word of the move came on Father’s Day; I gazed down at him and thought, rather melodramatically, “Well, nice to have met you. See you again when you’re, say, 16 or 21.”
Fortunately, there are people like Sharon Lovejoy (and whoever it was who told me to send a daily video message) to dispel the absentee grandparent gloom with easy, quick ways to keep in touch with a grandchild wherever he or she may be.
Lovejoy is author of a number of books, including “Camp Granny,” a useful how-to book full of “wonder-filled activities to turn an hour, a day, a weekend into a lifelong memory.” (Wonder-filled, indeed. There are some ideas in that book I want to do even by myself.)
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Lovejoy may divide her time between San Luis Obispo, Calif., and an island off the coast of Maine, but she’s there in spirit – and image and voice and other tangible ways – for her grandchildren. If she can do it, so can I. And so can you.
What you want to do, Lovejoy said, is keep yourself “front and center” in your grandchildren’s lives. Here are 10 tips from Lovejoy on how:
1. Get your face out there. Enlarge photos of yourself, glue on a cardboard backing and fasten them to paint sticks. Mail them to your kids so that whenever you talk by telephone with your grandchild the parents can hold up the photo of you. “You'll find that your grandchild will see the photo and talk about the experience with his parents,” she writes. “And your memory will remain fresh in his mind.”
2. Take advantage of technology. “First of all, Skype is amazing,” Lovejoy says. The web video-calling service allows you and your grandchildren to see and talk to one another. (There are other apps and programs out there, for your computer and your telephone, such as FaceTime. See what works for you.)
3. Reach out regularly. Make that call weekly, or send a book every month. Lovejoy suggests starting a “personal book-of-the-month-club” for your grandchild. “Focus on special subjects that you may encounter when you’re together,” she writes.
4. Keep a journal. Remember those first words and what Lovejoy describes in her book as a grandchild doing “anything out of the ordinary” in a journal. Later, write a “book” about it for your grandchild. “Kids love to read a book about their first word or the first time they talk,” Lovejoy says. “My grandchildren love that I have this written down.” Parents with busy work schedules often don’t have time to record these things, but grandparents tend to have “time for the memories,” she said.
5. Write letters. Lovejoy says kids love getting texts by the time they’re 10, and you can send videos too. But don’t forget “old-fashioned letters.” She sends them weekly when away, she writes in the book, and often with small gifts inside. Lovejoy doesn’t always write on paper. Sometimes she will use silver or gold markers to write messages on large leaves she has pressed in a book or on pieces of tree bark. Her grandchild loves this and keeps them, she said. As for topics, “make it funny,” Lovejoy said. “Send a joke. Don’t be uptight with them.”
6. Get them to write back. Lovejoy buys watercolor-weight, blank postcards at the arts and crafts store, addresses them to herself, puts on a stamp and sends them to the grandkids. (You can also cut up postcard-size rectangles from watercolor paper and use that, she notes.) Lovejoy says parents should be asked to encourage the grandchild to write or draw something for you every couple of weeks and mail it. Then, take a photo of yourself with that postcard and include it in your next letter. Keep the cards so you can share them whenever your grandchild comes to visit, she writes.
7. Cards count. Mark a grandchild’s birthday by mailing a card for each year of age up to 18. (A 3-year-old gets three cards, a 12-year-old gets a dozen cards and so on.) Lovejoy, who got this idea from a friend, said the cards shouldn’t all be store-bought. Throw some homemade cards into the mix.
8. Broaden horizons, naturally. “We know kids are not in touch with nature as much as they should be,” said Lovejoy, who collects small seed pods, twigs and “weird things” to send to her grandchildren.
9. Keep it simple. “I send old-fashioned gifts,” Lovejoy said. “The simpler and more basic, the better.” Go for simple musical instruments, art supplies, journals or sketch pads (and encourage them to mail the finished art back to you).
10. Create “faerie mailboxes.” Have miniature decorated mailboxes set up for your grandchildren around the garden. Send interesting things for the parents to slip inside. Have the parents raise the mailbox flag so the kids know there’s been a delivery. “I try to make the faeries’ gifts small, homemade and as natural as possible, although sometimes I tuck in magical stickers, wooden toys, mini magnifying glasses or dollhouse accessories,” Lovejoy wrote. “Once I made a purse out of a skeletonized tomatillo husk that I beaded and decorated with golden thread. Another time I put together a miniature tea set out of love-in-a-mist pods and acorn caps.”