Like pretty much all Life Overseas readers, my kids are growing up 12,290 miles from both sets of grandparents. Their aunts, uncles, and cousins are equally far away. Sometimes my youngest spends a month away from me in order to visit her grandparents. My oldest two attend boarding school. And yet, I think my kids have a pretty close relationship with their immediate and extended family. We’ve worked at it and with a lot of help from innovative and loving grandparents, have discovered creative ways to stay in touch beyond Skype and emails.
My mom and my mother-in-law are masters at designing gorgeous photo books and calendars that depict the times we do spend together. My kids spend hours pouring over these photo book and remembering. Those are the memories that stick, the ones they can continually revisit.
When my youngest went to Minnesota for a month and I stayed in Djibouti, her grandmother had her keep a daily journal. Nothing fancy, but each night before going to bed, Lucy jotted down brief notes about what they did that day. Went to McDonald’s, caught three fish and threw them back, wrestled with Grandpa. When she came home, Lucy read through the entire journal with me so I wouldn’t miss a day.
Making Silly Bets
One grandpa sends out a group email to all the cousins and aunts and uncles and says, “What color shirt will Grandma wear on Friday? $2.00 to the person with the right answer.” Or, “Who will win the Vikings game and by how much? $3.00 for the closest guess.” “When will the Nerf dart finally fall off the window?” (answer: six years later) Emails flurry back and forth with bets, smack talk, and eventually, congratulations.
When we are in physical proximity, we make every attempt to see our family and to enjoy being together. My brother-in-law was recently in Nairobi and caught lunch with my son. In Minnesota, simple things like sleepovers and lazy afternoons at the lake. Fancier things like a marathon/half-marathon/5k race weekend together or paint ball battles. As possible, when significant life events occur like marriages and deaths and births, we make every attempt to be there or to send a family representative.
One year my father instituted a Family Olympics, which was featured in Family Fun magazine. Each family had to walk a mile in their neighborhood and take note of everything they saw. We had watermelon seed spitting contests and timed how long we could collectively balance spoons on our noses. We emailed the larger group our results and kept score. Another year we had a Lego-building competition in which photos flew around the globe via email of creations using certain numbers of Legos. We spent months ahead of a scheduled in-person visit planning a talent show, videotaped it, and still watch our oh-so-talented family perform.
The most significant way our kids have kept in touch is experientially. All of the above suggestions move beyond talking over Skype into the realm of shared experience and that is where memories are built and treasured. That is where the family tie holds strong and, I hope, will continue to hold strong over the miles and the years.
How do you keep in touch with people far away? Especially kids?