8264km / 5135miles.
That is the closest I have lived to my parents in the past seven years. In the meantime, we’ve had children that can walk, talk, communicate. Despite the ongoing missing and the lack of daily interaction that living near grandparents provides, we’ve mostly found our groove and grown fairly comfortable with the distance. Of all of our family relationships, mum has surely been the most gracious. Bless her heart, she always says that she counts herself lucky to have technology like Skype/FaceTime to connect with her 5.5 grandies, all of whom have lived this far away since birth.
We’re thankful for this technology too, which is not even a decade old. I remember Video-skyping my husband, then boyfriend, from France when the video feature was still in its infancy. I’d wake up at 5am just to catch a glimpse of his sweet face before my work day started and his yesterday evening ended in California.
These days, we use Skype-Video or FaceTime with all four grandparents. However, we do find it to be an increasingly hard medium to deal with. Our toddlers end up climbing the walls after as little as 25 minutes of screen time. The house gets turned upside down with the lack of attention. Skype/FT feels like sheer chaos these days and so we are forced to really space out our calls. (Sorry, grandparents!)
To state the obvious, globalization and upward mobility imply that more and more families communicate over the oceans. So, beyond Skype and letters and parcels and visits, what are some other creative ways of staying in touch? I have three little low maintenance ideas that might or might not resonate with your own global family situation.
The photo board or lookbook idea
If your kids are like mine, they love photos and videos of recent memories. So why not let them have access to real photos they can touch and look at of family on the other side of the world? Trendy grannies have brag books in their purses to show their grandchildren off to their friends. So why not make the kiddos little photo albums with photos of their family near and far? Another idea could be to have a photo-board like the one below (posteriorized filter added to preserve identity of faces not wanting to appear on the Net 🙂 ) that you could update with photos of family and friends. We do that with old Christmas cards and vacation photos because…hmm, because, life happens and I haven’t been able to print out a photo at a real store in a long time.
“My own mailbox” idea
A toddler’s life is all about novelty so I am not sure if this idea will last in our home. Still, our son loves it so far. It just came to me when we stumbled upon this 100% Americana mailbox at Goodwill for $1.99 and my son begged and begged to take it home. I don’t think I normally just cave in on this type of impulse purchase, but the teacher in me had an idea. I wrote a quick mama-bear email to family around the world asking them if they wanted to send a short message, letter or a photo for us to print out. During the night, post(wo)man maman would place any correspondence and signal a full letterbox by raising the iconic American mailbox flag. Typical TCK mama move – I was since told by a loving husband that in the US, when the flag is up, it signals that there is outgoing mail to be picked up by the mail carrier. I learn new things about this country every day, y’all. I also learn new things about my son because it turns out that he is absolutely terrified by the concept of mail being delivered during his sleep. He thinks our mailman has perhaps entered his room. Despite me insisting that correspondence can come from different people but is just delivered by me, we have come to an agreement that mail will be delivered during the daylight and everyone is now delighted. Even little sis, who marvels at the photos and letters that are then displayed on a string for later enjoyment and discussion. Oh, and notes also come from maman and papa who live under this same roof. Because, love.
The plain old ‘play’ idea
Long-distance relationships often come up naturally through play as well. Usually the coolest toys were thoughtful gifts sent to us by kind family and friends. It is the kids who remind us who gave them the gifts and we might even catch our breath on the odd occasion to send a picture of them playing with the toys. Or, the munchkins will build Lego towers and this one will be France, this one China, this one Grammie’s country and this one a State in the US that we will explain is not a country in the first place. Or toy airplanes will naturally go to this grandparent or that grandparent’s home. You could encourage this type of play but it isn’t coerced in any way on our end and it maintains a really unique connection to a place and person somewhere else.
None of these are rocket science ideas but they are low key, which makes them a perfect win for us in these busy days…
As for why it is a good idea to stay in touch with grandparents as well as more tips for nurturing long-distance relationships, click over to this super cool post written a while back by my friend Libby.
Feature image courtesy of Carrying Wonder Photography