Saturday, June 15, 2013

Grandparents - thoughts, tips, and ideas

First, let me post a few pictures of our kids, because I haven't posted any in a while and they're growing up fast. Plus, they're gorgeous. I'll throw in some that have me, Mark, and Scout, too, for good measure.

A boy and his dog

Volunteering at the library
Scout and me
Thing 1 and a visiting out-of-town friend
Goofing around
Off to a Daddy-Daughter Dance

I’m sitting in the library and the WiFi isn’t working, so I think I’ll write. Being highly distractible, it’s kind of good for me that I can’t seem to get the Internet to work right now. I came here to write, after all.

Our local library is the cutest little building. There’s an upstairs and a downstairs. Thing 1 volunteers here regularly. We’ve attended programs here. We’ve even run programs here! Thing 2 is starting a gaming group here. Mark has lectured here. We’ve helped with some advocacy to get funding for the library. We love love love our libraries.

Our small town library has this cool room for kids – there are games, cards, and computers. It is just for kids – no adults allowed. We come here now and then to enjoy this room. The kids meet up with friends and play. I sit upstairs at a table and write. It’s fantastic.


So today I’m sharing my musings on grandparents. It is something I think about a lot. I think of my own relationship with my grandparents. I think about our children and their relationship with their grandparents. I think about my dad and how it sucks that he’s not here to enjoy his grandkids – he would love spending time with them and they would have his absolute full attention. I just know he would dote on them – buy them ice cream cones, sit and play games with them, watch them enjoy their hobbies for hours on end. I get a little melancholy around this time of year. Father’s Day is hard for me in a way. I am always reminded that I can’t call my Dad, and I feel a hole that exists even more keenly on that holiday as Mark calls his Dad and I sit and think about mine. I love making the day special for Mark and recognizing the wonderful father he is to our children. That part, I love.

I watch my friends and observe their relationships with their parents and grandparents. I notice the relationship our kids’ friends have with their grandparents. I even think quite a bit (probably more than most people would guess) about how I hope to be as a grandparent, though I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising or odd – I grew up thinking about the kind of mom I’d be, too. I take copious notes when I see or hear of cool ideas for grandparents. I read articles on the subject and my ear is always keen to conversations about the topic.

To be clear, I’m not in any rush to be a grandmother and I know it’s a ways off. I’m just collecting ideas now just like I collected mothering ideas when I was a kid. My family means the most to me, so I try to put my actions where my words are, you know? I love people and relationships and I love creative ideas, so it stands to reason that I simply and genuinely enjoy this stuff.


Yesterday, I went out with some friends to our local coffee shop (seriously, I love our little town!) and the subject turned to, you guessed it, grandparents. My friends both said to me, “I don’t know how you guys do it” and “I’m so sorry; I feel so bad for you.” Honestly, we get that a lot, because most of our friends have children whose grandparents are here in town or at least within 2-3 hours of here. They know that ours are in New England and across the country in California. Our kids visit with grandparents about 2-3 times a year, on average, including both sides. People often give us a pitying look and I’m not going to lie, we do often feel alone in that way. It is our choice to live here (it’s where work and education and affordability brought us), so we own it.

Most of the time we’re really fine (ha – and often those same friends also tell us that sometimes they envy that we have that distance and space from our extended relatives), but sometimes it’s tough. Mark and I often feel like we’re playing the role of parents and grandparents, trying to make it up to our kids somehow since they so often see their friends’ grandparents at birthday parties, recitals, baseball games, dinners, picnics, etc. On the plus side, we are most definitely a close-knit family as we pull together as a unit in all that we do. We don’t have grandparents nearby that we can fall back on. I think in many ways it has made us even stronger. We are happy and tight. 

So yes, we don’t have any family members here we can call in a pinch to help us out. We have no familial back ups for rides or support in that way. And when we’re stressed out of our minds, we just pull through and do the best we can. And yes, we have friends here, but they’re all busy, too, and it’s just not as comfortable asking friends as it is family. Theoretically. (We are looking forward to the Johnsons moving here – they don’t have any extended family here either, so we’ve had multiple long talks about being that for each other). They move here for good in 21 days – not soon enough!


I grew up especially close to one of my grandparents – my maternal grandfather (my VavĂ´). I adored him. He couldn’t speak English, so we always spoke in Portuguese. He was my summer care and my after-school care for my first 14 years. He was a pretty quiet man, not much of a talker. But he was always attentive, always up for snuggles, and very quick with a smile and kisses. He would do anything with me, just to be with me. We’d sit for hours under his grapevine. We’d watch TV together (“Lassie” was his favorite show – easy to understand with the language barrier). He’d snuggle with me and watch me play piano. And he always shared his brownie with me from his “meals on wheels.” I loved his toothless grin and his bald head. I took college classes during my senior year of high school and whenever I’d drive into the city to attend my classes, I’d always stop to see him (and kiss that sweet, bald head). It always felt good for the soul to see him, sit with him, and know that I was loved.

He died during my senior year. I was 17 and it was very difficult for me. It killed me a little bit inside when he looked at me and didn’t recognize me toward the end. I missed him terribly and his death was hard on me. I think part of the reason I think so much about grandparents is because I had this special, close relationship with him and I want so much for our kids to have special, close relationships, too.

I was six when his wife, my maternal grandmother, died. I don’t remember her much. I didn’t ever meet my dad’s mom, as she died when he was 15. My paternal grandfather lived in the Azores, Portugal, so I only saw him once or twice when we visited there or when he visited the U.S. He remarried, so I also had a step-grandmother. I have pictures of her washing me in a basin and plucking chickens with me when we visited the Azores when I was 3. I don’t think I ever saw her again after that.

Mark grew up not having ever met his maternal grandfather – his maternal grandfather died before Mark’s mom even got married. He knew his paternal grandfather, though he didn’t live in the same town. His grandfather bought baby furniture for Mark and took him to Disney and other outings. Mark was 8 when his paternal grandfather died. He has some memories, but not super strong ones. Mark grew up knowing both of his grandmothers – both of them were at our wedding or wedding reception. That’s pretty special. Being the youngest by far of my generation, I came along much later and didn’t get much time with my grandparents before they died. All of them had died by the time I graduated high school. Amazingly, Mark’s great grandmother was alive when we got married. I didn’t ever get to meet her, but she made Thing 1 a lovely baby blanket that we cherish. Nana died right before turning 100.

Mark has a grandmother who is 90 and going strong. We’ve been able to visit with her several times over the years. We even traveled several hours to meet her when we got engaged. It was a special visit that I loved. I think it’s pretty special that our kids have a living great grandparent. She is always thoughtful of every birthday and holiday (something she has passed on to her daughter, as Mark’s mom also does the same) and often writes them poems and sends cards and lets them know she is thinking of them. We call and email with her and she even recently joined Facebook!

Anyway, Mark and I have varying experiences in the grandparent department. And, like I’m sure all parents do, we want so much for our kids to have good relationships and closeness with grandparents and grandparent types. Distance makes it a challenge, but there are things you can do and things we try to do.


A friend of ours (who has both sets of grandparents in town) once asked me, “Aren’t you busy with the kids’ activities and appointments and things?”


Confused she asked, “Well, what do you do if between all of your stuff, you have to be in, say, 3 places at once?”

“Something gives,” I shrugged. “We don’t go to one of those things.” That has happened to us multiple times. Usually, what gives is something Mark and/or I would like to do. We don’t bag the kids’ stuff for our own. We’re not monsters! :P

“Huh,” she said, as if such a thought were completely foreign to her. And, to be fair, in her situation, it kind of is!

It takes a village, so what do people do who don’t have grandparents living close by?

  1. Know your limits and schedule wisely. You have no back up, so don’t ever count on any. Approach all activities and appointments and opportunities accordingly.
  2. Pull together as a family – it’s all on you, so get along and work together.
  3. Enjoy the good aspects of the situation. Every time a friend of ours deals with family drama (which seems worse if both sides of the family are in the same town in some cases), they tell us they envy us and we are reminded that that kind of drama is not something in our day-to-day life, so embrace and enjoy that.
  4. Play the role of parents and grandparents. You obviously can’t do both and you obviously can’t be replacement relationships, but you can think of all the things cool grandparents would do and try to do them, too. It’s not the same, but it’s something. (Warning: This can get exhausting).
  5. Try not to compare yourselves to others and own your situation. Sometimes you feel down and sad. Don’t stay there too long. Acceptance.
  6. Be proactive in befriending people in the community to add to your fabric of relationships, for both you and your kids. Build meaningful relationships.
  7. Take notes. Be the kind of grandparent you’d love to have or that you’d love for your kids to have.
 Our kids always love when Mark’s parents come to visit us. We appreciate their effort in coming out here – we know we live far away. Our situation has not exactly made it easy for all four of us to fly out there and visit. In fact, we haven’t done it in over 10 years – how crazy is that? It’s a combination of factors, including expense. (Though we did do a HUGE, over 3-week, cross-country road trip in 2009 to attend a family reunion for Mark’s side of the family, where we also got to see Mark’s grandmother and our kids’ great grandmother). But they do come see us every year or two and they’re always very attentive – we eat out, we play games, we cook, we visit places, we watch funny shows. We sort of have to squeeze in a lot to the 5 or 6 days they're here, because that’s about how much time we all get to spend together every 1-2 years, so you make it count! Mark’s parents are more than a decade younger than my parents and are both still working full-time, so they have to really coordinate their vacation time to visit all their kids(6) and grandkids(13)! It always feels strangely GOOD to have grandparents in the house playing with our kids. They’re having fun together and we sort of don’t know what to do with ourselves, because we’re not used to it! 

My mother is retired and lives about 5 hours away and comes to visit about once a year, sometimes twice. Our kids also enjoy when she visits and they absolutely love to see Jim as well, since he usually brings her down. She usually brings us all kinds of yummy Portuguese food and the kids try to show her everything they have and can do within the first half hour she steps in our home. She saves up coins in a jar and every time she sees the kids, she has them split whatever coins are in the jar. She tells them bedtime stories and does puzzles with Thing 1 and plays games with Thing 2. She watches shows and movies with them (she usually falls asleep). Then the kids tell her she snores and she refuses to believe it. It’s tradition.

In these brief visits, it’s nice to feel “looked out for” by parental types. It feels like some kind of invisible safety net has been temporarily hooked up beneath us. It’s nice.

Between these visits, we try to Skype now and then. And of course we blog and the kids blog. Our blog was originally started as a means to share with grandparents, since they all live so far away and we try to update it and share that way.


Besides our kids’ actual grandparents, we also have “grandparent types” – some here and some far. Jim certainly falls into that category. As do some friends around us.

For those out there with estranged or disinterested grandparents, you can’t force them to be involved. You also can’t exactly go around asking strangers to please adopt you and your kids (I’ve tried). But you can put yourself out there (law of attraction, anyone?) and simply make friends.

About a year ago, we met an interesting empty-nester couple at a local group of non-religious folks. They are intelligent and well traveled. They have raised 4 children together – all of them college graduates at pretty prestigious universities. They have great relationships with their children and speak highly of them all. Both of them came from rough backgrounds, having dealt with various kinds of abuse in their own childhoods, so they are keen on treating kids with respect.

We’ve gotten together with this couple multiple times – at their house, at our house, at local goings on, etc. They always, always show an interest in our kids and often email us to tell us that they are jealous of our children and the loving, respectful upbringing they are getting from us (something that is always sweet to hear). They are constantly telling us what terrific kids we have. We couldn’t agree more. Admittedly, it’s nice to hear it.

We have set up a monthly time to meet with them for dinner and games at our local coffee shop. We get together in the evening, eat (we go on half-price day), and then talk and play games for hours and hours. They often bring books or thoughtful tokens or something to share with the kids. They have given our kids their own plants to care for, have shared stories and information they thought our kids would like, and even bring books about places they’ve visited to talk about interesting places and people and artists, most recently Frank Lloyd Wright. They love that we’re homeschooling and like to share any information they can with our kids to help enrich them and their understanding. We’re very grateful for that.

Thing 1’s best friend’s grandmother has sewn with the girls, gotten them matching t-shirts, and taken them to see some community musical programs. Stuff like that makes me want to cry, we appreciate it so much. It’s “little things,” maybe, but to us, they’re big.

I also have a friend here in town who is a grandmother herself. She remembers every holiday with some kind of bag of goodies or present or thoughtful gesture for our kids. She sends them notes in the mail. She bakes them brownies sometimes. Her husband even dressed up as Santa when we visited them this past Christmas! She and I go out to lunch monthly together. She always asks about our kids and remembers their special events. Thing 2 especially likes her and always has. She used to lead a book club for him and his friends so that her granddaughter could have a special book club all her own (how awesome is that?!?) and Thing 2 has always spoken highly of it and how much he enjoys her and her thoughtfulness. She and I do a “double date” every summer – she with her grandson (who is a friend of Thing 2’s) and me with Thing 2. We go out to eat and to a movie or something along those lines. It’s fun and special and means a lot to us. She and her husband even joined us on a fun, local Christmas outing this past holiday and we all so loved spending the evening with them.

So, see, though it’s not at all the same, it’s something.


Take notes. I’ve seen and heard of some remarkable and creative things that grandparents do to maintain close relationships with their grandkids. Some of them are just so cool that I’ve got to write them down. I have the tendency to feel envious, so keeping notes on things I’d like to do someday helps direct it from helplessness to something I can do.

Here are some awesome things I’ve observed from friends who have shared with me over the years:

  • I have friends who have entire DAYS where they send their kids to grandma’s house while they get a ton done. I can’t even imagine. That sounds like a win-win-win and a time to feel guilt-free and productive. The kids are with their grandparents, the grandparents are with their grandkids, and you’re able to focus and get things done without feeling guilty that you’re not doing something with the kids. Wow.  
  • Date nights! We’ve done a few of these over the past 13+ years when grandparents have been in town. We don’t always do it when grandparents visit (because we want to visit with them, too!), but every once in a while, it’s pretty special. Years have gone by without us having been able to do this (instead, we get kids to bed and do “dates” at home – Chinese take-out and a movie or some such), but when we do, it’s pretty neat. Again, I almost feel weird, because I’m not used to it.
  • Showing up for births. My mom was in town for Thing 1’s birth. I know that meant a lot to her. I think when things get trickier is when subsequent children come along. I was a wreck about that – wanting someone I could really trust to be with Thing 1 while I was in the hospital giving birth to Thing 2. My mother-in-law saved the day on that one. My mother couldn’t commit to come, so we asked my MIL. I know she felt funny about it, but she completely saved our sanity, giving us much greater peace of mind. She even came a week early and made us meals every night, something I greatly appreciated since I was huge by then Mark was busy with medical school – it was a very nice treat.
  • My friend who meets me for lunch does individual dates with her grandkids. She has given amazingly thoughtful gifts to her grandkids that all ensure her involvement and presence. She gifted her oldest grandchild, when he turned 14, the gift of a monthly one-on-one lunch out with her. They walk together regularly anyway, so they often walk to the different restaurants, spend time talking and eating, and walk back together.
  • She also gave her daughter one of the coolest Christmas gifts I’ve ever heard of – she gave her a YEAR of weekly cleanings to help her daughter have more time with her kids. Wow!
  • Another one of my friends, just yesterday, told me a great idea. Her parents live over 2 hours away and make the drive weekly to spend weekends with their grandkids. She said if her kids don’t see their grandparents once a week that they would wonder what on earth was going on. Well, even though they drive 5 hours round trip weekly to visit their grandkids, they also send their oldest grandchild (he’s 14) a weekly news item from the newspaper. They cut something out of the Wall Street Journal that they think would interest him and they send it in the mail along with some spending money. When they visit, the grandfather takes each child on a walk where they talk, visit shops, and he buys them treats and things – he spends a good, long time with each child and then goes back to do the same with the next grandchild. How special!
  • My friend’s mother also buys pretty much all the clothing for her grandkids and then says, “Oh, you’re busy and it’s hard to shop with kids, so it’s just easier if I do it, plus I enjoy doing it.” My friend hasn’t bought any clothing for her kids in years!
  • I have another friend whose mother also buys much of the grandkids’ clothing, taking the children shopping with her when she goes. I suppose for those who love to shop, it’s a joy and not a chore. Personally, I don’t get it (blech to shopping!), but I can see how it’s a great benefit!
  • I have friends whose parents take all their grown children, in-laws, and grandchildren on big family vacations. I have friends who have gone to Disney, Mexico, Europe, on cruises, and the beach. Most everyone around here does annual or bi-annual week-long trips to the beach together.
  • Babysitting regularly while the children work. I suppose that one might be too “common” to put on the list, but it’s very meaningful, so it merits a spot. I’ve read many articles that talk about how in today’s day and age, many grandparents are helping to raise their grandchildren. In some cases, it is becoming more and more common for there to be 3 generations living under one roof, working together for house and home. Mark’s best friend from high school is married with 2 girls. His mother lives with them and cares for the house and the girls while her son and daughter-in-law work. I have several friends here who are in similar situations.
  • Having a stash of goodies at their house for kids to eat or use when they visit. When we take our dog for a walk, we see a couple of houses with signs that say things like “Grandkids always welcome” and “Grandma and Papa’s house for cookies, milk, hugs, kisses, and snuggles. Open Anytime.” And “Grandma never runs out of hugs or cookies.” Sure they’re chintzy, but they’re sweet and give you warm fuzzies. Who wouldn’t feel great walking in to a house with those kinds of signs?
  • My SIL’s parents built a big house for themselves with tons of extra rooms and yard space for kids and grandkids to enjoy. They even have a dedicated playroom with clubhouse as well as a built-in home theater! Snazzy. They’re the ones that made me think that downsizing isn’t necessarily the thing to do when older and retired.
  • There is a business owner in town who has a room set up just for her grandkids and they do regular sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. When she heard that our kids’ grandparents are on either coast, she about cried and then said that maybe our kids could go over sometime. She was just being polite, but it was nice nonetheless.
  • My mom sometimes Skypes with the kids and they play their instruments for her via the Internet. Now and then she also sends “just because” packages of books, homeschooling stuff, etc.
  • A friend of mine said that her parents don’t live close by but close enough for a long drive to get here. She said she can call her parents (they are divorced) any time and ask them to come see and spend time with her kids and she knows that either one of them will come just because she asked. Wow.
  • I’ve heard of far away grandparents who record themselves reading books out loud and send them to their grandkids so they can “read” them bedtime stories even from a distance. Such a cute idea.
  • One of my friends has a mother who regularly buys groceries, always including the grandkids’ favorite foods
  • Teaching grandkids new skills like fishing or sewing or baking by doing the activity together. I know Thing 1 loves baking pies with Mark’s mom.
  • Another friend of mine lives upstairs from her in-laws and every week on Friday night, the grandparents cook a big meal for everyone and they have “Family Dinner” together. I love love love that idea.
  • Because they live right downstairs, the little kids often go downstairs in the morning and ask their grandparents to make them eggs for breakfast. Their grandma often makes them cookies and fudge, too.
  • My one friend says that she doesn’t even have to ask her mother for help. Her mother anticipates her needs by looking at her calendar, noticing the busy times, thinking ahead, and just offering, “Hey, Monday looks really busy for you, so how about I drive a couple of the kids to their activities and make dinner that night?”
  • Keeping up on grandkids through blogs and/or Facebook.
  • Taking them to movies.
  • Attending local field trips together.
  • One of my friends got a Disney time share as a gift from her kids’ grandparents and they go down every 3 years to use it. Wow.
  • There is a grandma in our book club who has 8 grown children. She spends most of her summers (and other times of the year as well) driving all over the country to visit her grandchildren. This past fall/winter, she went out to visit one of her children to help with the young grandchildren since they had some work stuff going on. While she was finishing up there, another one of her children in another state had a grandmother-in-law pass away, so she drove down there to help with those grandchildren. When she was done there, one of her other children in yet another state had something else come up, so she drove out to them next! What was supposed to be a 1-2 week trip turned into almost 2 months!
  • My friends who do family dinners also go out to dinner together for every birthday in the family – that’s 14 birthdays a year, by the way.
  • Showing up to spend time with them for events or just because.
  • I know a grandma who takes her granddaughters out with her for mini-spa days where they get manicures and/or pedicures together.
  • Saving for college/a car for their grandkids. I’ve heard countless stories about this, too. Everyone approaches it differently, but the most common way I’ve heard is just putting aside a bit each month for each child over the years.



So I wrote most of the above on Thursday. Today is Friday and our family attended a workshop at a local library today all about writing memoirs. The room was FULL of older ladies, most of whom are grandmothers, so there were tons more ideas I heard today and thought I’d add to the list before hitting “publish.”

  • Memory boxes – a couple of the grandmas there today said they make “memory boxes” for each grandchild where they make a box and put a picture on it of themselves with each child and then they fill the box with stories about the child, cute things the child says, stories they’ve written for the child, programs from the child’s recitals and concerts and events, etc. Such a thoughtful idea!
  • Several of these women all said they write stories specifically for their grandchildren. That reminds me of Mark’s grandma – she has always done that (stories, poems, etc.) and continues to do so into her 90s!
  • The author teaching the class is 72 and she said she sends each grandchild roses when they turn 13.
  • Almost every grandma in the room was there to get ideas about and help with writing memoirs for their grandchildren.
  • One of the grandmas said that she had a granddaughter that was struggling with reading and the school was going to remediate her and her parents were concerned and upset, so the grandma offered to start a book club with her granddaughter. She got a list of books together and put together discussion questions and fun things for each book and did most of the book club for her granddaughter and her granddaughter’s friends by mail and email. The granddaughter’s reading improved so much that she was set for school. And she learned to have fun reading. I thought that idea was super sweet.
  • The woman teaching the class keeps a book for each grandchild filled with stories, memories, and funny things all about that child. When the child is a teenager, she visits with him or her and sits down and goes through the book with the child together.
  • She also makes DVDs and audio tapes of stories and interviews for them as well as written stories and memoirs.
  • The woman teaching the class said that she has 3 sons and 10 grandchildren. Every summer, she does a “Camp Nana” (something or other – don’t remember the name, but it was cute and clever) and all the grandkids go to her house for 1-2 weeks and she does a full-on summer camp of activities for them. She gives her own kids/in-laws some “couple time” and she spends those summer camp weeks doing all kinds of things with her grandkids. She asks them what kind of stuff they want to do and then incorporates it. This past year they said they wanted to write a book together, so they all did. Each grandchild made a page and she self-published it as one whole book and gave everyone a copy!
  • Another woman in the class is also in her 70s and is a college professor (she still teaches 1-2 classes/semester) and she mentioned something that isn’t specifically for her own grandchildren, but was still very thoughtful and sweet, so I wanted to mention it. She said she’s getting to the age where she’s losing friends as they leave this life. She had a friend who passed away recently, so she wrote a big, long letter to her friend’s grandchildren to let them know what a wonderful woman their grandmother was. I thought that was really thoughtful and very much going the extra mile.

What’s crazy is that after this workshop, we went home and had lunch and then I took the kids to the park and heard yet more stories about grandparents! I wasn’t even asking or looking for these; they just kept coming up! But I’ll stop before this gets any longer. Suffice it to say, this list is endless!!

So, back to my original closing from yesterday . . .

Whew, that’s quite a list! I’m sure I’m forgetting some and I’d love to hear more.

What are some of your favorite experiences with your grandparents? If you have children, what are some of your favorite things that your parents and in-laws do as grandparents for your children?

Edited on 9/6/16 to add this article. There are some good ideas in that one, too.


The Magic Violinist said...

Even though we might not have relatives that live close, YET, in less than a month "Uncle Dave," "Aunt Christie," and our "cousins" Rich and Brennan will live SIX MINUTES AWAY!!!! ;)

Dave Johnson said...

This is officially the longest blog post I've ever seen. Ever. And the bullet points. MY GOD THE BULLET POINTS.

Dave Johnson said...

Oops - hit enter too soon.

Anyway - can't wait to be there either. We can trade off doing grandparenty stuff, at least as it relates to giving one another breaks.

My grandparents died before I was an adult and I often wonder what it would have been like to have an adult relationship with them. I think it's one of the reasons I'm so attached to Christie's Granny Lucy. She's always treated me like her own.

But yeah, I feel you on the long distance things. It seems like kids benefit so much from that further validation and our situation is such that even when grandparents can watch videos or skype, the moment has kind of passed and it just doesn't mean as much as it would in the present.

I'm going to bookmark this post and hope Blogger is still around when I'm a grandparent so I can use all these cool ideas. Maybe I should print a hard copy just in case...(did you hear they're nixing Google Wallet too? Grrrr...)

Anonymous said...

I can so relate to your feelings! Like you, my parents are in New England and my husband's are in California. It is so difficult. Not having back-ups is huge, but as you say, you just deal with it. It is normal. For us, the biggest issue is when we both get sick. Who can take care of our child? No one. We have to work it out. It usually means tons of TV for him, but you make do. You just can't ask friends to help out in that situation. I have had friends offer to go to the store and bring us medicine or food, but I even feel bad asking/accepting something like that.

Aside from the unexpected, I ache for our son to be close to his grandparents. I didn't have that as a child. My paternal grandparents both passed before I was born, my maternal grandfather passed when I was 18 months old, and my maternal grandmother, while she is still living, is not a warm person. She is self-centered and more interested in pointing out faults than nurturing relationships. Nevertheless, I so wanted to be close to her when I was younger. My mother protected my sister and me from my grandmother's alcoholism, for which I am grateful, but it meant we rarely spent more than three consecutive days with my grandmother.

I know our son's grandparents wish they could see him more. I try really hard to make sure they speak on the phone as often as possible. We talk about them all the time, and we try to spend as much time with them as possible. My mom has never missed one of his birthdays, and both my parents have spent every Christmas with him. My MIL has been here for almost all of his birthdays, too. We invite them on vacation with us whenever possible, and I know none of them can wait until he is old enough to spend a week with them without us! (I'm not sure I'll ever be ready for that!)

But you know, this is the world we live in. It is so easy to travel now that it is rare for families to live close by anymore. We have to do the best we can. I think that just being mindful of the distance helps us to bridge that distance in whatever ways we can. Of course, it helps when all parties want to bridge that distance.

I know, even though they don't see us often, my parents are always concerned about being fourth and fifth wheels when they vacation with us or spend holidays with us. What they don't understand is that we love having them with us. We wish they could stay longer or spend more vacations with us!

I'm lucky, my husband had wonderful relationships with all of his grandparents, and he is more than happy to have our parents "tag along" whenever they want. But still, it would be great to have them just a few miles away. I feel your pain.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm a little slow on the uptake, but I didn't get this was an "A, B, C..." list until the end!

Your a great writer, Mark!

Anonymous said...

Ok, that last comment was supposed to go under Mark's ABC's list...stupid open ID thingy...

Emily Foley said...

Wow. That is quite a post. Dave's first comment made me laugh out loud.

So often I'll call to talk to one of my parents and the one will answer and say "Oh, Dad is taking Alex to her horseback riding lesson." or "Mom is driving David to scouts, Bekah needed to take a nap." and I FUME. It makes me SO MAD that my sister-in-law gets to stay home with her napping baby while my parents drive her teenagers around. But really, I'm just super jealous. I would do the same thing if I lived less than a mile from parents. They're so lucky. Lots of people here have whole families here too and I sometimes feel wistful when I hear that "the kids are with grandma today." But also, there have been really good things about living away from family. Like you said, you have to rely on each other. And our friends have become almost like family. I have one really good friend that I can always rely on when I need her to take my kids last minute or when I'm about to lose my mind, she'll bring me a treat. That kind of thing. I have to say I love how Vivian and Grandma Pope are always sending cards and small gifts in the mail for the kids. It makes me feel so valued. And just yesterday I checked the mail and my mom had sent me a new whisk (for cooking with) and some whipped cream maker cartridges and a cute dress. Just because. Things like that make me feel remembered, even if I'm forgettable in this far-off place.

My mom's mom lived in Albuquerque when I was growing up and we were very close. She abandoned her family when my mom's youngest sister was 11 (my mom was already married) and my parents raised her. Eventually they tracked her down to AZ and brought her back to NM where she lived until she died. I think she regretted what she did and made up for it with me, spoiling me rotten. We had a great relationship and I was with her when she died (just me, my family was in Utah). Some of the most precious moments in my life. But I found out years later that the rest of her family felt totally abandoned by her, and I couldn't believe it because I was so loved by her. But with 11 children and soooo many grandkids, I don't think she could have possibly done for them what she did for me. It makes me feel guilty but also grateful. And also, I know she loved them. But I wonder if part of her was ashamed of what she had done and relied on my family because they had "called her to repentance" and helped support her? I don't know, but it's sad to see the difference there. My dads parents lived in Logan, Utah and we drove to see them twice a year at conference time, and they usually came down to ABQ for Thanksgiving. While they never sent cards or presents on birthdays or Christmas, I never doubted I was loved and valued. My grandpa died when I was 16 and my grandma died a few years ago when my parents were in Israel. My dad didn't make it back in time for the funeral--and I didn't go either because it was the same day as Isaac's birthday and Dave's masters graduation. But I feel like all of this is okay--the distance, the great variation between grandparents in their devotion--because I know they love us. And we're sealed, and we'll have all the time in the world after we die to hang out and devote our time to each other. I really look forward to that.

(also grandparenthood might not be THAT far off. My sister is going to be a grandma in January and she's only 43!)

Say it with me now, "Longest comment EVER. MY GOSH, THE LONGEST." :)

Jimmy said...

What are some of your favorite experiences with your grandparents? My great grandma Isa lived to 100 and I have lots of funny memories of her. Mostly of me finding things for her because she was so absent minded but liked to laugh at herself. So when I was little and found her purse in the freezer, we laughed a lot about that. One of my all time favorites was the time I stopped her from gargling with Pine-Sol (she thought it was Listerine), and the time she dusted all our wood furniture with Raid bug spray thinking it was Pledge.

If you have children, what are some of your favorite things that your parents and in-laws do as grandparents for your children? My girls love having sleep overs at my mom's house. Some of the highlights are my mom takes them to WalMart the first day so they can pick out whatever cereal they want, my mom's husband takes them to Walgreen's the next day because they have the best candies (and fake nails), and my mom always finds a craft for them to do, like a paint by numbers or popsicle stick picture frames, etc. So the girls always come home with something handmade.

Kristie said...

I think grandparenting is so much more complicated than parenting. Not only do we have to consider what kind of grandparents we want to be (great ideas, btw!), we also will someday have to consider what kind of grandparent our children and their spouses will want us to be. I think predicting what kind of grandparents our own children will want won't be very difficult- its those future sons in laws and daughter in laws that sometimes make me worry. In law relationships can be so complicated. Sure, we can aim to be a fantastic Mother In Law by being warm and friendly, supporting and loving, but will our future daughters in laws and sons in laws understand where we are coming from having not grown up with us? I hope so, but it can be such a crap shoot, I think. Not because I think our future In Laws will be difficult people, but because they will bring their own upbringings and expectations to the mix. These are just some things I have been thinking about now that my oldest has graduated, and the prospect of grandchildren no longer seems so far off (though still not for a while, I hope!!).

Oh, and reading you blog made me remember why I love shopping so much. It was something my grandmother and I did together (my own mother hated shopping).

Brita Szymanski said...

I so agree that grandparents are key in all of our lives. I love when grandparents invest themselves in their grandchildren's lives, whether they live next door or a two-day drive away.

We lived out of state from our parents for the first nine years of our kids' lives and I am so grateful for all the things both of our parents did to stay connected with our family and to have an influence over our girls. Now that we're close, it's definitely different and we love being able to spend more time with them, but I've learned that living far away from each other doesn't have to mean the relationship has to suffer.

You'll be as good of a grandma as you are a mom! OF COURSE you're taking notes already! Love that about you :)

Brita Szymanski said...

So it looks like Brita didn't log out of her account and I didn't log in :) I'm sure you figured that out!

Dr. Mark said...

I just thought Brita was super wise and encouraging!

Vivian said...

Our situation was similar to yours in that we didn't have grandparents or any relatives nearby while we were raising our 6 boys. I would not have survived without my friend, Marla. I pretty sure a couple of the boys wouldn't have survived either:) My mother warned me if I married a Californian, he would take me away from my family. There are consequences to our decisions.
I saw some awesome ideas for grandmas, but who has that kind of time? I hope by the time I can retire I still have any energy left to enjoy family.

Boquinha said...

Awww, TMV, that is so sweet. And so true! Plus, I've taken so long to respond that now I can say, "THEY LIVE HERE NOW!" And we're enjoying it very, VERY much, aren't we?

Dave, bwahahahahaha! And shut up. You'll thank me when you're a grandparent and you look up this post, with all its bullet points, as a reference guide.

Also? YOU LIVE HERE NOW. I can hardly believe you've been here 3 weeks. Why aren't you unpacked yet? What, is it because of your RAGINGLY AWESOME social life now? Hmmmmm?

We're glad you're here. It feels like family BIG time in a really, really good way. We're loving it already.

72fishes, the sick thing gets a little easier as kids get older, in the sense that they can get their own food, etc., but trickier to get them to their activities and such. Ugh.

Also, I think that a living, selfish grandparent is tougher than dealing with not having any, in some ways. It's a different kind of grieving process.

That's fantastic that your parents make the effort to be there for every birthday and Christmas. Very special.

The distance is a very mixed bag.

Boquinha said...

Emily, YES! That fuming thing? I so get that!! I grew up seeing my parents do SO MUCH for my brother and his wife and kids - dinners, babysitting, eating out, rides, house help, free rent, etc. So I kind of thought that was the norm. But yeah, very different situations. And you're so right - there are really good things about living away, too. People often comment on how close we are as a family - to some extent, that is a natural byproduct due in part to pulling together so much. It's great!

Is that sister your aunt Peg? Wow, that means she's more like a sister than an aunt! That's a sad story but nice for you that you got to have a relationship with your grandmother.

Sometimes I almost think that could be listed as a "con" in the big family department (though there are also so so many "pros") - it's hard to have a close relationship with everyone, so you're very spread thin. The same is true in any kind of paradigm - corporations, friendships, neighbors, so it stands to reason that it works that way in families, too.

Missing funerals can be hard for closure - we've missed some for members of my side of the family over the past several years.

Jimmy, I LOVE those stories. I am so forgetful these days (it's really bad) and I get so frustrated with myself. Your stories gave me a new perspective - find the humor in it and laugh! I love it!

That's really special that your mom makes their visits so special. That takes thought ahead of time and during - which is very, very nice.

Kristie, yep, all things to consider. I've seen some pretty amazing grandparents navigate tough in-law situations VERY well. It can't be easy, but some are really good at the whole relationship-with-others thing.

And I didn't know your mother hated shopping!

Rachelle! So nice to hear from you! I remember you guys living far from family and how hard that was for you - seeing all the ways you're close now explain why. Your families do some really special things to stay connected! That's great. And you're right - distance doesn't mean relationships have to suffer. I very much agree with that.

LOL @ Mark's comment re: Brita!

Vivian, yep, friends become like family. I've heard the stories of Marla saving you (and by extension, those boys)! Thank goodness she was there for you. Yeah, I married a Californian and we're in PA, though I don't think it has to do with him being a Californian. :P It's a myriad of things - mostly career, family, and financial. And I'm really happy with the consequences of my decisions - we may be far from extended family, but I really, REALLY love my life, Californian husband and all. :)

As for who has the time, well, I guess all the people from whom I got these ideas. Amazingly, most of them are still employed. I can't think of anyone I talked to who was retired. Wait, one of them was. But the rest are all employed!