Staying connected to young grandchildren takes a conscious effort, but in many ways, it is easier than when they are teenagers or young adults and consumed with school, careers, or new families. Distance may be a hurdle to overcome. No matter what age they are, reminders that you are their grandparent, whether by phone, Zoom, or Facetime, takes minutes. Having a routine of contacting them once a week might require a reminder on the calendar to be consistent, especially if you have several grandchildren. However, other touches that say you care count, also.
When you travel, send postcards to remind them that you are thinking of them. Those postcards can open the world and start their history lesson of significant landmarks. Wanting to take a souvenir to my twelve grandchildren, I searched for tiny mementos that would pack easily. For the granddaughters, I started a collection of trinket boxes from various states and countries, which proved difficult to find in some countries. When none were available, I chose souvenir pill boxes. My oldest granddaughter Alex took her trinket collection to college and lined them up on the windowsill.
The grandsons received snow globes, now prominently displayed in their bedrooms in a wall cabinet or bookcase as a reminder of our travels. Some of the snow globes were purchased on a Disney or Tahoe trip when they were with us.
I no longer give the college and older grandchildren souvenirs of our travels, but our youngest granddaughter Emma, 16, collects playing cards and key chains. They are easy to find, so I can add to her collection. A unique box to house the postcards and small items makes a useful gift to encourage saving the items. Thrift or antique stores have interesting wooden or metal boxes that become treasured gifts.
Read to them; watch movies with them; cook with them. I read the children’s classics to them, such as nursery rhymes, fairy tales, “A Child’s Garden of Verse,” “The Little Engine that Could,” “The Little Red Hen,” and “Winnie the Pooh.” When they spent the night or we visited, we baked cookies, and they helped me with meals. They all cook now and enjoy it. One even commented that I taught her to cook although I know her mother contributed, too. When it rained in Florida, the boys, Paul, and I had marathon movie days with the “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” series. I relish another session of those movies.
Post their art either on the refrigerator with magnets, on cork boards, or in frames. Be sure you show no favorites, however. They count how many of their things you have displayed as opposed to sister’s or cousin’s works.
If possible, take them alone or with a cousin on a trip: camping, to visit great-grandparents, to Disney Land or Disney World for a sleepover or a week. Take lots of pictures. Then make a scrapbook or a digital book of the pictures with texts to describe what you did. If they are young, they will forget, but a book of pictures will retain the experience.
Establishing a family vacation week does wonders to solidify the family. Plan early, a year in advance. Ask for suggestions on meals and activities and loosely plan. Be flexible, but have activities available: puzzles, Scrabble, Bingo, as well as interactive games. Cousins become friends and really know each other. Older siblings have time to catch up and talk in depth. Grandparents get to share and participate in conversations, games, and outings. Take a family picture and send one to each adult. Welcome anyone who can attend, but do not make those who have other commitments feel guilty.
We have had our beach week for about thirty-three years, and most of the kinks are smooth now. We have had drama, harsh words, hurt feelings, but the week endures and is a priority. Working to improve and create a fun family week is worth the angst and effort. Routine does help eventually. Digital books record some of the years, and my goal is to make one at least every other year. Those books with their great-grandmother and great-aunts participating are special. The babies may not remember them, but the pictures will record extended family for them.
Christmas is a good time to start a collection that will carry through to adulthood. From birth, each grandchild received an ornament each year until they were on their own. The ornaments were geared to that child’s particular interest: cats, Disney princesses, football, baseball, guitars. As they became older, they received religious themed ornaments. As they decorated their first Christmas tree, they had reminder ornaments of childhood.
When Ethan was three-years-old, he loved Thomas the Tank Engine. I happened to see a conductor nutcracker, and that started nutcracker collections for the four grandsons. Shopping after Christmas for a nutcracker each boy would appreciate was fun, and I got a head start on shopping for gifts. The girls received nativity angels, the same brand each year: Fontanini, Willow Tree, or Jim Shore. When they have their first apartment, they get the matching nativity starter set. The grandsons receive a starter nativity set when they are on their own, too. Adding to their nativity sets continues each Christmas and makes gift giving less stressful. Those Christmas ornaments and nativities are another way to keep memories alive a bit longer.
For several years, I have wanted to start a new tradition, and I plan to do it this year: write a New Year’s Letter to each grandchild. While each letter may have some identical paragraphs, I hope to personalize each one with special notations of the year’s family events that involved them, with words expressing my pride in their accomplishments. Brevity will be a goal because length sometimes inhibits reading it!
Gathering new ideas to link family members is continuous. Friends share ideas. One idea morphs into another. Vintage gifts accompanied by a note relating the history of the item had its beginning when clearing out cupboards became a necessity. Once the gift is given, it no longer belongs to me. The new owner has charge of keeping it or discarding it. An evening handbag owned by my mother-in-law was enthusiastically received by Isabella, so that is one success.
You may have family members who resist the family events, are not sentimental, do not care about the little family traditions, but someone will come along who does cherish the tidbits of their extended family. It may be years later that they realize the value of family and what it takes to build a bonded family unit. Enjoy the ones who will gather and participate and hope for others to see the fun and ultimately want to join. Memories of those notes and calls, those outings and trips, plus those keepsakes you gave will travel into adulthood, carrying a trace of you with them.
Vol. 38, No. 36 - Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022