I couldn't wait for Noelle and Grace to emerge from the Jetway. Soon I saw their cheerful faces and heard the excitement in their voices. "Nana!" Today was the first day of Grandma Camp.
My husband, Bob, and I are like many families today. We long to know our grandchildren better, to share happy memories during their growing years and to help guide them to follow Christ. However, we are separated from them by hundreds of miles and see them only a few times a year. A part of the answer for us is an annual event we call "Grandma Camp." Other family gatherings are wonderful, but the dynamics are completely different when we spend personal time together. Grandpa is certainly a big part of Grandma Camp, but the girls started calling it Grandma Camp after me, the hardworking camp director.
My husband and I are currently stationed at an Air Force base in the Historic Triangle of Virginia. Our grandaughters' other set of grandparents, David and Linda, live near Washington, D.C. We have a perfect arrangement with them. While we host one girl, they host the other, and then we switch. We have a week with each girl, and their parents have two weeks on their own. To make camp successful, Bob and I remember four words: parents, planning, personality and prayer.
Parents: You will do more harm than good if you mention a visit in front of the grandchild before the parents have an opportunity to discuss and approve the idea. Some parents are uncomfortable allowing their children to fly alone or having them away from home for more than a few days. Be sure to honor whatever the parents decide.
Planning: Our gift to each grandchild is her airline ticket and an invitation to Grandma Camp. In making arrangements, make the travel as simple as possible. Do your best to book a direct flight to limit any potential delays or connection issues. If your grandchildren are younger, you'll pay an unaccompanied minor fee and the airline will assign a person to watch out for them. For some grandparents, you may be close enough to drive your grandchildren to and from Grandma Camp.
Personality: Base the activities on each child's age, interests and personality. Prepare for your time together. Write out the plan for each day, including a few new adventures during the week. These trips might include a theme park, historical site, zoo, aquarium or activities such as horseback riding, going to the beach or shopping for a new school backpack. Investigate local attractions and interesting landmarks before the visit.
When we lived near Washington, D.C., we visited Mount Vernon, the Smithsonian and the Capitol. Surprised when our older granddaughter asked to visit her senators, I arranged for Noelle to meet the two senators from her home state of Texas. She now has framed photos of herself with Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn as a reminder of the day she learned about our federal government. Gracie had no interest in meeting her senators, but she did want to see the panda at the National Zoo and ride a roller coaster with her grandpa.
Prayer: Each evening we pray with the girls. We talk with our heavenly Father, knowing He loves our granddaughters and has a wonderful purpose for their lives.
On the final night of Grandma Camp, we gather all the photos taken during the week. Bob spends the evening helping his granddaughter arrange pictures and stickers into a colorful book of memories she can take home.
Every year at the end of camp, we drive home from the airport very tired — and grateful for our grandchildren and the special times we've had together. While Bob was deployed overseas, he received a call from Noelle he'll never forget. She told him that she had asked Jesus into her heart and wanted him to baptize her when he returned. Last year we traveled to Texas for Noelle's baptism.
All those years of Grandma Camp paid off with the richest of rewards.