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Grandparenting Across the Miles

Over the highway and through the traffic, to Grandmother's condo we go!

Sure, it's a slight variation on the traditional song, but one that fits the status of many grandparents today. We watch as our children grow up, marry, move, have children of their own and perhaps move again. Grandsons and granddaughters may not be down the road or around the corner as we might wish they were.

Grandparents, too, change locations. Some sell the family home and move into a townhouse or tour the country in an RV, or settle down in a little cottage by a lake far from the city. If a grandparent and grandchild want to remain connected, they have to find creative ways to carry on their relationship across the miles. It's a bit more challenging than if they lived in the same city or neighborhood, but it can be done, and it can be done successfully, as many grandparents can attest.

My mother and father, for example, lived apart from my three children (their first grandchildren) from the time my son and daughters were born. But they didn't let that stop them from maintaining a close relationship. They wrote regularly, phoned often, sent unexpected treats, and sometimes met us half-way between our house and theirs for a few days of vacation together.

My children have lasting memories of their grandparents surrounding them with love and passing on a sense of heritage they will never forget. And my parents were great role models for me — now that I have grandchildren of my own.

Whether you are a new grandparent or a veteran, you may want to consider some of the following activities as you build your long-distance relationship with your grandsons and granddaughters.

Be a phone pal. Instead of calling your adult children and then asking to speak to the grandchildren, call the kids first! They will love it. Be ready to ask questions about their friends, interests, school and sports. Take notes so you'll know what to talk about on a follow-up call.

Go digital. We no longer have to wait for our photos to be developed, make copies and then send them through the mail. Nowadays, we can share photos as a digital file over the Internet. The kids will 'see' you almost immediately. They can do the same in return. You can also record messages and footage with a video camera or compile a memory album of special photos.

Send a 'love package.' Everyone enjoys a surprise gift, and no one more than children. Watch for sales and stock up ahead on small items that you can mail for reasonable postage. I've packed chewing gum, creative stickers, flower seeds, coloring books, valentine cards, Easter candy, puzzles and so on. A card with a couple of dollars tucked inside is also a favorite with boys and girls of all ages. No matter what it contains, a 'love package' is a terrific way to say, "I'm thinking of you, miss you and love you."

Be an instant 'messager.' Modern kids are into IM (Instant Messaging). No child or teen can ignore an IM — especially if it's from Grandma or Grandpa. Thank heaven for the Internet. You can send an e-mail to chat with your grandchildren, regardless of the time zone. Grandparents whose grandchildren live in a foreign country find this to be one of the best 'connection' tools available. Through e-mail you can play games, share books, talk about the latest movies, discuss topics of mutual interest and give and take tips about a hobby you may share.

My 11-year-old grandson Jake for example, is an amateur gardener and chef. He wrote to tell me that he had earned $125 from his door-to-door chocolate chip cookie business. And he grew a watermelon that was so big is could have won a prize. What fun it was to hear about these adventures — in "real time."

My 13-year-old granddaughter Johannah is a Shakespeare buff. She's been to two Shakespeare camps and has been in several of the old bard's plays. She's also writing a teenage novel with a friend. She knows of my interest in theatre and writing, so we have a lot to 'talk' about when we chat via e-mail.

If you don't have a computer, I recommend you make this purchase a priority. Today's children are growing up with the Internet. If we want to remain a vital part of their world, we need to 'get with the program,' as the saying goes.

Grandparenting across the miles takes a little more effort and ingenuity than being there in person, but it's worth whatever it takes. You and your grandchildren will be the richer for it.

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