I'm a long-distance grandparent. I guess there must be a lot of us now, families spread across the country, across the continent, around the world. But I never pictured my life this way.
Before I had grandchildren, I gave much thought to what my day-to-day interaction with them would be like. I knew I would love them, boys or girls. I would probably buy them cute little outfits and cuddly stuffed animals. I would read them storybooks with pictures of rabbits, dogs and cats. I would bake cookies with them and for them. That's just how it would be.
I never thought about how I would manage my feelings when my grandkids ended up living thousands of kilometres away. How would I feel when I wouldn't be there for every birthday or every Christmas? When they had special days at school, like Grandparents' Day, I wouldn't be attending. I wouldn't be the one babysitting them or spoiling them.
My daughter married an American. Her family has lived in Texas for 12 years. Both my grandchildren – two wonderful boys ages 12 and 8 – have a grandparent where they live, who sees the kids on a regular basis.
One of their onsite grandparents recently passed away. When the kids were little he did a whole lot of babysitting and after-school care. These were the kinds of things I thought I would get to do, but I thank him for being there with all his love and kindness.
Instead, I rely on technology to keep in touch. What did long-distance grandparents do before e-mail and Facebook? I know they wrote letters and their grandkids wrote back. I still get snail mail deliveries from the kids. They send me cards, pictures and letters. I look at them, touch them, put them down and do it all over again. Then I tuck them away in my "grandma's treasure box."
I do enjoy using e-mail and Facebook. There's something so immediate about keeping in touch this way. I get to know within seconds what's happened that day at school or on the soccer field. I respond with "good job" and write them corny knock-knock jokes, then tell how my day is going.
But there are a few things I worry about. Some days I think there is something scary about Facebook. I don't have any ideas who all these "friends" of my grandchildren are. Do they go to school together, play sports with each other? Why are there are so many of them? When I was 12, I had three friends. My oldest grandson has 22. All this is just unfamiliar to me.
I do know about Skype and some of my friends use it, but I'm afraid I'm not up to being able to see their faces and not reaching out and touching them.
Living far away means there are all kinds of things I don't know about my grandkids. What music do they like and would I know the artist anyway? Most of today's music I don't understand, and some of it I think is downright nasty.
How tall are they now? I haven't seen them in almost a year. Gee, the older boy can't be almost as tall as me now, can he? How is that possible?
What should I send for gifts? I'm not all that savvy on electronic stuff. I usually send money because it's always the right colour and always the right size.
The big worry is if they are going to remember me? Will the miles between us stand in the way of a relationship that lasts through the years?
They visit me when they can every couple of years. The 12-year-old is now hard to keep busy for a whole week – kids that age are easily bored. I used to have a dog that he loved to take for walks but the dog is gone now.
The younger boy is coming to visit next summer and still likes to go down to the pond nearby and go fishing. I'm good with that.
I go to visit as often as I can. But both my daughter and son-in-law work in the city and are away early in the morning and back late in the afternoon. The kids are at school all day and I can't visit for very long in the summer when they are on vacation from school. Texas is scorching in the months of July and August and physically, at 67, I can't do it any more.
People ask me, "How do you manage with your grandkids being so far away?" That question really makes me sad. It's hard for me to answer.
I have learned to manage my feelings of sadness by building memories. Pleasant, long-lasting, childhood memories don't just happen. Adults play a big part in providing an environment for experiences to take place and by participating in them.
My one grandson always says he remembers that I bake from scratch. We like to bake together, so that's one memory. The other boy likes to catch frogs with me, I think mostly to see me wrinkle my face in disgust, so that's another memory.
I use every resource I can to provide a setting for memories. Visits, storytelling, e-mails and, yes, even Facebook. I overcome the distance and try to cherish the memories we make together.
Audrey Thomas lives in Tottenham, Ont.