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After graduating college, I lived and worked in Santiago, Chile for three years. I enjoyed my time there, learning about the culture and exploring the quickly developing city. One New Year’s Eve, I asked some of my Chilean friends what their plans were. “We’ll celebrate the New Year with our family, then go out with our friends after midnight.” Really? New Year’s with your grandmother and your precocious 4 year-old nephew? Growing up in my family, I remember babysitters while my parents went out and later on, anxiously making plans with friends to make sure I had a fully baked New Year’s Eve plan.

I immediately loved the Chilean New Year’s where family takes center stage. The idea that, on a day that holds some promise for a fresh start or new adventure, you surround yourself with the people that have supported you in the past, and will likely be there to help you along in the future. In addition, celebrating a new year with different generations reminds us of our past and the people who helped create the opportunities we look forward to and sometimes take for granted. Finally, as a pragmatist with her own insecurities, you always have a place to go on New Year’s.

Jeremy Bloom, the two-time Olympic Skier and former NFL football player, gave a terrific talk at TEDx in Denver about the need to recognize and thank seniors in the US culture. During his discussion, he shared an experience he had while in Japan. He was riding a crowded bus when an elderly woman entered. Everyone stood up, helped her along, made sure she had a seat, then bowed to her. He saw a need for the US culture to do a better job appreciating seniors and the contributions they made to our world today. He even created ‘Wish of a Lifetime,’ a non-profit dedicated to enriching the life of seniors.

I was thrilled to hear about Jeremy’s organization and his efforts to bring a cultural shift in how we think about seniors in our country. In the meantime, when my own kids were born, I asked my husband if we could spend New Year’s with our kids, as long as they let us. It’s been 8 years now, and we love it. I just wish their grandparents lived closer to join us.

Looking for ideas to help kids to have fun and build a relationship with their grandparents? Holly from the Kids Activities Blog came up with a terrific list of activities. You can visit her post, or read them below.

Grandparent Activities, from the Kids Activities Blog

  • Reading together – This is one of my boys’ favorite things to do with their grandma.  She is more patient than I am and will read the same book over and over.  The boys notice this and always have a book picked out for a day she visits.  It is a time that they can snuggle on the couch and the kids don’t even notice the extra hugs and kisses.  When they spend the night at their grandparents, their grandpa is legendary for reading multiple bedtime stories while the younger grandkids drift off to sleep.  As my boys have learned to read themselves, they have liked practicing their new skills with grandma on our homeschool days.
  • Sharing a sport – Baseball has become a very big deal to my oldest son.  He is 11 and watches every Ranger game faithfully.  His “Bampa” is also a huge fan.  If we go to the game we send pictures and texts back to Bampa with information and commentary.  If Ryan is watching from home, Bampa often calls after an important play or an unfortunate loss.  Sometimes we schedule visits around the game schedule so the two can watch together.  They share game stats and a love for the game.
  • Playing a sport – For the last two years, Thursdays has been golfing with grandpa.  My dad picks up Ryan and they go play a 3 par course not far from our house.  The game always ends with an oversized milkshake.  Ryan has benefited from his coaching and looks forward to Thursdays.  This summer, Reid(9) has joined them a few times.
  • Playing a game – During a grandparent visit, there is nothing more fun then playing a game.  My youngest delights in beating grandma at Connect 4 or challenging Mimi to a frantic game ofPit.  We have found that Lego’s Creationary is a great game that levels the playing field {actually, the boys almost always win}.  If a visit isn’t possible, games like Words with Friendsor Hanging with Friends are fun for grandparents and kids to compete long distance.
  • Sharing art – Mimi has always had paint-by-number sets that are available at her house to paint.  She will sit down with painting grandkids and help complete the work of art.  My boys have loved painting with Mimi and proudly bring home finished artwork that reminds them of the experience.  Sending kids’ artwork to a grandparent is also a fun way to stay connected.  Many kids are prolific artists who would be thrilled to have an off-site gallery of their works by an admiring collector.
  • Telling family stories – A photo album or old home movie can be the perfect way to spark kids’ interest in their family tree.  My kids love to look at old pictures of their dad and me and hear about how we were as kids.  I think it blows their minds to think about how we were once their age and had siblings {their aunts and uncles} that we fought with {no way!} and grew up with.  Sharing stories together passes down family legacies and traditions in an organic way.
  • Building together –The building/construction gene skipped a generation in my family.  Both my dad {grandpa} and my father-in-law {Bampa} are skilled in this area.  My boys love spending time with them building and fixing things.  They are learning things that their dad and I can’t teach them.  My youngest who is 6 is working on an elaborate set of “blueprints” for a life-size pirate paddle boat that grandpa will help him build.  He has spent hours at home planning and if anyone can help him bring his ideas to life, it is grandpa!
  • Baking together – Hanging out in Mimi’s kitchen is a favorite activity.  Helping her bake a cake or make pancakes for an impromptu 2nd breakfast mid-morning is always a hit.  Mimi is much more liberal with what she allows the boys to do and eat.  They embrace it completely!
  • Measuring growth – Mimi has all the family’s growth marked in pencil and pen on the back of her pantry door.  It isn’t just the kids that get measured on a regular basis, it is everyone.  Even past pets.  I am proud to report that I am still holding steady at 5’8″.  The boys study that door on a regular basis.  It is fun to see that they are just an inch shorter than a cousin was at the same age or how they are gaining on the next generation.
  • Teaching/Learning – Every once in awhile the perfect teaching moment comes along to bring in grandparent support.  This happened a few months ago as Ryan prepared for a Famous Texan presentation.  He called up Bampa for inside information on who might be a good choice for his speech and some stories about what he remembered about that person.  Mimi was the source behind a paper on what life was like 50 years ago.  Grandpa is teaching my boys to play chess.  Each of these educational moments bring them closer together and give them something else they have in common.

Have fun!!

It’s been a long time since my husband and I have taken a vacation without our kids. Finally, we think they are old enough to be left with their grandparents for a few days while we take a mini adventure. Our biggest concern is that our youngest child will miss us too much. Of course, that might just be my ego talking, and her grandmother certainly doesn’t anticipate this. Regardless, here’s what I am doing now to help her survive a few days without mom and dad:

1. Talking up their visit with grandparents. I am spending a lot of time reminding her how much she loves her time with her grandparents. I am playing up the beach, the sand toys, my mom’s kids books and, of course, the cupcakes at the local bakery.

2. Helping the grandparents plan activities. My mom and I have thought of some fun things to do while we are away. They will have a couple of movie nights, and we are already looking into DVDs that can be on hand before the kids arrive. We also signed the girls up for a camp to give my parents a break, and keep the girls busy.

3. Making a list of favorite foods. This menu for the week will be loaded with foods the kids like. Fussiness at dinner and complicated recipes are the last thing my parents and kids need to deal with. My recommendations include hamburgers, hot dogs, mac and cheese and a night out for Mexican food. (Hmmm. Sounds a lot like this week’s menu at home…)

4. A friendly grandmother/granddaughter competition. A week ago, the girls and my mom kicked off a contest to see who would walk the most steps before their visit, as tracked by the GeoPalz pedometers my mom gave them in May. The prize: A heavily decorated cake from the bakery, winner receives the first piece. The girls are already thinking about grandma as they cruise around town with their pedometers.

5. A lot of communication between grandma and grandchild…now! As we inch closer to our visit, we are increasing the phone calls and DoubleScoop to help the girls become even more excited about their visit. Their grandmother is helping out by sending little messages about how much they are looking forward to their arrival, and what some of the exciting activities are that they have planned!

If you have any awesome tips to help a grandparent visit go smoothly, please share! Our hotel is non-refundable, so we’ll take all the help we can get.

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My daughter used to love writing. She would happily create endless stories and illustrate them at her little table. In fact, we could no longer keep each creation and had to divert several to the recycling bin. A year ago, though, she lost momentum. We tried to encourage her to write more and prompted her with topics, but she resisted. Then, we ran across an American Girl-branded letter writing set and she perked up. ‘I want to write letters,’ she announced.
Letter-writing is great for kids. It’s fun because it’s short, you get to use a sticker (a stamp), and you can keep in touch with friends and family over summer. I think letter-writing between a child and grandparent is especially exciting. Grandparents always read and praise the letter lavishly, often insert comic strips or jokes, and quickly respond. I ran across an iVillage article today that had some great tips I have highlighted below to start the pen pal relationship:
From The iVillage PBS KIDS Summer Reading Community Challenge

Pre-Readers:

  • Ask your child to think of five questions for his new pen pal to answer, about your family history. These questions might arise as you build the tree together – write them down!
  • Help your child write out his letter, and encourage him to accompany it with a copy of the tree and his own signature.

 Early Readers:

  • Help your child set up an interview with his new pen pal, with the aim of learning more about his family history.
  • When your child receives his first response in the mail, help him fill in any new information on the family tree and of course, read it together!

For grandparents, here are a few ideas to keep the conversation and excitement going:

  • Include stories about your childhood at about the same age as your pen pal. Point out what is different and what is similar.
  • Consider adding some humor with comic strips cut out from a newspaper or sharing a knock-knock joke.
  • If you have a picture from your childhood that relates to your letter, make a copy and send that along. Kids love to see what their grandparents looked like at the same age!
  • Use postcards when traveling or visiting special places like museums or attractions.
  • Ask specific questions! This helps continue the conversation.
  • Send a stamp! (This is written by a busy mom. If you really want a quick reply, toss a stamp in the envelope.)

Happy writing!

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