When my grandmother was alive and I lived far away, I quickly learned that all she really wanted was a phone call or a visit. I could skip the holiday or birthday scarf, book or other gift. Instead, we had a regular phone schedule that we both enjoyed. (I am particularly missing her this election since she closely watched politics and always had something interesting to say).It turns out that this was a very healthy habit. AARP recently published an article and infographic, Alone and At Risk, that suggests that social isolation is a major risk factor for aging adults. The article comments, ”Research shows that social detachment — having few close relationships — is as bad for you as smoking and worse than obesity.”

The article then explored why seniors are experiencing social isolation by conducting a survey. The two top reasons by far were “Family and friends live too far away” (48% of respondents) and “Family and friends are too busy” (42%). I was surprised that so many seniors felt disconnected from their families, especially given all the technologies available today.

However, it made me wonder if the problem somehow had it’s roots in the response ‘Family and friends too busy.’ When I think about all the activities I do with my kids, both during the week and the weekend, it really is challenging to find time to make a call or set up Facetime or Skype. One possible way to help seniors and their families become more connected is to focus on asynchronous communication. For example, DoubleScoop, Facebook, and even plain old email don’t require both grandparents and their families to be available at the same time. This might in part explain the growth of seniors using Facebook. For grandparents with grandkids too young for Facebook or email, DoubleScoop and BloggleBeans are fun, new ways to connect them when they have a free moment.

On Becoming a Grandparent

October 5, 2012

I read an interesting piece in the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal about the impact of becoming a grandparent to a person. While I am pretty far from being a grandparent, there were some insightful comments the writer made. Here are a few things that struck me:

  • “When you become a grandparent, it suddenly hits you that time is precious and you need to make the most of it.” 
  • “Now my wife and I get to transition from the serious parents to the fun grandparents.  What sucks for my son is that he will always get the serious parent routine from us. We care way too much about our boy and his wife to stop being his parents. But we will probably spoil the hell out of the little one.”
  • “The point at which you become a grandparent is when you finally get to see if you were a good parent or not.”

The last one was the most interesting and I am going to ask my mom whether she agrees. Are they finally seeing whether they think they did a good job raising me? Does she think she messed up with me every time I make a mistake with my kids, which is frighteningly frequent? Some things to think about.

And why haven't I deleted it yet?

And why did I take a photo of zucchini corn cakes? And why haven’t I deleted it yet? 

Scrapbooking does not come naturally to me. My family scrapbook growing up was a big drawer under the TV where we dumped the occasional photos we felt were worth keeping. A couple of moves and the photos were duly placed into a new drawer somewhere else. Perhaps a photo would be removed from time to time at a milestone birthday or graduation. But usually not. Not to paint too dim a picture, our best photos were tastefully framed and placed somewhere in the house to enjoy. I suppose if you put them all in a row, we would have a timeline.

So, not surprisingly, when I had my own family, I started out with a large drawer in my coffee table where I placed any photos I remembered to print. I finally did organize quite a few into various scrapbooks when there was a wildfire near our house and it seemed easier to haul a couple of books than 1000 loose pictures. But soon after, the drawer filled up again.

Then we got a new coffee table. And there were no empty drawers in our house. Another round of shoving photos into some photo albums came to pass. And then things got really ugly. My husband and I each got iPhones, our 8-year old took possession of an old digital camera, we got a new digital camera, and my husband and I each got new computers, one Mac and one PC. Within 3 months, I had 1000s of photos on 6 different devices, nothing was getting printed, every memory card was full, and about 1% of all the photos were worth looking at again.

The solution? No idea. But for now the digital cameras are off limits, since we aren’t completely sure where the download cables are, and we have reactivated an account at an online photo-printer to encourage us to print and ‘scrapbook’ more. Facebook and its timeline are beyond my skill set. Of course we are using DoubleScoop with the grandparents and uncle so at least their photos are all in one place, rather than in separate emails. If you have any great ideas to help with organizing photos, please share them.

I drove 24 hours over the last 3 days to attend a wedding in Arizona (Death Star-themed wedding cake pictured above). I spent 16.5 hours of this prolonged, but welcome, silence listening to Homer’s story of the Iliad. It is an extraordinary tale, laden with rich characters, emotional conflict, and gruesome death scenes (‘…a cloud of darkness overshadowed him as he sank, holding his entrails in his hand.’ Ew.) But I was mostly interested in the story as an oral history, and I was glad I had the chance to listen, rather than read, the Iliad.

The story of the Iliad was likely passed on orally before Homer wrote it down in the 8th century BC. I like to imagine young people listening to the events being narrated by an older person, perhaps a parent or grandparent, over several days, and then learning to tell the story themselves. In this case, the Iliad was most likely studied, memorized and recited, and all in verse.

I believe oral traditions play an important role for children. There is value to learning to listen, and to remember and recite both the main story, as well as the details that bring a story to life. I could probably summarize the Iliad on Twitter in about 12 tweets. But that isn’t the point. The details of stories are what make it interesting and memorable. Also, the motivations of the characters Achilles, Agamemnon and Hector drive the conflicts, and teach moral lessons about greed, jealousy and holding grudges.

Grandparents can help kids appreciate stories, and become storytellers themselves. A grandparent’s life is itself a story, or a series of stories, with details that give a picture of life through time. And while many technologies focus on abbreviating stories, there are plenty that can allow a child and a grandparent to share richer, more detailed accounts. (Yes, DoubleScoop would work well here). A grandparent can play an active role helping to build a tradition of storytelling in a child’s life, and help a child gain the skills of storytelling – active listening, tracking plots, adding compelling details, and understanding people and their motivations. On top of all that, a child can learn about their family history, and strengthen their relationship with their grandparents.

Italian Proverb

A friend’s daughter just started kindergarten, and she attempted a courageous escape from the playground back to her house. She made it as far as the parking lot when her mom caught her and dragged her back. I found the breakaway story to be pretty funny, but it also reminded me of how difficult going back to school can be for some kids. And maybe grandparents can help a little.

When a child is going back to school or even starting school is a great time for grandparents to share stories about their own experiences at school. Young kids love to hear stories in general, and a story starring a family member that relates to the child’s own life is especially exciting. Chances are, there are some funny or exciting moments you can use to liven up your story. And a child might be comforted by knowing that others in the family have gone through the same experience, and maybe even have felt some of the same emotions.

Kids and grandparents can get in touch by phone, DoubleScoop, email, Skype and start exchanging their adventures. How did you get to school? What was your favorite part of the day? What did you eat for lunch? Were you nervous about anything? What did you do after school? There is so much to talk about, and kids love to hear about when their grandparents were kids. Kids will be especially thrilled if a grandparent can share an old photograph when they were the same age. Hopefully, these stories will help going back-to-school a little smoother, and a little more fun.

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.

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


  • 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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