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There are so many reasons why I wish my parents lived closer to our family: last-minute babysitting, weekly dinners, tutoring, beautiful hand-stitched Halloween costumes (I wish. I saw some on Pinterest by a Grandma that made me envious). But what’s really getting to us now is adjusting back to everyday life after a visit from the grandparents.Our grandparents were just here. The anticipation of the visit was phenomenal, especially for my 5-yr old. Every day for a week before their arrival, she would wake up, run down the stairs, and make sure she knew how many days until they showed up. “Is it 3 days after this day, or 2 days after this day?”, she would ask? Her excitement wore off on all of us, and we planned and had a wonderful visit. (Except for the wee little stomach virus I shared with my mom. Oops.)

After such a big build up and a cookie-filled, totally indulgent visit, we should have predicted that the grandparents’ going home may not go over so well. One night, my parents just went back to the hotel rather than to our house to tuck in the wee ones, and our 5 year old bawled for 20 minutes. But when they left the state, she really surprised us. Our normally mellow, tantrum-lite child had about 3 major breakdowns in one day.

Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, researched families and communities, including inter-generational relationships. She authored the popular quote: ‘Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.’ My suspicion is that my daughter simply is trying to be a full human being, and is struggling when her grandparents are not around. I truly believe that she is complete when surrounded by her whole family, including both sets of grandparents, and that their departure is much more than less ice cream. I think there is a biological need that takes over, and she feels less ‘whole’ as a person when her family is limited to two busy parents and a nasty older sister.

That being said, we will do our best to keep our kids and grandparents in touch between visits. But I do wish we lived near all of her grandparents, and I know she does too.

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.

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My family loves storytelling, not only from books, but also from our own lives. Stories from my kids’ grandparents are even more exciting. Here are some ideas to begin a tradition of storytelling between grandparents and kids:

1. A Day in School. Tell your grandchild about a day in school at about the same age. Details are key: What did you wear? What was in your lunchbox? Was another kid mean to you? Did you take classes after school?

2. Halloween. Describe how you spent Halloween when you were a kid. What was your favorite costume? How much candy did you get? What was your favorite, and least favorite, treat?

3. Weekend fun. Share how you spend weekends as a kid. Was it mostly sports, or family outings? Was there a special meal or tradition that you had? What did you look forward to?

4. Grandparents. What were YOUR grandparents like? What are some of your favorite memories? When did you see them? What did you do together?

Do you have any other ideas? 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.

I am going to a family wedding this weekend. I am very excited, not only to see some family members, but also because I am going without my kids, it’s in Sedona, AZ, and there’s a rumor of a Star Wars-themed cake. But it’s also my first family function since she died 3 years ago. Here is why I will be missing her so much:1. She won’t see my fantastic dress. After years of questionable fashion choices, I have at least partially got my act together. I wish she could see it – she herself always looked terrific, and cringed when she saw some of my get-ups.

2. She’ll miss another grandchild getting married. When she died, only one out of nine grandkids (me) had married. While she would not want anyone to rush into marriage, I think she would have enjoyed a couple more weddings than she did.

3. I won’t really have anyone to show pictures of my kids to. While my cousins and uncle will certainly look at a snapshot or two, it’s not the same total enthusiasm. (Of course, if she had been there, somehow the kids would have tagged along.)

4. I can’t call her the next day to talk about the event. This has been the worst part about her dying, and I finally understand what it is to really miss someone. Something just clicks, and I find myself reaching for the phone, and I remember she’s not here anymore.

I do know, however, that she would be happy for her family to be getting together to celebrate this milestone.

Grandparents Day?

September 4, 2012

Before I started this job, I had never heard of Grandparents Day. Given that I have been extremely close with my grandparents all my life, I was a little surprised. At first, I wondered, ‘Have I been missing out on something?’ I also realized that this was the first year that I don’t have a grandparent alive to honor. My last grandparent died about a month ago. This all got me thinking about Grandparents Day, and what it might, or might not, be all about.

Grandparents Day is a relatively ‘new’ celebration. Marian McQuade founded Grandparents Day, with the goal of educating the youth about important contributions seniors have made. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter made the day official, and described the purpose of Grandparents Day “to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of the strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.”

The reason for Grandparents Day makes sense to me. But did I personally need a separate day to honor grandparents? I was fortunate as a kid in that my grandparents visited me often, and I was able to visit them, even though we lived in different states. I felt that we honored them every time we saw them. A visit with the grandparents was always special – the food was good, we had special treats, we learned to be patient when they told stories. I think if you asked them, they would not suggest that they needed more recognition for their role as grandparents.

Every family is not the same however. More grandparents are helping with the day-to-day tasks of raising their grandchildren. This changes everything. Just like Mother’s or Father’s Day, these grandparents might enjoy being recognized for their unique contributions to a child’s life. Additionally, as a community, I think it is important to take time out of our busy lives to appreciate the contributions seniors have made, and how we have benefited from their efforts.

I am fortunate that my kids and their grandparents are always showing love for each other throughout the year. They were on the phone last night with the grandparents in New York, and on DoubleScoop this morning sending messages to their other grandparents on a cruise ship somewhere. So this Sunday, I probably won’t encourage a special communication from my kids. But I might ask around and see if a senior needs help in our neighborhood with their fall cleanup, and make sure my kids help out.

DoubleScoop brings kids and grandparents together

 

This is it. As many you you know, we soft launched in March (see my blog post “DoubleScoop
is about to launch
“) for friends and family to try out DoubleScoop . Well, hundreds of active users and thousands of wonderful photos, drawings, voice recordings and text messages later we learned a lot. We exterminated several bugs, made some updates and now, TODAY, we’re officially launching DoubleScoop!

So what’s new and exciting this time around?

1. We made it easier to set up an account. We also added a toll-free phone number in case you or a family member needs a hand getting started. If you don’t feel like walking your mom through the process, let us do it! We’ll be kind and helpful, I promise.

2. It works even better on PC and Mac computers. We had a few hiccups at the beginning, but now DoubleScoop is running faster and should be even easier to use on a desktop or laptop computer.

3. And it works better on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. We switched a few things around to make it easier for young kids to use independently. This means that I can comfortably throw my iPhone (in its protective case, of course) in the backseat of the car, and my 4-year old can find DoubleScoop – yes, that’s why it’s a big ol’ ice cream cone icon – choose herself as a user, and share the news of the day with her grandparents.

And what hasn’t changed?

DoubleScoop still lets young kids and grandparents keep in touch by drawing pictures, exchanging photos, recording voice messages and songs, and typing stories. And now that our family has been using it for a while, I appreciate it even more since my two girls are able to communicate with her grandparents every day or two without me having to find a convenient time for everyone, or having to look over their shoulders to make sure there is no Viagra or belly fat ads popping up while they email. In fact, I don’t have to do much of anything – they send messages while I cook dinner or drive them to the pool. And they all seem to love it.

So that’s today’s pitch for DoubleScoop. Give it a try, and let us know what you think.

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