I've written before about the challenges of having your heart walking around (in the form of your children and grandchildren) on another continent.
I continue to read everything I can get my hands on, and the ideas continue to be focused on the Grandmas who live 80 miles from the grandbabies and are fretting because they can't pick them up from school or babysit for them a couple of times a week. I'd love to be able to record stories and then send the file and the book so the children can hear me read it to them...but I can't read Swedish well enough and they don't speak English!
I'd love to send a package of delightful surprises once a week -- but that quickly becomes very expensive! (A fat letter can cost $4 -- can you imagine how much a pair of mugs and some instant cocoa and a book would cost?!?!)
A few of the books do have some good ideas, but mainly it seems to come back to writing letters. If you don't speak the same language as your grandchildren, then a translator is immensely helpful -- maybe critical. Even though I speak a tiny bit of Swedish, as Bella got older, I felt more and more limited by having to stick with topics I knew the words for. My wonderful translator, Johanna, has been helping me since last June and after a year, I am starting to be able to "hear" how my "voice" sounds in Swedish. I can even pick through old letters and adapt phrases to send short notes between my monthly letters, which increases my ability to be "in touch".
But after a year of chatting about the routines of my life, I find myself getting repetitive and I started to wonder what to write about next...I can only hold the children's interest with planting a garden and canning and building snowmen for so long. I can discuss the books Jack and I are reading, but many of those haven't been translated into Swedish and so they are of limited interest. And always writing about books gets dull, dull, dull. I write about some holidays ... especially the ones we celebrate that Swedes don't.
And of course, when I can get an anecdote out of Grandfather or Mamma or Pappa, I comment on that, but it's relatively rare -- certainly, I don't have an anecdote to work with once a month! (If you're a young parent, please don't put your parents, your children's grandparents, in this position. It may seem of limited interest that your child is on a 'pirates' kick or can name all the numbers up to 20 -- but, honestly, it's the stuff of life for a grandma!)
One thing I have carried away from all of those books on grand parenting, though, is the important role a grandparent has in a child's life. We are the keepers of the family history and our traditional role has been to pass that along. Having a strong sense of history and a strong sense of belonging to one's family grounds a young person, gives them confidence, and helps to protect them from the emotional battering that ordinary life can impose. I am not a psychologist, so I can't speak to the long term effects of knowing their family story has on a child. I can say, though, that if you as the grandparent don't tell those stories, who will? Will you allow your family's stories to be lost forever?
I wasn't able to share much of my family's history with my older children. At 30, I really didn't have much idea myself. In the decades since, though, I have been investigating, collecting, and recording those stories I can find. I started this new project of sharing my family history on Mother's day this year by recounting just a bit about *my* grandmothers for my grandchildren. I also made a small "scrapbook" by folding a few sheets of paper and sewing them together by hand with great big stitches. Then I cut out the part of my letter that was about each grandmother and pasted it, alongside a few photos, into the scrapbook, with comments about what they were seeing in the photos. In November, when my babies will celebrate Fathers' day, I will do the same for my grandfathers. Later, I'll do a book for each of my parents. (I know a lot more about them) and eventually, I will tell the tales I have heard about other ancestors, so those stories aren't lost completely. That's a good start -- but it's only few letters and we'll have covered what I know.
So, I kept looking.
That's when I remembered The Remembering Site! The Remembering Site is a non-profit initiative that lets anyone create an online autobiography by answering a series of questions. It costs $25 for a lifetime membership, and when you're done, you can e-mail your story, print it out at home, or you have have it printed and bound for a reasonable fee.
I started recording my memories there years ago to "someday" have printed as book for my children and grandchildren, but it occurred to me that the memories don't have to be in the form of book! The site consists of thousands of questions that you can use as a springboard in telling your story, and those questions can be used just as easily as a springboard for letters! (I can even paste the contents of the letters into my biography and get the two goals met at once!)
Of course, the rest of the letter can be more chatty and less important and when there is something more immediate to write about, I'll write about that -- but those memories will make the letters worth saving! As the kids get older, the letters will mean even more to them.
I am feeling a lot happier about my ability to forge a real relationship with my children's children... I still wish we could communicate more directly, but I am also working on that. Jack and I are studying Swedish using Rosetta Stone. So far I can talk about being under an airplane or over a horse...but eventually I hope to be able to use it to actually have a conversation. ;)