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Creative Ways to Connect With Grandparents

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Coraline watches Mimi put on a show with action figures - COURTESY OF KEEGAN ALBAUGH
  • Courtesy of keegan albaugh
  • Coraline watches Mimi put on a show with action figures

While waiting for the toast to pop up so I could feed my children breakfast the other day, I stared at the pile of dishes in the sink. I felt like I had just washed them the night before, and yet here I was, looking at another stack.

In the weeks since Gov. Phil Scott issued a "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order, each room in our house has developed its own pile: laundry in the bedroom; toys and books in the living room; towels in the bathroom; and empty cardboard boxes in the garage. No matter how hard my partner, Stephanie, and I try, we just can't get on top of it. We are both attempting to work full time from home while parenting two kids under the age of 4. The house is consistently a mess.

Stephanie and I need help, badly. Thankfully, an extra hand is extended every morning from my parents' home in New Hampshire.

"I want to talk to Mimi!" my 3-year-old daughter, Coraline, said as I placed peanut butter toast in front of her. "Mimi" is what Coraline calls my mother. I grabbed our family iPad and happily set it up in front of my daughter as she took the first bite of breakfast.

Moments later, my mother's face appeared on the screen via FaceTime.

"Hi Mimi!" Coraline and her 1-year-old sister, Penelope, said excitedly.

"Good morning, girls!" my mother replied, with an eager smile.

"Where are the Ghostbusters?" asked Coraline. It was out of context, definitely a weird question to start the conversation. But it actually made perfect sense. Over the last few weeks, my mother has found all of my childhood Ghostbusters action figures and has been acting out a show with them every morning. She's constructed sets out of my old Legos and blocks, and even built an amusement park out of Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs. It's half-scripted, half-improvisational and fully interactive. My daughters love it.

Penelope FaceTiming with her grandma - COURTESY OF KEEGAN ALBAUGH
  • Courtesy of keegan albaugh
  • Penelope FaceTiming with her grandma

I do, too. Every morning for 20 or 30 minutes, Stephanie and I are freed up to tackle chores, child-free, while the other parent works or goes for a run. It may not seem like a whole lot of time, but it's the biggest chunk we are getting these days.

More importantly, it's a meaningful way for my children to connect with their Mimi. In a time when visits and hugs aren't possible, my mother has found new ways to keep the connection with her grandchildren strong.

"I miss my overnight trips to Burlington to spend time with the girls," my mom said when I asked about the challenges she's experiencing. "I miss the physical contact; the hugs and kisses, playtime with lots of giggles, walks in the neighborhood, trips to the playground, bath time, and snuggling at story time."

But, she added, the daily FaceTime chats "give me my daily boost that a cup of coffee can't rival."

These uncertain times require creative ideas to keep our kids connected with beloved grandparents they can't see right now. Here are some other ways to foster interaction:

Story Time: Use FaceTime or Skype to read a story to your grandkids. If you have multiple grandchildren in different locations, use Zoom so that everyone can join in on the fun. Setting a schedule may be helpful.

Joint Project: Engage in a parallel activity, like baking or painting, while video-chatting. If both homes have the same ingredients, you can both make chocolate chip cookies at the same time while talking out the steps.

I Spy: Hide a bunch of toys and dolls throughout your home. While video-chatting, walk around the home and see if kids can find the objects you have hidden.

Write Letters: Trying to find more ways to connect without screens? Send some mail! Write letters, draw pictures, start stories that kids can finish, etc. Kids love getting mail.

Lawn Visits: Live locally? See if your children and grandchildren can visit your home. You can remain inside with an open window while they play outside, allowing you all to chat while still following social-distancing guidelines.

Not being able to watch your children hug their grandparents can be quite painful, especially when none of us really knows how long these restrictions are going to last. But there is an opportunity here to find new, meaningful and innovative ways of fostering these relationships.

Stephanie's mother — "Nana" to our kids — told me the other day that she actually feels more connected than ever to Coraline and Penelope. "I can't wait to hold them again, but I also don't want these new experiences to come to an end," she said. "My arms may be empty, but my heart is full."

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