FROM A DISTANCE

I have been fortunate to enjoy frequent visits with my grandchildren since they were born. Our eight-year-old grandson lives only about a mile away, and we usually get together at least once a week. Our six-year-old granddaughter is a two hour drive away, but her family comes in town fairly often, and we also visit them. For many grandparents, keeping in touch from a distance is the norm, but for me, it’s been a difficult adjustment during this time of COVID-19.

We’ve been “FaceTiming” and “Zooming,” but that pales in comparison to real time together: sleepovers, playing ball, swimming, making cookies, real life hugs and kisses. Plus, it can be hard to keep the long distance conversational ball rolling with young children. I realized that reading stories had always been a part of my relationship with them, so I decided to try story time on FaceTime. I’m happy to report that it’s been a success.

The eight-year-old and I usually have our FaceTime together after his bath and right before his bedtime. We start by talking about our day. Then he finds his cat, Bernice, so I can see her, and I hold our dog, Lola, up to the screen for him to see. Then it’s story time. We began with the book Ben and Me by Robert Lawson. Now we are reading a biography of Jackie Robinson, Stealing Home. It helps that the books have illustrations and photographs that I can show on the screen. After the reading, we talk a little about the book or the author, or in the case of Jackie Robinson, civil rights, and then I hand the phone to my husband for his good-night chat with our grandson.

Daytime, usually mid-morning, has been the best time for sharing a story with the six-year-old, who lives in Mobile. I started with an early reader series, Henry and Mudge but have now begun to read longer chapter books with her. The current book is The Mugged Pug from the Jack Russell Dog Detective series. She sounds out the chapter titles when I hold the book to the screen and tells me what she sees in the illustrations. Before we read, she makes predictions on what will happen, and we discuss each chapter when we finish reading it. Some time is spent talking about her day and looking at her dog, Izzy, or at the monarch caterpillars on the milkweed in their yard. Then, I hand the phone to Papa for his time with her.

I think this routine could be adapted for grandchildren of any age. Picture books are always fun with toddlers, but what about those ‘tweens and teens? Maybe it would be a good idea to have them suggest a book that you could read “together.” Instead of reading aloud to them, you could each read a certain number of pages or chapters on your own and then meet up on Zoom, Google Hang Outs or FaceTime to discuss the book. If it’s been awhile since you’ve read a middle grade or young adult book, you’ll be surprised at how those genres have changed since you were that age. Reading and discussing current literature with a teenager will open your eyes to the differences between your teen years and theirs.

This long distance reading time started as a way to make conversation, but it has become so much more than that. It is a cherished part of our new routine. I had hoped the kids would enjoy it, and they do. What I didn’t realize, however, is how much I would look forward to it. Every FaceTime ends with “I love you” and “See you soon.” In these difficult times, that is something to be truly grateful for.

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