My daughter has a scattered family. It’s inherited. My family stretched along the West Coast. Mom and her side of the family were mostly in California, and my dad and all his relatives were in Oregon. Time was split between them, with summers typically being “dad time” and the rest belonging to my mom and young grandparents.
My daughter’s family isn’t just divided into halves--it’s little clusters all over the country. The fact isn't new to me; I remember piling all my antiques and books and cat into a Budget truck and moving to Nashville—but it hadn't hit me how it would alter her childhood experience. Not until Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library delivered a Llama Llama book, where the title character goes to visit his grandparents for the night, did it register. Tears welled in my eyes while reading. Tallulah, oblivious, happily thumbed the thin pages forward.
What had I done? Sure, she couldn't be near EVERY family member, but to be so far from all of them! To have her time reduced to short visits, to not know what it was like to rummage through grandparents’ cupboards to find all the snacks, or to riffle through their old photo albums to see photographs of her parents as babies? Grandparent memories are some of my favorites from childhood. Talking about Robert Redford with my Grandma Sue and hearing her childhood stories, how her face “looked like an Irish map” and how Santa only brought oranges for Christmas. Grandpa George telling me about his trip to Russia and locating Moscow’s McDonald. Listening to him describe all the treasures he found while working on the Roth family tree.
And those young grandparents, my mom’s parents? They filled the majority of my grandparent time, and my memory is saturated with our moments—blueberry pies, Stephen King movies, cruises, Disney, and trips to Crown Book Store. There was always at least one grandparent at arm’s length.
Tallulah’s grandparent memories won’t be an every weekend experience—but does that make them less poignant? Memories don’t always carry weight when they’re routine or constant. Her grandparent experience, even if it’s only blocks of time every several months, is special. My grandparents, her great-grandparents, were here in April. They formed a stronger bond than previous visits (maybe because she isn’t just a blob of newborn anymore), and Tallulah collected memory fodder: playing with blocks at the Frist museum, seeing her great-grandparents step outside their comfort zone at Nashville’s first VegFest, and having the fun of picking out dresses and shoes with Grandma.
And it isn't all bad. We may not have the frequent mom breaks through grandparent sleepovers, or the instant recognition when a family member walks through the door. We have something different, like each generation does.
As Tallulah’s mom, I have to cultivate that grandparent time in new ways. We have to use technology to build long-distant love through FaceTime. We have to make those visits count. We have to keep the family updated through photographs and special gifts. We have to celebrate the precious moments of family. They make childhood special.