Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Grandma is Only 7576 Miles Away

That’s approximately the distance from our home on the outskirts of Jerusalem to our son’s home in Los Angeles. We tend to think of the distance in terms of flight time- 20 hours (including a 90 minute layover in Newark). Add on another four hours, give or take, for commuting and waiting times at airports on both ends, and we’re ‘only a day away’.

We’ve been long distance grandparents for almost 5 years. Before our son moved to Los Angeles, he and his family were living across a courtyard from us- we could see into each others’ apartments, and our granddaughters came over almost every evening for dinner and play. We felt blue if a day passed and we hadn’t seen the girls.

Back then, I couldn’t imagine not having my son and his family as a part of my daily life.

Now, five years later, I can say with only a slight twinge that you can have a close, loving relationship with your grandchildren even if they are thousands of miles away.

While we may not actually see them every day, they are part of our daily lives. Our home is plastered with photos of them- one entire wall and a door are completely covered with pictures of our grandchildren- and my husband and I can always make each other smile just by mentioning one of the girls’ names.

Is it easy being so far apart? Of course not. But phone calls, web cams, IM (instant messaging) all help bridge the distance. While we don’t take advantage of it as much as we should, we can also communicate via email with our oldest grandchildren.

And when it gets really, really tough to be apart from them, there’s always that 20 hour plane trip. It’s been a godsend at least twice when my husband was in a funk, and I knew that it was because he missed the girls (I keep saying ‘the girls’ because we have one son, and he has five daughters). I booked him a flight, and as soon as I told him, his shoulders lifted and a huge smile covered his face.

There will never be a substitute that comes close to the sheer joy of waking up to a bed filled with giggling grandchildren. But knowing (and seeing) that my son and his family are happy, and have successful and fulfilling lives, fills me with a sense of happiness, gratitude, and serenity that surpasses my dreams.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m fooling myself by saying that I’m OK with them living so far away. I know my son is struggling with thoughts of returning to live in Israel, both to live in Israel itself, but also to be near to both us and to his in-laws, who live about 20 minutes from our town.

Maybe my feelings and attitude toward our long distance relationship will change over the next year or two.

For several years my life was consumed by being my Mom’s caregiver, and I could only make the trip to our son once or twice a year. During those years my husband travelled to the States every couple of months, spending the weekends of those trips at our son, and I learned to live vicariously through his visits. I was always pleasantly amazed by how much satisfaction and joy I got from sharing those visits with him- hearing via phone calls his interactions with the girls, getting pictures via email showing the things they were doing together. But now my Mom has passed away, and I’m starting to get hold of my life again. At the same time, it looks like my husband won’t be traveling to the States as often anymore. I might find myself falling into the funk that I’ve seen consume my husband….. but I’m hoping that my parental joy in my son’s life will help me overcome any difficult days. And , there’s always a plane ticket if things get really tough!

One of the reasons I started this blog was as a way to communicate and express my thoughts and feelings to my family. Phone time in a busy world can be limiting; it can be easier to find the time to read. So Uri and Aliza, I’m trying to send you a message in this post:

It’s absolutely OK that you are in LA. I don’t ever want you to feel that you have to move to be closer to us. Even from so far away you fill us with pride and love and parental and grandparental glee. Yes, we miss the girls (and you ;-)). But that makes every moment we spend with you all that more precious, every minute of every phone call that much more meaningful. The best thing you can do for us is to do the best for your family, no matter where that leads you or brings you to live.

I’m pretty sure I’ll have more to write about being a long distance grandparent. This post has been simmering inside me since I started this blog, and I know I haven’t gotten down all that I wanted to say. In the meantime, I got this out as I’m waiting for the phone call that sends me on my way to meet a new baby, and it’s given me an excuse (as if I needed one!) to post some pics of the girls :-)

As to the ‘only a day away’ reference, it really does help!:

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