When my daughter and her husband of one year moved to London, I thought the worst had happened to me. Then, within a year, she was pregnant. The loss factor multiplied. Then my first grandson, Jonah, was born. Suddenly, the romantic notion I had always had of grandparents and grandchildren living in close proximity to each other vanished.
During the first seven years of my life, my grandparents lived several houses away. Now my grandchildren would be several thousand miles away. They might have as well been on the moon.
I knew that modern life had tossed people all over the planet, and grandparents often found themselves living in cities, states or even countries apart. It didn’t do any good. Now, we were talking about me and my grandchildren.
I also knew that planes flew. And while I was in London, everything was great. But then, seemingly before the visit had ever begun, it was time to leave. And the smell and feel of a baby’s soft skin or the determination in the pitch of a toddler’s little body as he careened around the room would start receding even as I was in the cab headed back to the airport.
I knew my grandchildren would be in London for the foreseeable future and I would be here. That wouldn’t change. I knew it was up to me to reinvent the notion of what it means to be a grandparent. The result is old fashioned grandparenting, framed in new age technology
After all, I’m a Boomer. I may not have been raised on technology, but I’ve had computers since my kids were little. I started with a desktop, graduated to a laptop, then added an iPad, and now an iPhone. Skype became Grandma’s Best Friend, whether at home or on the go. For the first three years of my grandson’s life, we used Skpe the usual way. I spoke baby talk in decibel levels that had my husband running into the room, holding his hands over his ears. I sang songs, I made funny faces, I wore silly hats and I showed him little toys on the monitor. My goal was less to communicate with him than it was to hold his flea-like attention span.
When Jonah started to talk, really talk, he wanted me to listen to him. He talked and talked and talked. It was nice for me to take a break from producing my usual Nene sideshow, but the problem was that I had no idea what he was saying. I would have to ask my daughter to translate or I would guess and Jonah would intone, “NO, Ne Ne,” and then go off onto another incomprehensible explanation.
After listening to him one day, going on and on about porridge (I think) and nappies (I think) and rubbish (I think), and trying to connect the dots, I asked him if he wanted Ne Ne to read him a story. He stopped in mid-sentence and stared. “Ne Ne,” he asked, “where your book is?”
My heart leapt. Of all the material joys in my life, books have always been Number 1. And reading to my grandchildren in London is Number 1 Plus. I grabbed a book I had bought to mail to him. I started to read. Jonah sat perfectly still and listened, his eyes riveted on the monitor. The pages went by, one after the other. Jonah’s eyes stayed completely focused on the book, his ears on my words. I made sound effects to go with the words. I think I was even more entranced than he was.
The next time we were on Skype, Jonah asked, “Ne Ne, can you read to me?” in his perfect, heart-stopping little English accent. This time I was prepared, with a pile of books I had gotten at the library. I read and I read and I read. After three books, I began to wonder where my daughter had gotten to. I asked Jonah where Mummy was.
My daughter came into the room. “I’m sorry mom,” she said, I got to clean the kitchen floor and straighten everything up, while you were babysitting.”
“While you were babysitting.” Next to “I love you,” “It’s a boy,” and “It’s a girl,” those might have been the most precious words I have ever heard.
I can’t run down the street, as my grandmother could have done. I can’t jump into the car and drive a few miles, as some of my friends can do. But I can create my own Ne Ne and Jonah Time, while my daughter goes about her business. Armed with my laptop or my iPad or my iPhone, I can be Boomer Grandma, able to leap tall continents at a single bound.