Long distance families have become common place. Grandparents don’t live around the corner as young families move to where the jobs and opportunities may be. While simple phone calls can keep grandparents and their grandchildren connected, consider having your kids’ grandparents right in your living room, even if they aren’t so technologically savvy. This can be a fun teaching experience for you, your parents and your children.
By Barbara Krupat, Sisterhood of Temple Emanuel, Newton Centre, Massachusetts, North Atlantic Region
My husband and I are blessed with four beautiful grandchildren, between the ages of 18 months and four years. Two live just a stone’s throw away in the next town and two live 3,000 miles away in California. Believe me, grandparenting twins in Los Angeles, when we’re in Boston, is a real challenge. We can’t be there on a regular basis and seeing them a few times a year is just not enough time for this bubbie.
In generations past, when grandparents lived right near their children and, of course their grandchildren, sharing Jewish traditions was just part of day-to-day living. However, when distances separate families, it is much more difficult to pass along our Jewish identity. Luckily, our grandkids were born during the internet age and Skype has become God’s gift to us. Skype lets us bridge the miles to play a greater role in assuring that their Jewish heritage stays strong.
Skype visits are great fun, especially around the holidays, but we have tried to inject a sense of Jewish content and identity no matter the time of year. Our grandkids don’t watch a lot of television but this is their special time to watch the “Bubbie and Pops” show. If your kids are tech-savvy (and aren’t they all these days) have them hook up the computer to their television set. Seeing Bubbie and Pops on the 55-inch flat screen in high definition makes it that much more real for the children.
We’ve gained some insights about being virtual Jewish grandparents to toddlers through trial and error, so we thought we’d pass along some lessons learned, that you can adapt for any age kids.
It all begins with timing. In the beginning we could never connect because of the difference in time zones. The kids were napping or the family was going out. They would suggest Skyping just as we were about to go out the door or just as we were getting ready for bed. So set a time that works. We try to Skype at least twice a week. On weekdays, we get on around 9:30 PM our time when we are still up and alert, and the kids in Los Angeles have finished dinner and are ready to play before bath and bedtime. We also try to Skype on Friday before Shabbat and Sunday morning before they their day’s activities.
Make your visits as lively and entertaining as possible. Since young kids have short attention spans, we use lots of props: hand puppets, finger puppets, toys, picture books, the sky’s the limit. We sing songs, the kind with hand movements like the Eensy Weensy Spider, the Wheels of the Bus, and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. To share toys virtually we show them our Mr. Potato Head and encourage them to show us theirs. When Mr. Potato Head goes on camera at our end, we might say, “Bubbie’s Potato Head has his glasses on. Can you put glasses on your Potato Head?” We bring stuffed animals and dolls to the camera and point out the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth and then ask the children to show us their favorite animals. We play peek-a-boo and Simon Says. We dance Ring Around a Rosie. We make silly faces and silly sounds. We always blow kisses, and wave hi and goodbye. A special hit lately has been What’s in Bubbie’s Bag? We have a bag full of little plastic toys, animals and cars, and the kids try to guess what’s inside. On birthdays we bring a cake to the computer, sing Happy Birthday, and blow out candles together (just make sure that there is some cake at their house too).
Packages from grandparents are fun to receive. Even though we are 3,000 miles away, we often send care packages with food and activities related to the holidays. The kids love to open their gifts while on camera, and we share their joy as they discover what’s inside.
Reading stories, singing songs and sharing rituals are a big part of our sessions, no matter the season.
If we Skype before Shabbat, we sing Shabbat songs, eat challah and sip grape juice. We talk about lighting the candles and we set our Shabbat tables together, each in our own home. Make sure that your kids have the right props at their end ready. We make a small contribution every week to our tzedakeh box, as do the grandchildren.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we send toy shofars and honey and apples. We blow the shofar at our end, and they do the same at theirs. Then we munch on our honey and apples and wish each other a sweet new year.
For Chanukkah we send gelt, tasty cookies, lots of dreidels, and – of course – presents. We find time during the week to light the chanukkiah together and we sing songs and tell the story of the Maccabees. We spin dreidels, unwrap gifts, and eat sufganiyot. By opening their presents while Skyping the kids understand that their gifts come from us.
For Purim, we get dressed up in costumes, sing Purim songs, and make sure that Haman gets hooted using both Boston and LA groggers. We have our own online mini costume parade. We also have found that hamentashen do quite well via overnight mail and are especially tasty eaten virtually.
Fortunately our grandchildren spend Passover with us, but if they couldn’t you can be sure we would be singing Passover songs, sharing those packets of the Ten Plagues, and eating matzah and macaroons together on-screen.
We hope that these suggestions will help you become a savvy virtual Jewish grandparent. Find what you are comfortable doing and just have fun. Although it’s not the same as being with them, I am confident that our grandchildren will have wonderful memories of our virtual time together. Once you get the knack of it, Skyping might become the best part of your week. You don’t have to move 3,000 miles to become part of their everyday lives when you are just one click away.