01 Mar Staying Connected – Letter by Letter
Fifteen years ago, our first granddaughter was born in San Francisco. Living in Baltimore, Maryland, my husband and I wondered how we would ever establish a warm and caring relationship from so far away.
Like many of today’s grandparents, our family experiences were often different. Many of us grew up at a time when extended families lived close by and a number lived with grandparents. My parents and I lived with my maternal grandmother and grandfather for the first four years of my life. My husband’s grandmother lived with him for his entire life. Our childhood experiences with our grandparents framed our thinking about families. How would our granddaughter, living 3,000 miles away, know who we were?
After a bit of thought, I decided to write her a letter on the day of her birth, welcoming her to the world and our family. This led to writing once a month on the same date-12 letters per year. So, every month since February 10, 2005, I have composed a note for Petra. In close order, four more granddaughters followed, including one set of twins. All totaled, that is 5 girls, and as of this writing a total of 720 communications.
Of course, we communicate via phone, text and email as well, now that everyone reads and writes. But the letters have a special meaning for me. Sitting at my table, on the other side of the country, I have spent hours communicating with each of my granddaughters – in my own way. It feels good to sit down monthly and share my thoughts. Through letter writing I have built individual relationships with each of the girls.
I have been asked what I include in letters, especially to infants and toddlers. For the most part, I told the children what we have been doing, described places we visited, gave advice (always be kind!). I suggested good books to read and encouraged them to listen to their parents. As they got older, I searched online for age appropriate jokes and riddles which were always well-received. Now that they are in middle and high school, I can discuss important matters including politics, recipes, their social plans, schoolwork sports, Bat Mitzvah lessons and other timely topics.
Before writing this blog post, I contacted the girls to get some input. The comments ranged from “I am so impressed with your persistence and commitment!” to “I feel so guilty that I do not write back. But I have saved every letter and plan to read them to my children one day.”
One of the twins thinks the letters are smart, personal and kind- much better than a text or email. They all agree that getting the letters, sometimes with baked goods, provides them with a kind of attention that they deeply value. In this era of instant gratification, they have to wait for it. Each month they can anticipate an intimate communication intended just for them that affirms their unique value. They are worth writing to.
My daughter and daughter in law have helped to save the letters- some in binders and some in specially designated bins. When the children were younger, they said it was a good way for everyone to know what Baba and Bubby were thinking and doing so far away.
Now one set of children live in Idaho and the other in New York. In the words of the oldest, “It seems like you’re keeping the postal service in cash!” While that may be true, it has been my joy to connect with these very special young women in this old-fashioned way.
What started out as a project turned into a practice. It has not always been easy to honor this commitment that began on a whim—especially as the number of grandchildren grew from one to five. But it is hard now for any of us to imagine our grandparent grandchild relationship without Bubby’s monthly letters. Even harder for me, is to imagine myself as grandmother without this communication ritual in my life.
Margi Hoffman is a retired educator with 44 years’ experience in the classroom and as an administrator. She has five granddaughters who call her Bubby.