Summer vacation is upon us and I’m sweating over the calendar, which can cause a scheduling nightmare. Between one daughter’s internship and babysitting, the other’s camp and volleyball practices, and my wife’s work, it seems impossible to fit in the seasonal visits to grandparents. I wonder how much flack I would get if I just scratched these off the list this year?
We have no family in New York — no one since long before my kids were born. When my girls were little we did the mandatory baby tours, using every vacation to visit one of the grandmothers, or some other family member. It was so liberating when we broke off this pattern and went on a vacation where we didn’t have to coordinate with anyone and could do as we pleased.
The problem is, relationships are built on contact, rubbing elbows, giving hugs, and the best way to make this happen is being in the same room with your grandmother who cooks with you, or makes you set the table, or takes you for ice cream and a movie.
Let’s face it, technology only goes so far. One grandma e-mails consistently and might manage to Skype or Face Time if she had to, but the other one can barely work her cellphone. My kids keep in touch with cousins their age by various social media, but the old fogies are a different story.
Is it worth all the effort to make sure my children bond with their grandparents? What if we just took a hiatus for a couple of years? What would be the harm?
In past generations, families didn’t spread out geographically as much and this wasn’t an issue. Regular meals with extended family were the norm. I watched all my grandparents age within the same city limits, seeing them in their homes, sometimes hospitals, sometimes nursing facilities. When we gathered for holidays or events, the table was filled with all our clans.
Now the branches of my children’s family tree touch at least 10 states stretching coast to coast. There’s not time in the year to see everyone.
The grandmothers are special, though, because they provide my girls our family history, spoil the kids, and show them what aging is about and the joys and struggles of living long. Also, when we spend time together, my girls see me as a son, not just a father, and the family thread that weaves one generation to the next and the next and the next.
In Brooklyn, we’ve formed a family of sorts: our dearest friends who share holidays and birthdays with us; the neighbors my children know to call in an emergency or whose door to knock on any time. These are important people in my family’s life, but they are not my daughters’ grandparents and can’t ever fill that special role.
I’m scouring the travel sites with renewed effort to find the planes or trains or even buses so my girls can see their grandmas this summer. It is definitely worth the time and travel.