My daughter Brook is expecting a baby in August. She and her husband Ryan are going to make the world's best parents, and it probably goes without saying that I'm over the moon. Except for one thing. They live in San Francisco. You can't get much farther from my Hudson River village without leaving the Lower 48. Already I miss this beloved creature we're calling the Doodle (because that's what I thought of when we looked at 5-week embryo images on Christmas Eve after Brook took her pregnancy test). How will I stand not being able to see my little grandbaby's first smile, first babble, first word, first step.
The other day I got a press release about a granddad, William Stevenson, who's written a children's book for his 9-year-old grandson, who lives in another state, Ricky's Dream Trip Through the Solar System. Hungry for reassurance that it would all be okay, I called him up. "Here's what I want to know," I said. "Can I be as close to my grandchild even across a big distance?" What I wanted was reassurance with a soupcon of advice like becoming a frequent flyer on Skype. Instead, I got a splash of cold water in my face.
"No, you can't have as full a relationship. I grew up with a grandmother in my house and I can see the difference," he told me. "When you're gone, you're gone. They have so many other things going on in their lives."
I knew Stevenson was probably right. With a sigh, I hung up the phone and walked over to my friend Joan's house for a few rounds of Scrabble. Joan has three grandkids with a fourth on the way. One of her kids lives a block away; another three hours away. "The distance is tough," she said. "Really tough." Joan is one of the wisest people I know and she threw me a lifeline. "Take lots of pictures. You can't have too many. Make sure you're in them. Photographs become the memories of events."
I've usually been the one behind the camera, taking the shots. It's the role I'm comfortable with. But make no mistake, come September, I'll be muscling my way into every shot.
There must be a lot of other long-distance grandparents out there. I could sure use some other advice on how to bridge the gap.