We live in an age where it is possible to fly across the world for a visit or drive for hours across state lines, but sometimes, despite our best intentions, a visit or reunion with loved ones simply isn’t possible. Here are fun ways to keep in touch with long-distance relatives and friends and keep your loved ones in your “immediate” vicinity.
When my cousin, Cathy, couldn’t come to her own baby shower at the last minute (doctor’s orders), all the relatives gathered around the laptop in the kitchen. We showed her the dishes and treats that had been prepared in her honor and the table of presents. Then everyone took turns opening the gifts in front of the web cam and holding them up one by one so she and her husband could get a closer look. My favorite moment, though, came when the guest of honor showed her dramatically pregnant silhouette on-camera to loud cheers and admiring applause.
A single dad I know uses Skype to do homework with his kids every night. Even though his children live in a different state, they know 7 pm to 9 pm is homework time with Dad, and he helps them with tricky subjects like math.
Give a walking tour of your neighborhood.
In anticipation of your next planned visit, take a cue from Mister Rogers and shoot a short video starring the people and places in your neighborhood. (Videos can be easily shot with cell phones or a Flip video camera.) Here’s the pastry shop where I like to buy cookies, the park where I walk the dog, the train station I take to work. If you do share these videos on a site such as YouTube or Facebook, don’t give out any personal details like your home address or school name and make any links private viewing for only the people you invite.
Share everyday details of your life.
When my friend, Manette, is home in Rockport, Maine, she takes a picture at the same place every day, looking out at Penobscot Bay. Then she posts the photos of sky and water on her Facebook Wall, where everyone from her mother to her college and elementary school friends leave comments. “One of my most faithful commenters is my 86-year-old Aunt Ruth, who lives in Louisiana,” says Manette. “I haven’t seen her since 2005 but we remain close via Facebook.”
You also can share stories from your own childhood and youth, like that time you boxed a bully’s ears at school or helped find a lost child in a snowstorm.
Start a new tradition
If you’ve been the recipient of goofy gifts, like loud Hawaiian shirts or reindeer sweaters, don’t hide them, FLAUNT them! Take a series of photos with you and the kids wearing the gifts, or use the gifts as clever props. Just make sure that reindeer sweater is in every picture—draped over a chair, peeking out of a backpack, worn as a turban—and easy to spot. It’s a clever and fun way of saying thank you.
Likewise, if you always stay at a hotel when you visit, let the kids swim in the hotel pool or order room service. A midnight tea or picnic is always memorable.
Celebrate the holiday on a different day.
With so many folks having to work during the holidays, or stay close to home due to budget constraints or illness, not being able to celebrate with loved ones can be a devastating blow. Still, as so many shopkeepers’ and restaurant owners’ children know, you can celebrate the holiday—just do it on a different day, and preferably before or after the rush of customers. Flexibility also can be a lifesaver for children in divorced families, who may have to visit with one side of the family a little earlier or later than the other. Remember, it doesn’t matter which day you celebrate, so long as you get to celebrate the occasion in some fashion!
Give gifts that keep the conversation going.
Sure, there are services that will send a new flower, or seed packet, or gourmet goodie to your recipient’s home every month, but you can adapt this idea and personalize it with homemade baked goods, pressed flowers, mystery novels, postcards, and Matchbox cars.
Other thoughtful gifts include writing supplies, disposable cameras, stamps and stickers, and phone cards or calling cards.
Work towards a common goal.
Inspired relatives know that often it’s not the amount of money you spend on a gift but the thought and time you put into a present that counts. For instance, if your grandchild, niece, or nephew frequently plays online games on a web site for points, you can set up an account to play games alongside them and earn points too. I know relatives who have gifted thousands of points to a lucky child saving up for a special item. To the kids, these points represent precious hours of time that are worth just as much as money or are more precious than gold… especially if Junior is only allowed one hour of computer time a day, but Grandpa isn’t!
Here are more suggestions:
- Host a scavenger hunt or “Mystery Person” game. Keep the kids guessing by sending new clues or maps in the mail or via e-mail every week. For clues, you can write poems, send snap shots, songs, items of interest, or famous quotations.
- In the style of Iron Chef, issue a challenge to everyone in the family to come up with recipes featuring one key ingredient, from mushrooms to Nutella or sweet potatoes. Collect the recipes and make a cookbook to distribute to everyone.
- Start an online book club to discuss current reads. Serial books and chapter books are great, from Amelia Bedelia to Captain Underpants, Little House on the Prairie, and Harry Potter.