Long distance grandparents

Home Away from Home with Abi Adeboyejo

Email: abi.adeboyejo@yahoo.com Twitter: @abihafh

Abi AdeboyejoThis week we had very heavy rainfall with some lightning and thunder thrown in for good measure. My daughter caught sight of a really bright flash of lightening last night just before I put her to bed. I told her that when I was younger than her I remember my grandpa told me that thunder was actually God’s voice telling someone off. She snorted and asked if I knew any stories about thunder and lightning and my mind drifted to the stories my grandfather told me as a little girl.

I was just over eight years old when my paternal grandfather died. My other three grandparents died long before my parents even met. The stories I can now remember were embellished over the years by my older brother and sister who never tired of reminding me that their versions of the stories were even better than grandpa’s.  I am glad for those stories and the memories because over 35 years later, I can still see my grandpa in my mind’s eye sitting us around him and saying ‘Aloo o, Aloo!’  (‘Story, Story’)

With more and more Nigerians living abroad, I wonder if it is possible for grandparents back home to forge meaningful relationships with their grandchildren aboard.  One of my distant cousins lost her father a couple of years ago. She had only been able to take her children home to Nigeria about five times before her father passed away. Her eldest son, Koye, was only 10 years old at that time but he was absolutely devastated by his grandpa’s passing. He was so upset that he got ill and missed school for two weeks. When I asked his mom how well he knew his grandfather, she said they were best friends.

When grandchildren move away or are born in another country, it can be difficult for even the most unemotional grandparents to adjust. I remember one of my uncles who was very bitter and resentful when his son won the American Visa Lottery and moved to America with his family. He refused to speak to his son and grandchildren for weeks before they re-located, only to break down in tears at the airport on the day of their departure.

I think grandparents should start devising ways of creating and maintaining bonds with their grandchildren. Phone calls once in a while to those precious little darlings will be remembered long after the grandparents are gone. My father-in-law made an effort to call his grandchildren at least once a month. He called them by his special names for them and once they heard his voice they knew it was him. When they were little they used to tell him irrelevant details like who poured sand over whom at school, who finished their dinner at school and whose mummy just had a baby (at this point I always took the phone from the kids because I knew his next question to me would involve asking if more grandchildren were on the way) Now he has passed on, the kids still have fond memories of him, even though they only saw him a couple of times.

My friend’s mum writes very short but lovely letters which she sends through anyone travelling to the UK to post to her grandchildren. She sends pictures once in a while and for her grandson’s last birthday she sent him a cute little leather drum. The boy was so ecstatic about his drum that after nearly making his parents go deaf from the noise, they happily let him take the drum to school to show his friends. When asked later that year to write an essay  for his class assembly, he wrote a moving account of his love for his grandma, complete with spelling errors and  stick-men and stick-women drawing of his whole family  ( bless, he was only six years old!).

A friend told me of a Nigerian grandfather who records folk stories in Igbo language onto audio cassettes for his grandchildren in America. He even sings the songs that accompany the stories, much to his grandchildren’s delight. He asks questions at the end of the stories and the grandchildren have to give him the answers to the questions when they call him. I think it is a really wonderful idea worth circulating. Not only is this grandpa maintaining communication with his grandkids, he is also teaching them Igbo language and folktales as well.

With advancements in technology, more grandparents in Nigeria now have access to the internet and actually know how to send emails, use webcams and chat on Facebook, Blackberry and Whatsapp from their mobile phones and other devices. People should also support their parents who may need encouragement to forge a bond with their grandchildren, especially if they’ve been out of touch for a while.

I know most grandparents would like nothing more than to see their grandchildren every other day. Some are lucky and can do so, but a growing number can’t. I hope many long distant grandparents reading this will consider taking a more active role in ensuring that they have good relationships with their grandkids. After all, what better place to live forever than in the hearts of those who love us.