When we moved Eleanor to Tanzania at 10 months old, my parents sent along laminated photo cards of her whole family (yes, including the cat) so that we could talk about everyone back home with her. I would arrange the cards like a family tree (I had a lot of time on my hands), describing each person in relation to everyone else and to Eleanor herself. Although I doubt it meant very much to her at the time, I was glad that we had reminders of the people we left behind: we could see them and name them, even if it wasn’t in person.
I’ve noticed that Oliver has started to engage in a similar process lately, carrying around photographs of various family members and naming them proudly: “Sis!” (This is what he calls Eleanor.) “Ma!” “Dh-ad!” Even though we are physically closer to our extended families now that we live in Virginia than we were while living in Tanzania, we still don’t see them as often as I would like. I hope that as my children grow, they will develop close connections to their grandparents, uncles, and aunts. I have visions that their family will become trusted adults to whom they can turn for laughter, or advice. But encouraging these bonds is a bit more difficult than it might otherwise be because we live away.
We recently returned to VA after a two week stay with our families in southern Maine. Although we struggled a bit being out of our routine and from the lack of clearly defined “work” and “play” time, it was magical for me to watch the relationship between Eleanor and my parents (especially) grow. I barely saw her the week that we were at my parent’s house: it was “Grandma come see this!” “Grandpa, want to go swing?” “Grandma, let’s go ride bikes in the driveway,” all. week. long. One day she even suggested that the morning plan should consist of her, grandma and grandpa going out on the boat so that Tim and I could have “special time” with Oliver. (Cleaver girl!)
The day we left was an extremely emotional one for Eleanor, and and while it is nice to be back home knowing how strong the bond already is between Eleanor and her grandparents leaves me longing for her to have more time with them. Until that can happen, I’m seriously considering a book of names & faces or a personalized memory game to keep around the house for all three kids to have: little reminders of the people and places that matter most.