Staying Connected Across the Miles

by angie stokes

The old adage is true, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder” but how does one maintain a close-knit familial bond if they are away from home for 2 days a week, 3 weeks a year or even 200 days out of a year?

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the word communicate as “to have a meaningful relationship or to impart or transmit information”. Your lingo for communicate may sound more like this; chat, text, blog, touch base, or reply. Regardless of how you communicate with distant members of the family, the advice to take is “just do it”, as Nike has boasted for years.

Avenues of communication have advanced in leaps and bounds, just in the past decade! Besides the traditional mailing of a letter or telephone call, you can now contact anyone, from anywhere with the predominance of cell phones, texting, web casts, emailing and instant messaging. With so many ways to get in touch with someone, it is easier than ever. Remember watching those old AT&T commercials and seeing the joy on grandma’s face when her grandson called to tell her he won his game? The instant upturn of a grin and warm fuzzy feeling resulting from watching those commercials can still be experienced today, even via electronic communications!

The Family Tree Branch-Out

Our nation’s legacy of chasing down the “American Dream” has resulted in family members moving all over the map in pursuit of happiness and success. Often times, the same family may move time and time again. This has led to many a grandparent wishing they were closer to grandkids and parents of blended families, closer to children. Also true, is that the relocation of a family member may be a result of circumstances out of their control. In our country’s current economic turmoil, rash of natural disasters and war on terror, one may not have a choice but to move due to the loss of a job, services, home or military activation.

There are also those family members who choose to travel for their occupation in order to ensure their family continues to reside in the community they value and thrive in. This may include an array of construction workers, miners, members of the Armed Forces, sales representatives as well as many other members of the workforce. In our global marketplace, it is survival of the fittest when it comes to securing and maintaining employment and not a single area of the country is exempt from the continual scrutiny. It is no wonder long distance communication amongst families scattered across the nation (or globe) has become so prevalent!

Looking for some ideas on how to shake up your method of communication? You just may find one to fit your personality and lifestyle.

The Five Senses of Communication

On any given day, a son may be missing working in the garage with Daddy, while a Grandmother is missing hugging her granddaughter, as a wife or husband may be missing coming home to her or his children’s warm greeting at the door. When thinking of ways to keep in touch, incorporate an early elementary lesson of the five senses. These methods can be accomplished by any child or adult, with little or no effort. Keep in mind that one or more senses can be incorporated at a time, which can also provide a learning opportunity between child and adult.

Sense of Hearing

An unexpected phone call or voice message can make you feel that much closer.

A recording of a child or parent’s singing or musical talent can certainly brighten any road trip or ordinary day.

A variety of voice-recordable photo frames, alarm clocks, key chains and plush toys are available from several retailers, and can be personalized with a voice message commemorating a special occasion or just to say hi! The beauty in these products is that they can be changed.

Sense of Sight

A framed multi-generational photograph of a family can provide a focal point for any home or office and will surely serve as a conversation starter when asked, “How is your family?”

A mailable mini-scrapbook or full size album can be created and shipped anywhere. Many premade varieties can be found online or in any department or hobby store, or you may choose to create your own out of cardstock and specialty papers for a unique creation. There are endless versions of online scrapbooks that can be shared over the web from sites such as Smilebox, Shutterfly and Snapfish.

For a change of pace, create a progressive album shipped to family members at several different locations and ask them to complete and add a page or two with their photos and journal messages. The finished product could be shared at a holiday gathering or family reunion and could even become a yearly project for a family.

Consider creating a book of child’s artwork or a story written to a parent from child, or from a parent to child, in the parent’s absence. The recipient is sure to treasure this keepsake.

Write love notes to a traveling spouse and sneak them into a wallet or purse, hidden amongst clothes in a suitcase, left on the dash of their vehicle or posted on the computer screen in their office.

Write love notes to children and sneak them into a lunch bag, back pack, pencil box, inside their desk at school, on the bathroom mirror at home, on their pillow at bedtime or tucked inside of their favorite storybook.

Don’t forget the importance of the environment around you! Share a photo of your front yard, front door, favorite park to visit, school you or your child attends or attended or a favorite camping or vacation snapshot. Don’t forget to include a note of “Wish you were here!” or “Let’s make a date!”

Sharing videos of children’s sporting events, school plays/concerts, birthday parties, dance recitals or everyday play at home can show distant relatives just how much the kids have grown. This provides the children an opportunity to talk to the distant relatives or share stories with them.

Sense of Smell

Send a bouquet of favorite blooms to a family member on a holiday, birthday, anniversary, job promotion or just to say “I love you!”

Surprise someone with a visit and present them with a vase of lilacs, roses or tulips from your garden, just because.

Mail a letter or card to a traveling spouse or parent and spray it and the envelope with your perfume or cologne, to feel that much closer.

Secretly place a sachet in a suitcase or an air freshener in a vehicle, in your spouse or relative’s favorite scent.

To avoid those homesick blues, burn a candle in a scent reminding you of your family and home, such as cinnamon sticks, sugar cookies, pumpkin spice, fresh linen, or baby powder.

Sense of Taste

Send a care package of home-baked treats to a distant relative. Can you think of anything else to remind you more of home?

Order a meal from a gourmet mail-order food company and have it direct-shipped to a traveling spouse on an anniversary, to the parents of your newest grandchild or on a holiday when family is not able to be with you.

Send a recipe or two to a high school or college grad who has moved away from home and misses the comfort of a favorite home cooked meal.

Plan a potluck style picnic, BBQ or dinner to gather the family together. Choose to make it a summer, monthly or yearly occasion.

Sense of Touch

Mail a hand-crocheted afghan, sweater, hat or mittens to a grandparent or grandchild. Several textures of yarns are available at craft stores.

Send a small child’s stuffed animal along with a spouse’s luggage, to show the parent their child is thinking of them. Upon arrival, have the child call the parent and see if they liked their surprise.

Have children create a tangible card or picture adorned with cotton balls, sequins, beads, pasta, ribbons, leaves, flowers, stickers or puff paints. The creative possibilities are endless. These can be shared with those near or far. SFM

Angie Stokes, a Billings native, is a married, stay-at-home mother of three, ages 2, 4 and 6. She searches for creative ways the children can stay in touch with their father, whose job requires regular travel away from home.