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Helping Your Family Overcome the Great Geographical Divide

February 3, 2010
Times Observer
BY JULIA DERKOVITZ, SUPERVISOR AT SUNY FREDONIA

Though I’m not from Western New York, I certainly don’t mind living here. I still feel incredibly sad, however, that my closest relative is a seventeen hour drive, and the farthest, I’ve never bothered to calculate. Though my family and I cannot see each other in person unless we have made hotel or airfare reservations, I am closer to my family than most living across the street from each other. With just a few of these suggestions, you too can close the geographical divide that so many of us are living with.

Buy a sturdy journal and mail it back and forth. Purchase a heavy notebook from a craft store and decorate it. We titled ours “Dear Cousins”. Then we write a brief summary of what the “New York Cousins” are up to. We glue in photographs and draw pictures. Boxing it up, we visit the post office and send it off to Texas. When it arrives, the “Texas Cousins” read it, add to it, and send it back to us. We always enjoy rereading the journal as it bounces back and forth. When the book is filled, we send it to Grandma as a scrapbook. When we visit Grandma, one of the first things we do is reach for those journals and look through them!

Make standing dates twice a year, even if only two of you can come. Because my family lives in four different states, we make two standing dates a year to get together. Instead of trying to do actual holidays, we have decided to do the week after Christmas and the week after Fourth of July to travel. A benefit of having two set dates a year makes it less painful if you have to miss one. If for some reason we cannot see our family at the holidays, we are sure to make the summer trip. Also, because school calendars differ in every state, we may not all be in the same place for the entire week, but it is rare that the entire family cannot overlap for at least two or three days a year. Because of the expense of traveling, instead of buying each other Christmas and birthday gifts, my family has agreed to put that money towards events done during the trip itself. It helps the children understand what is really important, and nobody has complained yet.

Share mini-vacations. Sometimes, getting an entire family together is just not possible. Instead of focusing on what you cannot do, look at what is possible. When my brother was going to be six hours away for a trip, I jumped in my car and went to meet him for two days. My children are still young, and pulling them out of school once in a while to see family is no problem for me. And while it is great when we go to a city with museums or attractions, a hotel with a pool is all they need for a great time with their uncle.

Buy a webcam. Webcams have become pretty inexpensive, and can be a great way to engage tweens! April Newton, mother of two, lives in Wisconsin while her family lives in Maryland and Michigan. She and her family have “Skype” dates. “Skype is a free program you can download from Skype.com. As long as you have a computer with a camera, you can use it. Everybody in my family, including the grandparents, has a webcam, and this software was easy for all of us to use. My son loves to Skype with his Uncle Judd, and because I’m pregnant, everybody wants to see my belly. This way nobody misses a thing!”

Just call. April’s family also calls each other on a daily basis. Phone companies are competing for business, so call plans are fairly inexpensive. “We don’t schedule a weekly thing, because that never works out. And, it’s important that you don’t just wait for something important to talk about. Not every phone call needs to be a big deal. It’s almost too much pressure! The small things, like hitting a good sale or trying a new toothpaste may seem silly, but it does help to feel connected.”

While I am still jealous of families who get to see each other on a daily basis, my family does the best we can. These strategies help us feel close. On the upside, at least I don’t have to worry about those unexpected visits!

Julia has been involved with education for over twelve years now. She has taught at both the elementary and high school levels. Julia also has been an adjunct professor at SUNY Fredonia in the education department. Currently, she works part time at SUNY Fredonia supervising student teachers. She lives in Bemus Point with her husband and two children.

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