So close, so far apart


My daughter and her Oma spend a lot of quiet time together. I love it that they get along so well and always seem to have something to talk about, even during those times when there’s not much to say or left to do but play checkers for awhile.

But as much as I love to stop and look at the two of them in their calm togetherness, I can’t help thinking that by the very nature of our family, one part of her childhood will always be hopelessly one-sided.

Her German Oma lives only a couple of hours down the Autobahn and comes to visit us regularly, but her Canadian grandmother lives nine time zones and a long, expensive flight away. My mother is turning 85, still fit and active, still drives a car, goes out with friends and takes short trips, but understandably no longer feels up to the exhausting flight to Europe from the west coast of Canada all by herself. She’s made the trek three times in the 10 years we’ve been living in Hamburg, and we’ve flown there four, but now it’s all up to us.

I’d like to be able to offer my daughter what I feel is the best for her, and that includes regular contact with her grandmother. But by the very nature of having a family where grandparents live on opposite sides of the world, on this I fear we are always going to come up short. In contrast to the close, comfortable relationship she has with her Oma, her contact with her Grandma will always be like getting to know one another all over again. She’ll still be the red-haired girl, but each time she’ll have grown and changed into a new version of herself. Depending on mood, the effects of jet lag and any other combination of factors, there’s no guarantee the two of them will ever be able to settle into each other’s company, and after our time’s up and it’s time to go, that’ll be it until the next time.

We’re headed to Canada this year, not just because we want to, but because it really has been too long since she last saw her grandmother. It’s going to be a great trip: a week in Canada, then a wander down the coast of Oregon and California to Los Angeles. There we will stay with a friend of ours, before flying home from LA.

I really don’t know when the next time will be. And in the back of my mind, I’m always wondering: is this time going to be the last?

© 2008 lettershometoyou

19 Responses to “So close, so far apart”

  1. March 30, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    This is tough. I grew up far away from both sets of grandparents. My mom’s folks lived in Ontario, my dad’s mother in England. My ON grandparents I saw every few years and thus knew them better. But I had a great letter-writing relationship with my England Grandma, and saw her a couple of times when I was younger, and a few more times when I was in my teens and twenties and I was able to get to the UK. No matter how much you write – or email, or IM, or whatever – the distance still makes it hard to have a close relationship. I’m glad you’re coming to Canada to see your mom, though; my grandmother’s 85, too. When I saw her this past January, I also wondered if it would be the last time.

  2. 2 TC
    March 30, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    I am so thrilled that you all are coming to see me but am very worried that your little red-haired girl will be cheated out of time with her grandma.

    My grandparents lived on the east coast and I, living on the west coast, knew them mainly from long-distance phone calls and visits every few years. Long distence phone was expensive back-in-the day, so the conversations were always short weather reports and school progress updates. They all passed away when I was between 11-16 years old, yet I still miss them and still feel cheated that I never
    really got to be with them.

    Maybe the little red-haired girl is old enough to spend her entire summer break with grandma?

  3. March 31, 2008 at 1:58 am

    It is tough, I agree and know from experience. We left Germany in 1956 when I was 7. I never saw my maternal grandparents again they were behind the Berlin wall and my paternal grandparents I saw at age 16. My own three grandsons grew up in Yellowknife and there were occasional trips there. Now with the new granddaughter in Calgary we do the webcam thing once in a while and hopefully we won’t be strangers. It will be a nice visit for you and your family…ciao

  4. March 31, 2008 at 2:39 am

    Have you thought about sending her to spend the whole summer in Canada? Robert used to spend every summer with his British grandparents until he was 14 or 15; if anything, he was closer to them than to his Canadian grandma.

  5. March 31, 2008 at 8:46 am

    lovely image. you don’t often post photos of your family but I guess this one was just too lovely to omit

  6. 6 cartooncat
    March 31, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Is Canadian-Gran computer literate? Can she Skype with a webcam? I know it’s not quite the same… but the ability to talk and see each other at the same time makes a great difference in an overseas relationship.

    And that can happen as often as you all like – not just in the infrequent holidays…

    By the way – it’s a lovely photo. I wish my mother had lived long enough to play checkers with my littlest one…

  7. March 31, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    I like the idea of Skype and a web cam. I also think I hear home sickness in your voice Ian. It’s hard to get BC out of your bones so perhaps you need to come home and see your mom too.

  8. March 31, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    I think you nailed it, brightfeather. Homesick? Yeah – it comes and goes. One of my brother’s coming for a visit in a couple of weeks though – if I can’t go home yet, a bit of home can come to me!

    Cat, I know that we could be talking for hours a day with Skype, Google Talk etc – but she’s just not into computers, doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. We don’t push it.

    Nurse – I tip-toed back into the room to catch that shot. It’s one I’m glad to share, though I’m pretty wary of posting too many of the family. This one’s got a special mood.

    BrownA – again, like webcam, a great suggestion – but unfortunately not very practical. My mother goes to a remote lake in Saskatchewan every summer, so there’s that to add to it.

    TC! You left a comment after all this time. I am so looking forward to seeing you again, and so are the other two ladies in my life. You’re not taking time away from grandma. We have to balance a lot in life, and I guess this is part of it.

    Coyote – you live in the Kootenays, right? Spent a lot of time in Creston, where another brother lived for several years. Love that part of the province.

    Rositta – that must have been hard, knowing you wouldn’t see them again.

  9. March 31, 2008 at 9:18 pm

    Oh geez, thanks for making me cry. (But it’s OK. Really) This is something I think about almost daily and it’s a killer sometimes. The “oh my god, what the hell was I thinking?” moments get closer together as my parents (now almost 72 and 79) get older. My kids only get to see them every two years when we go over. Parents themselves have been over here three times, once when each baby was about 6 weeks old and once in 2001. That’s it, and it’s pretty tough. That said, the boys still manage to maintain a really close, loving relationship with the Canadian side and when we’re there it’s like we’ve never been gone. I’m really grateful for that.

    And hey, we’re planning a little road trip down to Washington State and Oregon so we’ll wave if we see you guys somewhere along the way.:-)

  10. March 31, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    We have both sets on the other side of the pond. It is tough. That quiet serenity from the grandparents is definitely tough to go without at times.

    I remember my dad following us on the autobahn in the rain one night while he and my mom were visiting. He was going very slow. So, I had to go slow. Trucks and cars were whizzing by. It was as if time were standing still. But it didn’t matter to the kids, who normally get anxious when we slow down for stop lights and the like. Even in the car behind us, grandpa and grandma brought us that quiet peace. Our kids definitely miss it.

  11. April 1, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Oy Vey – I didn’t realise this would trigger tears! Your kids sound like they have a closeness with their Canadian grandparents despite your not being there that often. What’s your secret?

  12. April 1, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Tough, isn’t it? I find it very hard that my kids aren’t growing up in the same town as their grandparents as I did. However, we are lucky in that both grandmothers are eager travellers, fit enough to cope with the flights and have a way of making travel their priority. The grandfathers, not so good.

  13. April 2, 2008 at 1:40 am

    Love the picture. I was only close to one grandparent, my maternal grandfather, my Opa. Sometimes there was considerable geographic distance between us, but he and I had a special bond and we were able to bridge the gap with letters, phone calls, and even the occasional parcel. We were penpals throughout much of my childhood. June 15 of this year – Father’s Day – would have been his 100th birthday, and I will be travelling several hundred miles that weekend to sit by his grave and reflect on his life and his legacy.

    I hope your daughter and your mother are able to find a special niche for their relationship despite the geographical challenges and limited time they can physically spend together.

  14. 14 alwaysthatgirl
    April 2, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Love the picture too Ian.:-) Made me think about my grandparents. Similiar situation to your daughters, close to one and not able to see the other as much as everyone would have liked. You know though…I have special memories of them both. I can honestly say that none are greater or more special than the other, just different.

  15. April 2, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Charlotte – that’s the thing – if the task of travelling is shared, there’s still separation, but not as often and the feeling of responsibility isn’t all on one party. It’s kind of an intractible situation, really.

    Hi zoom – I wish I could visit my father’s grave, but he’s buried in Saskatchewan – pretty far from where I really want to go when making those rare trips to a huge land.

    thatgirl – you give me some hope that my daughter will feel the same way when she’s older.:-)

  16. April 14, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Hey Ian,

    Well, you made me cry too. I never really knew my grandmother in Switzerland, living in Vancouver. I saw her once in a blue moon, and there was a language barrier too. I could tell from the warmth of her eyes and her long hugs how much she wished we had more of a chance to get to know each other. When I was a kid, it just seemed awkward to be told to hug someone I barely knew and couldn’t talk to, but when I grew into my teens I realized the depth of what I was missing. She and my Swiss aunt were my main motivation for trying to learn German.

    Now it is easier with webcams, skype, and email … I’m glad you are coming home for a visit soon. Let’s meet up again!

  17. April 15, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Hi Vreni – that must have been even more difficult having a language barrier. At least she is able to speak English well enough for that not to be a problem.

    About getting together: oh, absolutely! If we can all do that beautiful hike in Deep Cove again, I would love it. I was showing them the photos again the other day and they remarked how wonderful the forest looked.

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The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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