Recently, Judy, my wife of 44 years, and I experienced a difficult family situation probably best captured by a rephrasing of the oft-repeated lines from the popular song by the British band The Clash – Should we stay or should we go?
Specifically, we had to decide if we were going to remain in Atlanta, Georgia, where we had moved to spend 15 months to be close to our two grandchildren, or return to the Washington, DC area, where we had lived for the previous four-and-a-half years after we retired from our regular careers in the state of New Jersey.
Of course, our situation wasn’t unique. In this contemporary world, where families relocate frequently for work or retirement, it is a dilemma faced fairly regularly. Our friends were eager to offer advice and the Internet was full of guidance. However, we both knew we would have to make the final decision.
Now, both of us had loved the time we had gotten to spend with Audrey and Owen; precious time we had never had before in their young lives in the two states – Nevada and Tennessee – where they had lived before settling temporarily in Atlanta.
We had been able to watch our 9-year-old granddaughter, who loves participating in musical theater productions, star as the lead in a youth-adaptation of The Jungle Book and convincingly play the evil Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. Judy, who is an artist and former manager of an art gallery, and Audrey were able to share the passion they both have for the arts. Grandmom patiently taught Audrey the lost art of sewing by helping her design and make both jumpers and blouses.
As for Owen, who is 17 months younger than his sister, it was a perfect time for Grandpop to be around to see his evolving interest in sports blossom. He played football for the first time, showed some real skill in basketball (Grandpop’s oldest sports love), as well as made it on a traveling soccer team. When Owen wasn’t playing, we would sit and watch sporting events and discuss the action. Three generations of Price men also got the chance to spend five days together on a near-perfect three-city, three-game pro baseball outing.
Of course, our extended visit wasn’t without its challenges. Like brothers and sisters everywhere, Audrey and Owen were apt to argue and fight. Both showed tempers and, from time to time, ignored what their grandparents were saying or asking them to do. But the good and the great moments far outnumbered the few bad times.
So, the problem with staying wasn’t the grandkids or their parents. The problem was Atlanta itself. As a freelance writer, speaker and consultant, I can actually live anywhere and continue my work. However, I knew that DC was much better career-wise for what I was hoping to accomplish, and as a former political journalist, it was my favorite American city. Also, being on-the-scene as Donald Trump assumed the presidency was a most intriguing idea for a long-time activist writer like me.
As for Judy, she hated everything about Atlanta except for family from the moment she arrived. It was clear that she wanted to leave the southern city the moment our lease was up. In fact, if it were possible, she loved the art, culture, history, music and literary and political discussions in DC more than I did. In addition, almost 85 percent of all we did in DC was free, while no such opportunities existed in Atlanta.
Interestingly, it was Audrey who finally tipped the scale in favor of a return.
During one of their many sleepovers, Audrey and Owen had gotten into a fairly serious shouting match. We decided to separate them, with me taking Owen into one section of our apartment and Judy taking Audrey into another.
Later, after both kids were asleep, a smiling Judy recounted a discussion that Audrey had initiated:
“Grandmom,” she began, “Do you like your apartment here?”
Judy hesitated a moment, trying to figure how honest she wanted to be. “No, honey, I don’t. In fact, while I love you, Owen, and your Daddy and your Mommy, I really don’t like much else about Atlanta.”
“Did you like your apartment in DC better?” Audrey asked.
“Yes, honey I did,” July replied.
“Me too,” Audrey said. “I liked going to the museums and the zoo and doing stuff there. So, if you and Grandpop want to go back to DC that’s fine with me. I can visit and we can do cool stuff there like we used to do.”
And just that quickly, a dilemma became a no-brainer.
Of course, our return – which became a reality earlier this month – does not mean that we have had to abandon all daily contact with Audrey and Owen. Our son, who is currently an economics professor and researcher at the Andrew Young Policy Center at Georgia State University in Atlanta takes the kids to school and most days he lets them call us from his car phone.
And then there’s a fact that while the days of “Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go” are distant memories for so many families like ours, the technological advances of the 21st Century are offering some interesting solutions to reduce the negatives of long-distance grandparenting.
Currently, both Audrey and Owen have iPods so we can text them and they can text us. We’re also able to use FaceTime to talk to and see them. We get to view all the pictures and videos their mom and dad post on Facebook as well. Later, as they get older, I’m sure we’ll use email or some other as yet-undiscovered way to stay in close contact.
So, we have joined that growing number of grandparents who can remain a daily part of their grandchildren’s lives through technology.
A relatively recent AARP study shows that 20 percent of grandparents are using technology to communicate with their grandchildren at least once a week. A 2012 MetLife report found that one-third of all grandparents email their older grandkids regularly, while about one quarter communicate via Facebook or some other social media.
Of course, nothing can replace the joy of actual, in-person hugs and kisses from your grandchildren. We found that out during our 15-month stay in Atlanta. But technology can help you come close to bridging any distance gap, no matter if that gap is measured in miles or states or countries or continents.
Before I left Atlanta, I gave Audrey a young person’s book of the retelling of seven Shakespeare’s classics. We read Macbeth together and discussed the story in its entirety. Using our Macbeth project as a model, we can do the other six plays on FaceTime.
However, we won’t get to that until Audrey finishes the novel she is currently reading, my oldest all-time favorite A Wrinkle in Time, which I am now rereading for a seventh time so Audrey and I can discuss all the questions that the marvelous Newbery Award winner raises.
I can do the same type of thing with Owen when he wants to talk about his latest soccer game or the upcoming NCAA March Madness basketball tournament.
And while it’s not the same as being right there in the same room with your grandchildren, technology is a pretty fair substitute.
There is also a big plus side to technological grandparenting.
It really cuts down on having to use and hear phrases like “Stop that right now,” or “That’s not a nice thing to say to your sister” or “Why did you just hit your brother?” “He hit me first.” “Did not.” “Did too…”
And that alone makes the downsides of distance much more bearable.
When it comes to life in retirement is it more important to live where you love or near the grandkids? What advice can you offer others who have to make that same choice? Do you have any suggestions for better long-distance grandparenting? Please share in the comments.