Grandparenting from Afar

When we moved to Kenya we never even had it in our minds that within a few short years we would have a grandchild on the scene. Why you always look forward to it, you’re never quite ready for it. When our daughter Hannah and her husband Luke told us that they were expecting their first baby, we didn’t actually believe them. It’s the type of prank our family would play on each other. So even when we got off the Skype call, we didn’t quite believe it.

But it was true, and in March this year Isabella Rose was born.

I felt very privileged to be there a couple of weeks before she arrived, was there for the birth and for a month afterwards. But then we had to leave to return back to Kenya. We saw Han and Izzy one more time when we were in Australia but after that we weren’t sure when we would see them face to face again.

It could be years.

baby-hand

We are now on a journey of being grandparents from a distance.

It’s a common occurrence in the world we live in for grandparents to be on one side of the world so how do we manage it and still build a relationship with the most precious gifts in the world?

 

  1. Don’t feel guilty

It’s hard not to be there for every moment of their lives. You feel bad for not being there for birthdays or Christmas and if you were there they wouldn’t have to go into daycare because you ‘could have’ helped out.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to realize that even if you moved back to the same country as them, they might up and leave to go somewhere else. So are you just going to jetset around the globe following them? You have chosen to live where you are and they where they are.

 

  1. Use the internet to your advantage

For us, Skype is one of the best inventions ever. We might only get to use it once a week, but the fact that we can, is the fantastic. I’ve asked Han for a photo or video every day of Izzy, and she’s pretty good at sending it on Facebook. Sometimes it’s a report on how she’s been sleeping, other times on how she’s going with feeding. Even the smallest message makes us feel involved with Izzy. At times I just get on my phone and video myself or put some toys in from of the phone and make up stories for her. This morning I got back from a run and put a 30 second video of me filling in Izzy on what was happening today. It’s no big deal, but it helps with me missing her so much.

 

  1. It’s not a competition

It’s hard when your daughter and grand daughter are surrounding by their in-laws who get to enjoy ‘your family’ on a daily basis. When you find out that your grand child has been spoilt with lots and lots of gifts and you can’t do that because you’re a missionary and don’t have money for such luxuries. It’s very easy to get jealous.

But it’s not a competition between them and you. Your grandchildren are not objects. You can’t buy love and the best thing you can do is give them time. Things break, the best investment you can make is time. Let them show you their homework, art, favourite toy and just chatting. Even taking the time for them to sing their favourite song or preparing for a presentation. The fact that you’re making time for them is the most important thing.

october-foot

  1. Make the most of holidays

If you can’t get to your grandkids, invest into them and fly them to you. When Izzy was born, I made the decision that I wanted to be back for her first birthday. I have no idea how I will find the money for the ticket, but it’s important to be there. Izzy won’t remember it, but for Hannah, she needs to know that she matters to us. It’s been a difficult journey for her because she hasn’t had her parents around. I’ve got expat friends whose grandkids come at least twice a year to visit them in Kenya. Others fly to their other home each year or meet up with their kids and grandkids in a mutual country for a few weeks.

One of the dangers of volunteering overseas is that when you return to your home country, you need to spend a lot of time fundraising and you don’t spend time with family. On our last trip we said we would take April off and have a break. But, because of school holidays, we actually had to do many presentations during April. However, we still made time for family, which was a first. For Hannah’s birthday and Mothers Day, we made sure we spent it with the kids.

You can’t get time back. Go and make some good memories.

 

  1. Learn to celebrate

Look at what you do have and not what you don’t. Make the most of birthdays and Christmas, not just with a card or gift, but with the phone calls and messages on social networks. I’m keeping every video and photo that Han is sending through for a project for Izzy’s first birthday. I’ve also got some creative ideas for gifts for Christmas. We’ve sent clothes through but judging sizes is always a hard thing. Sometimes we’ve ordered books online that our kids grew up with and sent them through. Because we live far from them, when I’ve returned, I’ve taken the toys that Han had when she was little. That way if anything untoward happened to us, at least she has memories of us. My grandmother gave me a porcelain love heart when I was small, so when Izzy was born, I gave that to her. It might not seem much right now, but I have nothing left from my mother, so it’s nice to leave something small with Izzy.

 

What have been some of your experiences of grand parenting from a distance?

october-disney

 

Advertisements

When You Have A Disability

This week I’m going to share what it’s been like for Liz while living here and also what it’s like for other kids in Kenya with disabilities.

Liz is classified as being mildly mentally disabled, along with speech and language disorders. That means she can’t produce sounds correctly and she has trouble sharing her thoughts, ideas and feelings. There’s no known cause and at this stage, we’re not worried about that as much as where we head to in the future. We tell people that Lizzie has Aspergers, because she strongly exhibits many of the characteristics of the spectrum.

38

If you want some examples, she didn’t learn to do her shoe laces until she was about 17 and to this day doesn’t have the finger strength to do them tightly. Liz struggles when it comes to understanding her left and right. When talking with her, you will notice she won’t look you in the eye and sometimes blurts out something that has nothing at all to do with the general conversation.

When people look at Liz today they have no clue of her (or her familys) journey to get her to this point. The endless tests, reports, requests for assistance, occupational therapy, speech therapy, special needs classes – it goes on and on.

img_00042

There were two critical times in her life that deeply impacted us. The first one was when we were informed of her ‘condition’. We were distraught, and in those days there wasn’t as much information at hand (think pre-internet). The other time was when she was a teenager and could see her sister doing all the normal things teen do (get a job, have friends and a great social life). Liz was depressed for quite a few months and it was awful to go through. But go we did. With some help of some amazing youth leaders, life came back into Liz.

Then we moved to Kenya.

It’s not easy for a kid like Liz to make friends here. She likes to wear jeans and a tee shirt, and a tee shirt and jeans. If she has to wear a dress you think you were sentencing her to jail. She won’t ever be able to drive. It’s unsafe for her to catch public transport. She can’t get to youth events during the week because it’s a 90 minute drive each way.

And her volunteering options are slim.

For the past 4 years Liz has been helping at a pre-school about a 5 minute drive away. When we returned from travelling they said they wanted her back. One week in they said they didn’t need her any more. Let’s think about that one, you don’t want free labour????

liz-2

Now we’re in the very long process of trying to find somewhere else for Liz to volunteer. It’s hard to convince people that her amazing personality is a bonus to their workplace. Give Liz the same role day in, day out and she handles it really well. Okay, she’s not great in a crisis situation, but thankfully that doesn’t happen very often.

Last week we took Liz to Riding for the Disabled. I was hoping it could be something Liz could volunteer at. It was also something she went to when she was small so it was good to give back. The kids who came were from a special needs school run by the government. These were severely disabled kids. When they were carried off the bus, they had to wait their turn by being put in a car seat. To me most looked like they had cerebral palsy. The teachers were amazingly patient with them and everyone worked together to get the kids their turn on the horses.

When I look at them I worried about their future. Unless you have money here then kids like this will end up staying at home by themselves and maybe a neighbor coming by to give them some food while the parents are out looking for work. They will be neglected and end up with more health problems because of a lack of money. Some will end up being abandoned.

There’s no government support for them, nothing at all.

On the side of the road you’ll see the odd person in a wheelchair or placed on the ground to beg. On a couple of the roads blind people and their carers will be there with a cup in their hands asking for some change from drivers. For most families though, disabled children are ignored, not given hope, and alas they don’t have much of a future if you don’t have money.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some compassionate people who are visionaries here in Kenya to transform the lives of children with disabilities. There’s a long way to go for these kids but at least it’s a start.

For Liz, her future is bright. I just hope the kids we see at places like RDA get the same chance.

liz