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If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it's that seeing long-distance family members is imperative for our own mental well-being and for maintaining connections with those we love. When families live thousands of miles apart from each other, it is especially important to build traditions for everyone to look forward to when we’re finally reunited.
When my husband and I got married, we returned from our honeymoon and left that very day to start our new life many miles away from our families. Mom tells me that as our loaded-down station wagon pulled away, my dad, a stoic man of the “Manly Men” generation, began to sob. I’m sure he imagined months going without seeing me, and I know he felt that the physical distance between us would create emotional distance between us.
Our first major holiday post-wedding was Thanksgiving. Without kids and with the freedom of youth, it was no big deal to hop in our car and drive 10 hours to see family. The road trip was an adventure, and the reward awaiting us was not one, but two Thanksgiving dinners at our respective families’ homes. Everyone was thrilled to see us. The time was special, but in a different way.
Now, we were choosing to be there. We made the effort, and everyone was appreciative. We were also aware that our time together would be short, so we soaked it all in. Rather than retreating to my old bedroom, I sat with my parents and talked. We drank wine and caught each other up on our lives. We had become adult friends, and it was beautiful.
Sometimes love across the miles is the strongest love of all.
Just a couple of years later, our daughter was born. Mom hated not being there for her birth, but it wasn’t like we could have planned ahead. So, she waited for the next major holiday — Thanksgiving — to arrive. With our now 2-month-old strapped in the car seat, we made the trek again, but this time it was quite different. We stopped frequently to hold her when she cried, to nurse her, to change her diaper. And when we arrived on my mom’s front stoop, she cried, said a brief hello to me, and then grabbed her baby granddaughter and smothered her with kisses and love.
I spent the next few days doing nothing but nursing and changing diapers because Mom did all the playing and loving and cooing. She and Dad wanted nothing more than to gaze at their new granddaughter and study her every move. I’m sure they cried again when we left.
As our son joined the family and the kids grew into little people, our visits brought the grandparents and grandchildren even closer. One year at Christmas, Mom made the traditional Pennsylvania cookie, Buckeyes. The kids devoured them with such vigor that Mom was committed to making them every time she saw them. And when she didn’t, she was greeted with such disappointment that we’d have to run to the store for ingredients so she could make them on demand.
Realizing that distance creates challenges as kids grow, my parents made a point of creating traditions that the kids came to not only expect, but to cherish. Grandma didn’t just equal Buckeyes. She equaled card games and laughter. Grandpa equaled cheating at those card games and bringing on more laughter. Since our family stayed a week versus a few hours, their relationships grew over shared breakfasts, afternoon walks, and quiet times when a kid would wander into a room, find Grandpa reading, and sit down to have a spontaneous chat.
My kids have never lived anywhere near their extended family. But their closeness to them is undeniable. The key is for long-distance family members to create traditions that are unique and special to them. Whether it’s a shared hobby or interest, a special meal, or an experience that everyone enjoys, it will become a symbol of love across the miles.
And, sometimes love across the miles is the strongest love of all.