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  • Writer's pictureM. Winston (Winn) Egan


Updated: Feb 17, 2021

[What follows is a beautiful illustration of discovering and embracing powerful ways to connect with grandchildren who live across the country or reside in a distant, foreign land. Dear friends of ours, Chris and Bill Bracy, share what they have done and continue to do to stay connected to their grandchildren. I am confident you will love this blog. It is rich with great ideas and fun anecdotes.]

Never in a million years did Bill and I think our nomadic life – raising our children in six different states and two foreign countries during their growing-up years – would lead to the loss of our grandchildren. Our children’s choice to gain higher education, sometimes thousands of miles away from us, surely contributed.

Utah had been the place to visit grandparents in the summer while growing up; later to celebrate Christmas and ski in the winter with us, but their opportunities for livelihoods lay elsewhere. And so we found ourselves retired in our home town with nary a grandchild in sight.

Not that we haven’t seen those seven souls. We visited after their births, for holidays and birthday celebrations, and likewise, they came to us.

A watershed moment occurred on Christmas 2017. We were visiting our daughter Anne in upstate New York, where nine-year-old Timo had just discovered HARRY POTTER. He was enthralled with the books but had difficulty with the reading because he, Koby, and Nika were bilingual – speaking German at home and English outside the home.

At some point, the suggestion came up that perhaps I could read it to him at bedtime while he followed along. And so for the following week, I would crawl into his bed in the evening, where we would sit side by side while I read, and he followed along. I must admit that those are sweet memories.

Neither of us wanted to give up this cozy reading experience, but the 2,000 miles between his home and ours made it challenging until the idea of using video chat appeared. After I arrived home, we began to use FaceTime. It worked beautifully. (Android phone users can use Skype, Facebook Messenger, or Google Duo.) How wonderful it would have been if these free services had been available years ago when the only time geographically distanced families connected was through expensive phone calls, extending happy birthday wishes and holiday cheer and, sadly, the passing of friends and loved ones.

The way our reading sessions are scheduled, or should I say “not scheduled,” is what I like to describe as “on call.” Whenever Timo wanted to read, and now these days his brother Koby, they just call FaceTime from their iPads. I prefer to use our desktop computer but have used my iPad or even iPhone. Upon answering, I usually hear, “Gaga, can you read HARRY POTTER?” Or sometimes, nothing is spoken, just the current book held up to the screen. This unscheduled method usually works out for us.

Of course, there have been times when I have been involved in other pursuits and have had to bow out. For example, one day, Koby called while Bill and I were taking a walk. He was disappointed but agreed to call back, which he did the next day and discovered that we were taking another walk. His reaction: “Not again!” I told him we only had about a half mile to get to the car and could then be home to read. His advice: “Run!” When I explained that we had already walked 2 ½ miles and that running wasn’t in the cards, he replied: “Take some vitamins!”

One benefit of not always being available is that my grandchildren get to know me and what I do better. “Sorry, Koby, I’m playing tennis.” Or, “I’m shopping.” This has often expanded into their wanting to see what I am buying, etc. So even when I’m not available, their calls lead to more interaction between us.

I have come to know positively that HARRY POTTER is addictive! For me and my grandkids, once a week is just not enough, so we have often read every day of the week. I must confess that both my grandchildren and I have brought our books on vacation – just in case.

The actual reading process has varied. Our long-distance reading has necessitated our each having our own books. When we begin a chapter, we are literally on the same page. After that, it depends on the grandchild's interest, motivation, and reading level. Some follow along word for word (I have even been corrected for mistakes or omissions!) while others just listen.

Jim Kay’s Illustrated Editions brought new excitement to our reading. His drawings are fantastic. When reading these editions (which sadly just include the first four books so far), I make sure the listener is on the current page.

The majority of my time spent reading is just that – reading. However, there are often questions about what a word means, so we digress and talk about meaning. The children also interrupt when they have a creative solution to a character’s current problem.

Koby uses our reading as a springboard for creativity. He has made his own Harry Potter movies, plays, scenarios – accents included, due to listening to books on tape – and has used 3D printing technology to enhance his productions.

He and younger sister Nika have “opened” a branch of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for their stuffed animals. Their “students” take classes in potions, transfiguration, PE, and defense against the dark arts. They have had their own sorting ceremony, lining up all their stuffed animals and pronouncing which Hogwarts house they will be in. They have also made their own Hogwarts Express to bring the students back in their annual journey, with multiple train cars filled

with stuffed animals.

I love the ease of reading to my grandchildren – no glue, glitter, or preparation – just time. Yes, it's great to be needed and form a bond with them that I hope will remain as time goes on. They love the adventure, thrill, and excitement of this magical world. It’s a “win-win.”

When I ask myself what have my grandchildren gained from this reading experience, I could answer that they became better readers, improved their vocabularies, had their minds and creative thoughts and actions expanded – but these things pale compared to the deep-seated knowledge that they are loved.

When I ask myself what have I gained from this reading experience, I could answer that I have helped my busy children, I have myself been entertained by magical thoughts, and I have gotten to know my grandchildren better – but these things pale in comparison to the deep-seated knowledge that I, too, am loved.

And so, “Thank you, J. K. Rowling,” for being the conduit for this mutual love.

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