Mar 15, 2021
Continuing last episode's theme, this time Emily talks with a grandparent in the US and a parent in France whose extended relationships span oceans, languages, and cultures. Adventure seasoned with selflessness is the recipe.
THE STRETCH IT TAKES (Emily's essay)
“We’re moving to Brussels.” Those words shocked me even though I was twenty-one, living in my own apartment and working on my graduate degree. My parents called from NH to inform me that my dad had taken a job in Belgium. “Where is that?” was my immediate reply. (I was in grad school for English Lit, and obviously not for Geography). I don’t really remember their reply. All I remember is feeling a sense of abandonment. My parents would no longer be a two-day drive away. They would now be an ocean away. And this was before cell phones and FaceTime.
Once I got over the shock, I employed something I have since learned is called “reframing.” Back then, some friends helped me work through it. “Maybe you can go visit. Have you ever been to Belgium? That is so cool. I mean what’s the difference between an 18 hour drive and a six hour flight?”
They were right. It’s all how you look at it. I could feel left behind; or I could feel liberated and recognize that my world would soon be expanding. In fact, it already had. Now I knew where Belgium was. Next step? I would be visiting there for Christmas break.
One of my favorite parenting books is called The Danish Way of Parenting. It’s also not a bad one for grandparents, because it’s a book about raising confident and capable kids - something we as grandparents want to see happen as we come alongside our own children who are raising their own kids. In the book, the authors talk about the concept of reframing. That is, using language to create a perception shift. In order to be resilient in difficult situations, we all need to find alternate storylines. That is what my friends helped me do when I was floundering after that phone call.
Honestly, I have never been good at reframing. It takes practice. I have been more like the character, Isabelle, in the novel Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. In this unorthodox book about aging, one of Strout’s characters, Isabelle, who is now in a nursing home says of her only daughter, “ The truth is Olive, Amy is good to me, but she does live in Iowa, and I sometimes think when a child moves that far away they’re really trying to get away from something, and in this case I suspect it’s me.”
That’s one way to frame a long distance relationship. But how about if Isabelle, instead, tried to put a different frame around that picture? Perhaps that’s where the daughter, Amy, had found a job she liked, or enjoyed being in a region different from Maine, which can be cold and unaccommodating. Maybe, she was homesick and hoped to get back to Maine at some point but didn’t find it financially viable? Or maybe she simply had built a life she wasn’t prepared to leave. In any case, there are multiple other ways to look at it. And just as Amy wasn’t moving away from her mother, my parents weren’t abandoning me. At least that’s how I would eventually frame it. But it took some time for me to get there, that’s for sure.
So, here’s the stretch. As grandparents who may need to say a long goodbye to our grands who are moving very far away, we need to reframe the situation as best we can and not take it personally or wallow in our sad thoughts about how little we’ll see them. Instead, we can be happy for them and all the experiences they will have, and that we will have with them, if we can. I look back now on my travels to Belgium and other places in Europe, and I am very thankful that my parents decided to move there. It was fun for them, and I learned so much I never would have known...including how to change the way I look at things.
© 2021 Emily Morgan