The Strange, Creative Way One Family Keeps in Touch

To build stronger bonds with grandparents who live far away, Lacey Keigley and her kids came up with the perfect pint-size solution. 
Josie Portillo

Some kids cansee their grandparents' house from their own back deck. Other families can drive across town to spend a little time with Nana and Poppy. It's a wonderful gift when you share a hometown with multiple generations.

To get from our house to Grandma and Papaw's house, however, we have to drive through three states. The other side of the family isn't any closer—it's a long trek from the South to the North. We know lots of families like ours. Job opportunities and myriad other factors can keep families living far apart. Of course, we make those journeys by car and plane whenever we're able, but, with five kids at home, it's a challenge to travel and to involve the grandparents in our daily lives. Even so, we're a close extended family, and we're always looking for ways to bridge the miles.

Thankfully, an idea the kids and I hatched a few years ago has helped make the distance seem a little less, well, distant. A few weeks before the grandparents were due for a visit, we came up with a plan and visited the garden section of a local store. The kids and I looked at iron butterflies and glass-mosaic globes, but we finally landed on a little fella that made us laugh— the classic garden gnome, sporting an iconic pointy red hat and a happy grin. Two matching gnomes were gently placed in our cart. One of them would live in our woods, and the other was destined for Grandma's garden.

Next, well allsat at the kitchen table and brainstormed a little poem of introduction to our new pal. London, age 11, wrote it up, using her best penmanship. (Who doesn't love a poem written by her granddaughter?) We named our gnome after the capital of the grandparents' state, and the capital of our state provided the name for Papaw and Grandma's. Columbus and Columbia really seemed pleased with their new monikers. (Extra credit: Can you identify our home states by our capitals?)  When the grandparents arrived, we delivered the poem first; it explained the idea behind the matching gifts and made it clear that one gnome stays with us and one gnome travels with them. They loved the poem—and  then they loved the gnome! They loved the name, and they loved the idea of matching lawn figurines.

Now, throughout the seasons, we receive texts and photos showing Columbia in all sorts of weather—rain, sun, and inches of snow. One time a picture arrived that showed our little gnome resting peacefully right inside their living room! Grandma said that the little guy just got too cold to be outside all alone. We placed ours on our driveway so it appears he's peeking out of the woods. We snap his picture all through the year. The simple idea of shared, matching lawn ornaments has been a hit. We've used it with other faraway family and friends. We have a metal hummingbird and a red-cardinal statue named Virginia, as well as a pretty rain gauge that lets us compare rainfall with our long-distance pals. We've found that the options are limitless—and that these small visual reminders of our loved ones offer easy opportunities for photo exchanges and conversations. It feels good to share something in common, and it makes those long distances melt away. 

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