TAMPA, FLA — Grandparents who don't live near their grandchildren often wish they could see their grandchildren more often. But my own parents are an example of how grandparents can have an impact on their grandchildren's young lives.
My parents live approximately 140 miles from our home in Tampa, Fla. But the distance has never been an obstacle. When our three children were young, my mother - an accomplished artist, writer, and music lover - set out to influence her grandchildren in the arts. For his part, my father supported his "artsy" wife by attending museum openings with her and by trying not to embarrass her by nodding off during the chamber orchestra concerts.
During the children's preschool and early grade-school years, my folks made tape recordings for them. The children loved hearing their grandparents and aunts and uncles taking turns reading tales such as " The Princess and the Pea" and "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" in their own personal and often humorous style. They interspersed music from "The Nutcracker" ballet and waltzes by Strauss with a cappella solos performed by anyone who had the misfortune of showing up during "recording sessions." They have provided my children with hours of pleasure whether they listened in the car or in their beds at night.
Another of my mother's passions is writing, so it was only natural that she should want to encourage the kids to write.
Typically, she would write the beginning of a story, such as one about a dog who runs away from home and gets himself into some terrible predicaments. Mom would mail it to one of the children who would write of saving the doggie in peril and then add an appropriate title to the story. These literary exercises have continued for several years so that today we have a notebook of wonderful collaborations.
Summertime provides opportunities to enhance the children's interest in visual arts. Two of our three children have attended art camp at the Melbourne (Fla.) Art Museum (in my parents' town) where they have created everything from colorful kites to pottery - bowls, doorstops, paperweights. I have a bulging box of these precious objects d'art stored away in the attic.
My parents' hometown and surrounding areas are well-known for sidewalk art shows which provide a fun and casual atmosphere in which to view works of art and direct questions to the artists themselves.
At one particular juried show, we were inspecting a modern painting that had earned an Honorable Mention. My daughter whispered to my mother and me, "That artist didn't do a very good job, did he? He got a Horrible Mention."
Children love to get mail, and my children are no exception. They can always count on finding something interesting in the mailbox from Bertie and Pop Pop, as they refer to their grandparents: articles and pictures clipped from newspapers and sometimes even books about famous artists. (My son especially liked the one about Vincent Van Gogh and his bloodied ear!)
Not only do my parents keep the mailbox full, they keep our "Art Supplies" box stocked as well. Whenever they come for a visit, they bring with them sketch pads, markers, colored pencils, chalk, and paintboxes.
Over the years my parents' influence has been evident by the ever-changing gallery of art on our refrigerator door. Some of the children's creations have been exceptional and some have been, well, decidedly abstract. But I can assure you there has never been a "Horrible Mention" in the bunch.
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.