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Bonding with Great-Grandparents

I first realized my grandmother was the bomb when I handed her the sheet music from the soundtrack to Xanadu and she played it perfectly. Fast-forward 30 years, and I watch as it dawns on my 6-year-old daughter, Chloe, sitting next to Gee Gee on the piano bench in her apartment, that this old lady can really play. The full-circle moment sends shivers up my spine.

I consider my kids lucky to have their Gee Gee, my father's mother, who lives just a couple of hours from us. At 94, she's survived breast cancer and losing her husband of 60 years. But I can't recall ever hearing her complain. Instead, she gets on with life: making the rounds in her retirement community on her electric scooter, chatting with everyone despite being almost completely deaf, and calling on her neighbors to play cards daily. (She e-mails, too, although half of it is spent detailing the technical difficulties that preceded said e-mail.)

Unable to drive anymore, Gee Gee sends sweet cards, and sets aside trinkets for the kids' next visit. But they get more than just presents from her; they get a chance to see that old people—even very old people—are amazing (exhibit A: mad piano skills). Health problems have landed Gee Gee in the hospital a few times this year, and I'm reminded that she won't be with us forever. Chloe, like me, will always remember Gee Gee and her piano. And as Julian raced her scooter down the hall during our last visit, I crossed my fingers and hoped that this, too, would be a memory of Gee Gee he'd never forget.

My kids and Gee Gee bond over simple things, like books. More ways to connect:

Bring back letters. In this texting world, it's a treat for kids to get (and send) real letters. Poppy will probably be happy to be their pen pal.

Tell me a story. If the conversation doesn't flow naturally, reach for a memory journal like The Grandparent Book ($12;, and let your kid play interviewer.

Take photos. I document every visit. It's a tough truth, but you won't have endless opportunities to see these generations together. Catch them while you can.

 Gifts for Grandparents