About the Guest
As a grandparent, what are you doing to build into the lives of your grandchildren? Mary Larmoyeux and Nancy Downing, grandparents themselves, have collaborated to help you be intentional in this special relationship. Even if you live far away from your grandkids, Mary and Nancy have suggestions that will help you stay connected with the next generation of your family.
Mary LarmoyeuxMary May Larmoyeux is a writer and editor for FamilyLife. She is the author of several books including The Grandparent Connection: 365 Ways to Connect With Your Grandchild's Heart. Mary and her husband, Jim, have two married sons and a growing number of grandchildren. They live near Little Rock, Ark.
Nancy DowningNancy Downing has been named a USA Today Teacher of the Year. She is a special education teacher and the former Center Director of LearningRx in Little Rock, Arkansas. She has received local, state, and national recognition for her development of Downfeld Phonics, a multi-sensory reading program. She has three grown children and one grandchild.
Mary Larmoyeux and Nancy Downing, grandparents themselves, have some practical ideas to help you stay connected with your grandkids. Even if you live far away.
Bob: It was some time ago that grandmothers, Mary Larmoyeux and Nancy Downing, started jotting down ideas—ways that they could, as grandparents, stay more connected with their grandchildren. Mary Larmoyeux explains why.
Mary: Well, I think it was just a desire to be intentional with our grandkids, realizing that that’s the next generation. One day, we’re going to be gone; and we hope that they’ll remember some of those sweet times with us just like we did with our grandparents. If we can just be intentional, then we can invest in their lives and invest in them, spiritually, too.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 5th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today about some very practical ways you can connect with your grandchildren, whether they live nearby or they live far away. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. This is ought to be about as easy as it gets; you know? Get a couple of grandmothers in here and say, “You want to talk about being a grandmother?” I don’t think we’ll have to ask any questions after that—I think they’ll just go for it.
Dennis: And we’ve got a couple of grandfathers in here. You just had a brand-new grandson—
Bob: That’s true!
Dennis: —and you couldn’t remember his name. [Laughter]
Bob: It slipped my mind for just a second, but Katie—trust me, I remember Cedric. It just took a second for it to come back.
Dennis: Just a second.
Bob: Just a second—
Bob: —or two.
Dennis: —thirty or forty-five.
Bob: It was 30 in all! [Laughter] Stop it!
Dennis: Well, I want to welcome Nancy Downing and Mary Larmoyeux to the broadcast. Mary, Nancy, welcome.
Mary: Thank you.
Nancy: Thank you.
Dennis: Nancy has three grown children / one grandchild.
Mary has two grown children and seven—count them—
Dennis: —seven grandchildren. Together, they have collaborated and come up with a book called The Grandparent Connection: 365 Ways to Connect with Your Grandchild’s Heart. I’m just going to start off by asking all of us real quickly this question: “What’s your favorite memory with your grandparents?” And if you can’t think of your favorite—because Bob has to review all of them in sequence—
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: —that’s going to take too long for—
Bob: Prioritize, yes.
Dennis: —the broadcast for him to do that. What’s just a favorite memory? I’ll start off. I remember making homemade ice cream on some concrete steps in a little shack that was representative of family that was dirt poor where O.T. and Bertha Ray lived. They’d been married for over 50 years, and I was back there with a hand-crank—
Bob: I was going to say—it had to be hand-cranked.
Dennis: —hand-crank, a tow sack over the top.
We made ice cream, and we made friends. Grandpa did it, I did it, and my uncles did it. It was—it just was a sweet, sweet memory.
Bob: My grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Cross, used to come every year for Christmas to our house. They would drive from Flint, Michigan, to St. Louis for Christmas. They would bring a trunk full of Vernors Ginger Ale, which we couldn’t get in St. Louis—so, they were crossing state lines with Vernors Ginger Ale.
And then, sometime, when Grandma was there, she’d spend the night with me, sleeping in bed with me. I just remember I didn’t realize, until I got to be older, that that was a sacrifice for her. [Laughter] I thought she thought that would be as much fun as me!
Dennis: Squirmy grandkids. What about you, Nancy—your favorite memory?
Nancy: Both of my grand—sets of grandparents lived out of state. So, one that I remember about my Grandmother Mack was—they lived in Wisconsin—
—was that she would make, at Christmastime, all sorts of Christmas cookies and decorate them up just unbelievably. Then, she would get a coat box, and she would send all of the awesome-decorated cookies to us. Then, we—in my family, there were all girls—there were four girls. She would, also, send us a doll and all the doll clothes that she had made for them.
Nancy: So, that was always awesome. My other grandparents—they were a lot older. I just always remember my grandfather—I just remember him being so much shorter than my grandmother. After dinner, we would always walk around the block. It was just so sweet and tender how he would just walk with me around the block, and we would just look at everything that God had created. That’s what made it so neat.
We would just talk about whatever he wanted to talk about or whatever I wanted to talk about. And I would always go there for two weeks in the summer to visit them. To this day, I still think about that. I remember, one time, even going to visit in the town where he was just so—in the town where they used to live—so I could ride around in the car around the block.
Dennis: Oh, yes—kind of retrace the steps.
Nancy: Yes. It’s just such a warm feeling.
Dennis: So, who did you get the teaching gene from? You’re a school teacher and won the 1999 Teacher of the Year for USA Today. Where did you get that gene? Which set of grandparents did you get that from?
Nancy: It would be the ones that live in Wisconsin--Grandfather Mack because he was a teacher and also a coach. He also made games for Milton Bradley®.
Dennis: Oh, really?!
Nancy: I know—isn’t that awesome?
Bob: That’s very cool.
Dennis: So, Mary, what about you? What’s your favorite memory?
Mary: Well, I actually remember my grandmother, Nana.
We spent a lot of time with her. One of my favorite things was making houses out of cardboard. She’s give us big Sears® catalogues—we’d pull them out—cut out furniture—and we’d make doll houses, and dolls, and everything. I just remember that being a whole lot of fun. And she was always there—it seemed like Nana was always available. My mother’s parents died when I was very, very young—so I never knew them—but I spent a lot of time with Nana and had a wonderful relationship with her.
Dennis: Well, Nana did a good job of training you because you have been building houses, here at FamilyLife, for almost 25 years. Mary was my administrative assistant for a number of years. She survived that and moved on to work for Bob.
Mary: And that was a lot of fun! That was a lot of fun, Dennis. We’ve got some fun memories.
Dennis: We do have some fun memories—no doubt about it.
What moved you ladies to write this book? I mean, it’s very simple—you are basically providing a memory a day or something to do with a grandchild for each of the 365 days.
Mary: Well, I think it was just a desire to be intentional with our grandkids, realizing that that’s the next generation, and just thinking: “If we can just be intentional, then we can invest in their lives. One day, we’re going to be gone; and we hope that they’ll remember some of those sweet times with us, just like we did with our grandparents. And then, Nancy and I were also interested in the spiritual legacy because we wanted to invest in them, spiritually, too.
Nancy: For me, because my parents lived out of state, it was difficult for me to have the kind of relationship that I saw some of my friends have with their grandparents. So, for me, I wanted to be able to give grandparents that live far away from their grandchildren—or even two hours away from their grandchildren—to be able to still have a heart-to-heart communication with them and to grow in the Lord with them.
I just felt like I really didn’t get that, and I want to be that kind of grandparent; but I want to also share ideas that Mary and I have to help people that want to do that too.
Bob: Did the two of you just—were you out, having coffee together, and you just said: “I want to do this,”—“No! I want to do this”? How did this all happen?
Mary: Well, actually, I had this little website blog. Nancy would put these posts on it about different things with teaching kids. You can still go online and find all sorts of things that she has about different problems kids might have in school and just different ideas.
She and I were brainstorming one time and thought, “Hey, it’d be kind of cool to have a little book about ideas for grandparents.” And we are busy—we’re both working. We thought a lot of grandparents today are like us—they are working, they are busy, and yet, they want to connect with their grandkids. For us, we just thought, “Well, what would we like?” And we thought, “Well, something that we can use as a reference book—maybe by month—because we forget ideas.” So, we can just go to “February,” when it’s Valentine’s.
If we wonder what we can do, we just turn to “February”; and there’ll be some idea there. So, we just sort of brainstormed and came up with some ideas.
Bob: You came up with a lot of ideas—365 of them. And I’m guessing you haven’t had a chance to test every one of these so far. Some of these are untested ideas; right?
Nancy: Well, my grandson is only four. So, a lot of them are untested; but as I go through the book and see, there are a lot more things that I have done than I really thought that I was going to be able to do because you can make a lot of things age-appropriate that are in here. One thing—when I go visit my grandson, I’ve taken one of the books and put it on the nightstand next to my bed. So, if I think, “I’d like to think of something that we can do, maybe, tomorrow”; or I wonder what else I could maybe add to / or be more creative to add onto an idea that we had done—so, that’s been a lot of fun doing that.
Bob: There is one activity that is—
—it’s different every month, but you start the month with the same focus every month of the year.
Mary: Right. What you are talking about is the spiritual activity where we have a Bible verse and just kind of put something in a rhyme or in a way where a child could easily memorize Scripture. Our grandkids were little then. When we lived in a different house—and I actually did a lot of those with them—like going up the stairs, saying different words—doing things like that with them. Since then, we have moved. We’re an hour away from our closest grandchild, and some other grandkids have moved out-of-state. So, the little ones that I would do that with, right now, are actually not—they don’t live near me—but it’s a fun thing to do. When kids have fun with Scripture, then, it goes in their hearts. Hopefully, it’s something they’ll remember for their whole lifetimes.
Bob: So, you were talking about going upstairs and saying different words. Explain what that was all about.
Mary: Each month has the Bible verse, and then, it has different ways that you can teach things to the kids.
Dennis: Okay; let’s start with this one. It looks like the first of August—and it’s kind of back to school—so, you get a backpack out, load it up with some canned goods / some beans and peas—make sure it’s plenty heavy. Explain what you want to do with your grandchild, Mary.
Mary: Well, what you want to do is—you are walking around. They have this heavy backpack, and they don’t know why, in the world, it’s loaded with these things. Of course, you can just have fun with it. You can say, “How much can you carry?” and keep loading it. A kid will say, “Oh, I’ll take more, more, more.” Then, as you walk around, it’s really heavy. Then, you can take the things off and say, “Hey, you don’t have to carry this.” You can pick up the child—if it’s a little child—and say, “I’ll carry you,” and that would be like Christ carrying you. You can take the items out the backpack and talk about how your burdens and your cares in life—how we don’t have to carry them—how Christ wants to carry them for us. So, there are a lot of fun things you can do with your grandkids that have a spiritual connection.
Dennis: And perhaps, ask them the question, at that point—“What’s a burden you have today that you need to take out of your backpack?” And then, let them think long enough to get a can, take it out, set it on the counter, and name what the burden is—the worry / the concern—that they have. And teach them about prayer because this is how it needs to be happening, day in and day out.
Bob: Now, that’s something you can do if your grandchild lives around the corner. But you were talking, Nancy, about the fact that all your grandkids are out of town. How would you do something like that, or how would you apply something like that if you were with a child who didn’t live nearby?
Nancy: I almost think that I would go ahead and have them get a backpack so that they were visually doing it themselves. Then, you could FaceTime® and do it that way / I mean, you could Skype®—so that with all the technology that there is nowadays—even though you live far away, you can still visually see someone.
So, that makes it really nice. I think you could pretty much do the exact same thing—you’re just going to not be where you could touch the person.
Dennis: And I think with all the electronics we have and ways we have to stay connected, the distance issue for us, as grandparents, really shouldn’t be as big of an issue as we let it become. I know we have grandkids in Nashville, Indianapolis, Russellville, Arkansas, and then, two sets of grandkids on the Front Range in Colorado, near Denver. That distance can seem ominous, but a book like this can kind of kick-start you with some ideas. Then, you can start thinking about: “How can I start using Skype or my smartphone to communicate with our kids, and to interact with them, and maybe target one of them or the entire crew?”
Nancy: Something that I think is awesome, too, is that nowadays things don’t have to be expensive to be able to get close to your grandchildren.
I know some of the older generation—and I am not going to be in there—[Laughter] —some of the older generation may be on a strict budget. So, they are not going to be able—they think, “Oh, this is going to be too expensive to do that.”
But you can do something as simple as getting a gift certificate to go get pizza or to go to McDonald’s® and send it to the grandchildren—and then, say: “Okay, on Friday night at six o’clock, you go to McDonald’s close to your house. I’m going to go to the McDonald’s close to my house. We can eat dinner together, and we can text each other—which I know it’s not polite to do that at the dinner table, but this will be an activity—so, it will be excused.” You could do that. I don’t know whether you would have FaceTime there or not—I don’t think that you would—but then, that way, you are still communicating and it’s exciting. You could take a picture of what you ordered. They can take a picture and send you what they ordered.
Then, you all can text what—“What are you going to have for dessert?” That way, you’re sharing a meal; but you’re not sharing a meal where you can touch each other.
Dennis: And what I’d encourage people to do is to find something unique you can do with your grandkids and try to repeat it. As I think about the ice cream—homemade ice cream—that I did with Grandpa Ray and Grandma Ray, it was that we did that probably 50 times.
Dennis: Maybe, 100 times.
Bob: It was Vernors Ginger Ale every Christmas for me.
Dennis: There you go. And so, one of the things I’ve done is—when Barbara and I arrive at the grandkids’ house or they arrive here, mysteriously in the yard, there is an invasion of gummy worms. [Laughter]
Bob: Now, wait!—on the grass?
Dennis: On the grass.
Bob: You’re putting gummy worms on the dirt—on the grass?!
Dennis: Oh—oh, absolutely. Give them a bowl and say: “Wait! Did you hear it? They are marching. They are coming out of the forest.”
And here is the deal about gummy worms—there are gummy bears—
Dennis: —there are gummy goldfish. You go looking in the store, and you don’t have to spend premium dollar for this. For two bucks, you can get a lot of entertainment and a sugar high for your grandkids. [Laughter] That is a whole lot of fun!
Bob: And you’re okay with—Mom’s okay with these being out in the dirt?
Dennis: It doesn’t matter. [Laughter] That’s a part of being a grandfather; you know? [Laughter] It really is. And the other day, I went to Denver—and Barbara and I went. We took the twins, Lilly and Piper; and we went to Sweet Cow Ice Cream. I met the owner of Sweet Cow and told him he had a good product; and it drew me all the way from Arkansas to take my grandkids there. Find those unique things you can do; and then, begin to call them out as you talk to your grandkids on the phone, Skype with them, or go visit them.
Mary: One of our favorite things that we like to do is—we have a little bear—we call it the Love Bear.
You give it to someone to let them know you love them / you’re thinking of them. The grandkids have had a lot of fun with that because, when they come visit, we might put it under a pillow, where they are sleeping—then, they get to hide it for the next person. We’ve mailed it before. We’ve gone out of town before—one of our kids, when he was graduating—one of his kids brought the little Love Bear. We found it outside our hotel room—that was really fun—she had stuck it on the door. So, it’s just one little Love Bear that you have, and you just past it around. It’s a lot of fun.
Nancy: One thing that my grandson and I do is make smoothies. It started when he was real sick one time. So, we got all of the ingredients together—and got the yogurt, and the frozen fruit, and the fresh fruit, and the juice, and put it all in the blender. He would help me make it. So, now, it is tradition—that whenever I go there or he comes to my house—that we make a smoothie.
Two things—one is that he says, now—we are definitely, when he gets older, opening up a smoothie shop. [Laughter] The second thing I thought was so sweet was one of Mary’s and my friend had surgery. Whenever Heath is in town, she will come over and visit; and she spends holidays with us too—her family does. Anyway, he said, “We need to make a smoothie for Nancy.” So, we did. He said, “Call her up.” I said, “I don’t have to call her. I know her favorite kind that we get whenever we go get smoothies.” So, we tried to duplicate that. That was so touching that he used what he and I did together to go and give that to her to spread that kindness. I thought that was neat.
Another thing, too, that was awesome about—that you said about tradition was my family used to make gingerbread houses. Every other year, my kids and I would go and visit my mother in Oklahoma.
She would have—we would have all the grandchildren in the garage. We would make gingerbread houses. She would have cooked gingerbread houses for each grandchild. Then, each one would have frosting, and candy, and everything like that, and decorate it. Well, now, my children loved doing that. Now, I am passing that on to my grandson. So, each year at Christmas, he and I have made a gingerbread house.
Bob: You know, between McDonald’s, the gummy bears, the smoothies, and the gingerbread houses—
Dennis: And the Sweet Cow.
Bob: —I’m getting hungry. [Laughter] It sounds like grandparenting is all about eating with your grandkids. [Laughter] But there is something about fun meals / fun activities—around lunch / around dinner—around a special getaway. It’s just a part of how grandparenting—you brought up ice cream at the beginning, and I brought up Vernors Ginger Ale. So—
Bob: —there’s something in the memory bank about that.
Dennis: There is. We took four of our granddaughters out to eat because we’d been entrusted with them for the evening for our son, Ben, and Marsha Kay.
We just played a game, and I wish I’d written these questions down because just spontaneously I began to ask them: “So, what’s your favorite color?” And they’d go around the group—all four of those girls would answer it. “What’s your favorite meal?” “What’s your favorite dessert?” “What’s your favorite song?” And on we’d go. I mean, we stayed there for over an hour with a five-year-old, a seven-, a nine-, and a ten-year-old and totally enjoyed a Chick-fil-A® meal and had a great time with them just finding out what they liked. And they got into it big time. So, you can play these games and spark other conversations in the midst of just having a good time.
Bob: It is great, as a grandparent, to have something like what you ladies have put together in The Grandparent Connection because we may not wake up and have a fresh, new, great, creative idea just rolling off the top of our heads.
You give us a jumpstart, and people are going to—they are going to read this and go, “I’m not going to do it exactly that way, but I’ll do it this way,” and they are going to make it their own.
Nancy: That’s exactly what we wanted to happen.
Mary: We’re helping people just put their creative touch onto it.
Bob: Well, you guys make it very easy. Our listeners can go to our website, which is FamilyLifeToday.com, and click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” They can find a copy of your book, The Grandparent Connection: 365 Ways to Connect with Your Grandchild’s Heart. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER,” and look for the book by Nancy Downing and Mary Larmoyeux, The Grandparent Connection. Or call if you’d like to order the book at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
You know, I think about this conversation, Dennis, and I think this is at the heart of what we seek to do on this daily radio program and through the resources we provide on our website / at our events. We are trying to equip moms and dads, husbands and wives, grandmothers, grandparents—trying to equip folks with practical biblical ways that you can build stronger, healthier, more vibrant relationships in your marriage / in your family—ultimately, relationships that are going to glorify God and help you live life according to His design for how life is meant to be lived. Our goal is to effectively develop godly marriages and families because we believe that those godly marriages and families can change the world, one home at a time.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about heading back to school. Barbara Rainey is going to be here, and we’re going to talk about how you get ready for everything that is about to come your way. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can be here.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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