30 Day Writing Challenge Day #14 - Being a Far Away Grandma!

When my daughter surprised us by showing up at our front door unexpectedly for a visit, we were overjoyed. She lives on the other side of the country 3 time zones away and I miss her so much.

Going back to visit her is great, but so intense. I miss just being able to connect for over a coffee or lunch. It's the small moments that are the hardest. Then there are the big ones - birthdays, mother's day, father's day and holidays - that just aren't the same with her gone.

While enjoying this unexpected time to hang out and catch up, she shared the BIG news.  She was pregnant with our first grandchild.  WOW!  I had been waiting for this and it brought tears.  After she left, though, the realization hit that I would NOT be nearby to be a presence in my new granddaughter's life on a regular basis. Once they're old enough to connect over the internet it gets easier, but that first year in particular, not being nearby would be a huge loss.

We had no plans to move at this point, so I had to find a way to deal with the situation as it was going to happen.  Not easy.  And I still have really, really low times.  One thing that has helped us feel a part was our daughter sent daily updates those first few weeks along with a picture or short video sharing how it was going - did they sleep last night, did they have a poop or pee disaster on the change table, the craziness that happened at the family photo shoot.  Hearing from her every day with little updates did a lot to fill the void.

I also thought long and hard about what I could do.  The priority I came up with was finding a way to connect with my granddaughter by helping her recognize my voice as a familiar one.  I loved reading stories to my kids, so I decided one way to accomplish this was  by recording myself reading children's books.

Lots of internet searching ensued to find the best way to do this and I can honestly say in the end that I didn't find exactly what I wanted.  But I found something that worked well enough for now.  It's called an Alilo Honey Bunny.  It's a plastic bunny with soft rubber ears that can be chewed on (they also light up).  It comes pre-loaded with audio books and music in both English and Chinese.

However, that can be changed. I formatted the internal memory taking out all the pre-loaded content.  I wouldn't suggest you do this unless you understand the process.  I thought I did, but ended up with a glitch that my husband had to help me figure out.  Then I created 2 folders labeled the way they said - I think it was STORY and MUSIC.  I wanted a good quality audio of my voice, so chose to record on my computer using a proper headset with microphone.  After finishing, all I had to do was plug the Honey Bunny into my computer and copy the audio files into the STORY folder.

What I like - 

  • If you know what you're doing, you can erase everything and fill it with the digital books and music you personally want them to hear.
  • There is a 30 minute option so you can turn it on and leave it with the baby and it will turn off in 30 minutes. That is great is you're trying to get them to fall asleep on their own in the crib or if you have it running in the car in the back seat with the baby. How great on a long drive it will turn itself off.
  • I like that it has a blue tooth option although I haven't personally had a chance to personally check it out and see how it works. 
  • It also has a microphone for recording, but the quality would probably not be near as good. I really suggest you use a proper recording program along with a headset and microphone.

Now for what I wish the Honey Bunny did -

  • I wish when you push the button to play the stories it would do more than just play the recordings in alphabetical order  You can push the forward button to skip books one at a time, but I recorded 24 stories and want to add more.  Not very efficient if you want them to hear the last stories - just too much work. So I wonder if anything past 10 will get heard.
  • As this is mostly aimed at for when my granddaughter is a little baby, what I would love most is a random play button. It would be great to push the story option and then random play, so different stories would play each time in a different order.  
  • If not that, then it would be so nice to be able to select the story you wanted to play.  Instead of having to hit the skip button over and over.  

Now for where I plan to go with this project.  There are a couple exciting things on the horizon.  The first is that my daughter and husband have Google Home.  I have given her all the audio files properly labeled and she can add them to the new Google Assistant Storytime option. That makes it so she can say HEY GOOGLE PLAY (story title) and it will come over the house speakers.

I am also going to re-record all the books with a page turner cue for when they are toddlers can look at books by themselves.  One suggestion is simply a glass struck with a fork to make a ding, but you can choose the cue sound you want.  You record yourself reading the story. When it is time to turn a page you make the ding, then pause for a few seconds to give them time to turn the page. Then continue on.  

I've had several friends say their young kids loved this. And they could sit them with a book, turn the recording on, and then work on dinner of a project while grandma read to them, even though she was far away. What I haven't figured out is what the best recording device to use for these would be. Eventually you want the child to be able to operate it themselves any time they want. 

As they grow, Skype or Facetime will allow you to connect with them over the miles, but until that's possible, get creative. Think outside the box.  And if you have a great idea, run with it.