Top 5 Tips for a Fun Grandparents Day LifeStory Project

Grandparents Day this year falls on September 11. As we solemnly commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11th tragic events, we should celebrate life as well. And while Grandparents Day isn’t the most known or celebrated day in the U.S., make this one a special one by starting a Grandparents LifeStory Project. Here are my top 5 tips for doing a Grandparents LifeStory and making it special and fun:

Tip #1 – The Grandchild is the Interviewer – The grandchild should videotape an interview he conducts with the grandparent(s). Make it simple and fun by taking the project in small bites and continuing it throughout the year. Of course, the involvement of the grandchild will depend on his or her age, but I’ve seen really well done work by third-graders! All it takes is a tripod, a video (or audio device if video is unavailable) camera, a quiet enough place to shoot and a little bit of preparation.

Tip #2 – Preparation (KISS) – Preparation should be easy, so remember KISS (Keep it Simple, Silly). Instead of doing an entire LifeStory in one sitting like I do at LifeStories Alive, cover one subject at a time to celebrate the event of the day. Make The Grandparent LifeStory Project a year-long project that might continue with another short piece filmed on Halloween, then Thanksgiving, the Christmas or Hanukkah (you get the pattern here).

Tip #3 – Questions to Ask – Start by asking five to ten questions only. Since this is Grandparents Day, you might start with, “Today is Grandparents Day 2011. Describe how it felt to become a grandfather (or grandmother) for the first time?” Asking “feeling” questions should always generate an emotional, open-ended response. You might follow with, “Does being a grandparent change as I grow older?” Have fun with the questions, too. If you feel comfortable doing it, ask, “So honestly, Grandpa, who is your favorite grandchild?”  More unprepared questions and answers will naturally appear during the interview. Be sure to go with the flow and let them happen.

Tip #4 – Other Family Members – This tip can be a tricky one because you want to be fair with everyone and not leave someone out. The upside of including other family members is that some wonderful, touching moments can happen when others chime in and talk about these special loved ones. Just be sure the number of people included doesn’t get out of hand. KISS says you might want to keep it to just the grandparent(s). Whatever decision you make will be the right one.

Tip #5 – Editing and Archiving – What do you want the final product to look like? This is where editing comes into play. Do-it-yourself editing software is getting easier to do and less expensive by the year. If you have a Apple Mac computer, it should have iMovie as a built-in editing software already there. Try editing the video yourself. If you don’t want to tackle it, hire a professional. I might be able to help you there. Be sure to save or archive the project properly. Buy external hard drives for your project or upload it to “the cloud” (virtual storage offsite). I’d hate for a priceless project like this to be lost because you forgot to back it up.

Bonus Tip #6 – Have Fun! – Unfortunately, grandparents will not be with us forever. So have fun while they are here and have the memories you capture with them be happy ones!

Have a Happy Grandparents Day!

Why Parents Don’t Believe Their LifeStories Are Important

I hear it all the time. Either from the older generation interviewees themselves or their children telling me, “Dad doesn’t think his life and its stories are important enough to record.” My favorite is from a 92-year-old who told me, “I don’t know why my son wants me to do this. I’m just a simple country boy from Blanket, Texas.” Well, this “simple country boy from Blanket, Texas” was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941! If that weren’t enough, he was also at the fought at Iwo Jima! In addition to that, this same guy built a very successful business starting with nothing! And he doesn’t think his stories are important enough to record? (I’m trying not to get too wound up at this point). I believe there is an easy explanation to this thought process.

Tom Brokow so masterfully wrote in his book The Greatest Generation about his father’s peers, those of the generation who fought in World War II. He clearly mentioned how humble they were. Let’s face it, they (and we) were taught that talking about yourself is bragging…and that’s not a nice thing to do. In addition to that, most of us think of ourselves as “regular people”. To be interviewed, you have to be a celebrity or have to have done something spectacular in the world’s point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Just think of your favorite grandparent (I know, it’s not politically correct to have a favorite, but we all had one). While they were “regular people” in the big scheme of things, how priceless would it be to have a recording of them sharing their favorite LifeStories? And what wouldn’t a grandparent do to give a special gift to their grandchild? A popular homework assignment for third-graders is to take five questions the teacher gives them home to ask their grandparent about their life’s stories. The kids are taught to interview them, write the answers down and then report to the class what they said. This wonderful exercise in communication skills is forgotten and lost as we grow older. I say we all go back to that assignment this week and finish our homework assignment from many years ago!

Parents don’t believe their LifeStories are important, but we do. Let’s honor them by learning from their stories and giving them the opportunity of sharing their lives through their stories. If they resist, ask them if their own grandparents’ stories were important to them. If so, then remind them that they shouldn’t deny their grandkids the joy or hearing their stories many years from now.

Your Favorite Grandparent

One of the questions I ask of our LifeStories Alive interviewees is, “Were you particularly close to one of your grandparents?” I know it’s not politically correct to have a “favorite” grandparent, but we naturally are attracted to, and are closer with, one of our grandparents. This special relationship can be life-changing.

I met with an acquaintance today named Dave who loving told me stories about his grandfather (who died about ten years ago). Dave and his grandpa would go out on his ranch near Fredericksburg, TX, just the two of them, and talk for hours on end. He felt that his grandpa was telling him personal stories about his life, including his experiences in World War II, that he had not shared with anyone else. As Dave this afternoon was telling me this, his face lit up with the greatest smile. I could feel the special bond he had with his grandpa.

I have heard of many such relationships with many of the people I talk with. I’ve always wondered, What sets up those special conversations and relationships? I feel one of the reasons is the “safe place” a grandparent feels with that one grandchild. While those people of Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation are typically very humble, their stories will flow like a river when they feel that they are in a safe place to share them. Creating such a safe place is one of the skills I have learned and teach in my work at LifeStories Alive.

So if you had a favorite grandparent, remember them today and honor their memory (or present-day life) by sharing their stories with someone else, or better yet, by recording them for future generations to know. Remember, one day you, too, might be a favorite grandparent for someone special in your life.