By Julie Anderson
What do a giant sock monkey named Bob, a grandparent called Papa and a computer tablet known as an iPad have in common? Combined, they make a perfect way for baby boomers to communicate with grandchildren. We'll have much more on how Bob the sock monkey is creating conversation but first a little history.Kim Ketterhagen and his wife Terry live in Oakdale, Minnesota. Kim's daughter Melanie, her husband 'T' and their two children 10-year-old Drew and 7-year-old Carly live in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It's a six hour drive so they only see each other about four times a year. In between they used to talk on the phone. "It was nice to hear their voices but little kids are not good phone talkers," Kim remembers. "I would ask Carly about school and she would say it was fine."
One word answers are about all you can get from a child. Kim says he and his wife were concerned the kids would forget what they looked like and he says, "With the phone you can feel a smile but not see it."
Now he and Terry can see those smiles nearly every night. The families use their iPad for FaceTime which is a simple computer connection that allows users to see one another while they talk. FaceTime is the Apple product version of Skype.
Kim, who the grandkids call Papa, says using today's technology to actually see his extended family opened up a whole new world of communication. His granddaughter Carly could show him she had learned to do a somersault and he could, for example, comment on grandson Drew's neat hat.
And now they have the adventures of Bob.
Bob is a giant sock monkey. Sock monkeys became popular during the Great Depression. When money was tight, moms would sew socks together to make what looked like a monkey. The iconic red mouth comes from the red heel of a work sock. Kim had a sock monkey when he was a kid growing up in rural Wisconsin. He remembers his family didn't even have a telephone until he was nine years old and they moved to the city.
When he told his grandchildren about his fondness for sock monkeys they got him a small, traditional one as a gift. No name, just a sock monkey. The following Christmas came another sock monkey to keep the first one company. They named him Pete and he had a special place in Kim's home office.
That was all nice but this story gets much better. When Kim and wife Terry arrived in Kenosha for Christmas in 2012, they couldn't even take off their coats before Drew and Carly were tugging at their arms.
"There's this giant bag sitting under the Christmas tree," Kim explains. "The kids are so excited. They're just bouncing off the walls for Papa to open up this present."
It was a present that almost wasn't. Carly and Drew had seen the giant sock monkey at the store but couldn't convince mom and dad to buy it. They were all the way out to the parking lot before their parents agreed to go back inside and buy Bob. Sometimes persistence pays off.
Bob is about as big as Carly. He stands roughly three feet high, wears a red striped shirt and came in a green box. That box became his car seat for the ride home from Kenosha to Minnesota; a ride that became Bob's first adventure. When Kim and Terry arrived they got out their iPad and used FaceTime to show everyone back in Kenosha that Bob was safe and sound and had been a very good monkey during the long drive. The story would set Kim's vivid imagination into motion.
Soon Bob was playing the piano, watching television, showing off his Packer's hat, acting naughty by climbing on the television, working on the computer, exercising and peeking out from behind the shower curtain. You can see pictures of all Bob's adventures by clicking on this link to Flickr flickr
Each day Kim and Terry would create something for Bob to do. They would take a picture and email it to the grandkids. Drew and Carly would send a reply. When Drew saw the picture of Bob playing the piano he wrote back, 'go Bob go'. In addition to emails, Kim and the kids would use FaceTime so they could talk about Bob's daily adventure. Kim says Bob is a natural as a communication tool. Kim knows all about using stuffed animals to relate to children. He has spent his professional life in public service working as a firefighter, EMT, police officer and now the Department of Public Safety.
When he was the captain of the Burlington, Wisconsin Area Rescue Squad many years ago he used a giant stuffed bear as a prop to teach children about emergency response personnel. He and other members of the squad would visit schools and, using the bear, show kids how an EMT might come into their home if they're sick or hurt and touch them to take their blood pressure or apply a bandage over a wound. "Kids love stuffed animals," Kim says.
It appears kids not only love stuffed animals in person, they love them long distance when a caring Papa and his wife take the time to create the adventures of Bob. Terry says, "I think, in many ways, Bob is Kim's alter-ego: he's a little naughty but he gets away with it. She says learning her husband has such a creative side has been a real eye-opener.
Not only do Kim and Terry get to have some fun creating the adventures they have created a special bond with Drew and Carly who are Kim's biological grandchildren and Terry's step-grandchildren. "That's why Bob is so important," Kim says. "He is a direct correlation to me and Terry."
"I believe this is the stuff of lifelong, endearing memories as kids become adults," says Terry. "And I think it has the dual benefit of Kim feeling like he is important to the grandkids and the grandkids knowing they are important to Kim."
Kim encourages all baby boomers to learn how to use technology. He says it is the treasure that allows him to see his grandchildren's precious expressions as they grow up.
For those who don't know how to use FaceTime or Skype. The solution is simple - ask the grandkids. They'll know.