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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘The Us Journal’: Spokane mom Eileen Grimes creates intentional quality time with kids

Eileen Grimes set out to create opportunities for intentional time with her children.

So in 2018, the Spokane mom began creating prompts and sketches to work on together with her son Liam, now 7, and then with daughter Lily, 4, to build those one-on-one connections.

After the pandemic hit, Grimes realized that the concepts she’d created could have a broader impact. This month, she’s debuting her first book, “The Us Journal,” with 144 pages of interactive prompts aimed at ages 5-9 for a parent and child to reflect on together and talk.

“It was really more of an activity that I was doing with my kids before, putting something together to create an opportunity for us to connect,” said Grimes, a 2006 Gonzaga University graduate who then got a master’s in education from the University of San Francisco.

“Once the pandemic hit, I went through this whole introspective search within myself. What do I want my legacy to be in this world for my kids?

“I really want to have an impact on this world and make it a little better. I thought, I made this project that’s kind, loving and connecting. I want to share the work I already was doing with the rest of the world.”

By September 2020, she got busy on a more elaborate book. She started a Kickstarter campaign in May, an effort that received a boost from actress Kristen Bell (“Frozen,” “The Good Place”).

Grimes has long followed Bell on social media and noticed one of Bell’s Instagram posts.

“She had this post where she talked about small businesses during the (Kickstarter) campaign,” Grimes said. “I said, ‘If you’re looking to support a small business that’s run by a mom and looking to change the world, then come check this out,’ and she did.

“It was just through my Instagram interaction. She reached out and said she’d like to support the project, and then did. It was amazing.”

It provided a big push, and Grimes eventually exceeded her Kickstarter goal. With the generosity of donors, Grimes said she decided to use a portion of the funding to donate her literature to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Inland Northwest.

Recently, she dropped off a donation of 200 “The Us Journal” books to the Ronald McDonald House in Spokane. She remembers a scare when pregnant with her son that indicated he had an abnormal heartbeat. The issue resolved with time, “but I remember the stress of that. If I can give families the opportunity to find some light in some of those difficult places, that’s what I want to do.”

On her website, Grimes offers a way for people to give ongoing book donations to the Ronald McDonald House, which provides lodging to families from outlying areas when children are in hospital care. She also hopes to partner with other nonprofit organizations such as women’s shelters.

For retail orders, the $17 book is expected to be stocked at Wishing Tree Books in the South Perry neighborhood, or it can be ordered through Auntie’s Bookstore, she said. Online orders can be made at her website, Amazon, and the Collective Book Studio’s website.

Inside the journal, each page has an adult prompt and a child prompt, but there isn’t a need to do them in any order, Grimes said. Instead, the aim is to carve out moments together.

Her life gets busy. Aside from being an author, Grimes works full time in IT for a business providing services to insurance companies. She relishes times to do collective journaling with one of her children. They might draw next to the prompts or write. There’s freedom to do either.

“I wanted it to be open for whatever sparks the child’s interest and ability to open up, whether that’s through writing, drawing or maybe it’s cutting out pictures from a magazine,” she said.

“I want them to be able to have conversations without immense pressure to have to write. The goal is to have this individual, intentional time to sit together, get to know each other and be able to connect and communicate in this intentional quality time. It’s together time.”

A prompt might ask about a favorite joke or explore an emotion.

A friend who ordered the book gave feedback to Grimes about an 8-year-old son who asks each night to work in the journal. “She thought she’d have to schedule the time,” Grimes said.

“My kids love doing it,” she added. “Especially once we got the official book, they wanted a copy for themselves right away. We’ve been playing in it. I like to call it playing; I don’t want it to seem like a work activity they have to do.

“My daughter is a little bit younger, so it’s more of a conversation starter for us. We draw a little bit, and, while we do, we talk about other things, as well. It gives time for me to work with just my son, whether it’s five minutes, 15 minutes or 20 minutes.”

She remembers growing up as one of six children and it being difficult to get that individual time.

Grimes said she wants her children to know having intentional time with her is important, so later, they can always return, “and know they are in a safe place for them to be able to have open communication.”

Her next plan is to create a teen version of the interactive journal, especially with the rise in mental health issues among adolescents since 2020. “I want to get this out as soon as possible to help support that and to open doors for communication between kids and family.”

Although there’s reference to “parent,” the book could be used by any adult in a trusted relationship with a child. Grimes said she intentionally wrote the prompts in a way meant to be inclusive.

“I didn’t write it saying mom or dad, daughter or son so that it could be inclusive to whoever people identify from a gender perspective, to whatever roles they have within the family,” she said. “Not every family is traditional, and I wanted all families to be included.

“Even with the prompts about homes, I intentionally didn’t make it say house because not everyone has a house. I wanted to make sure any family could have these conversations and feel included to have these kinds of connections together and feel good about that.”