Ideas for time-release secret messages and surprises?
February 7, 2013 9:03 AM   Subscribe

In a few weeks I'll be traveling for the last time to a remote place that my young kids will continue to visit for the rest of their lives. I'd like to leave some thing(s) behind for them to find over the next few years that will be fun, secret, and remind them of me. Difficulty level: humid/salty conditions, and other visitors who I don't want to find the items.

My family has spent a lot of time on a small island in the Caribbean. It's a bit difficult to get to, but my husband grew up there and his family has a house there. It's a place my kids absolutely love and will be a big part of their lives growing up (they are now 4 & 8). Because my husband and I are getting divorced, I will no longer be joining them on these visits, nor are Skype, landlines, or cellphone coverage dependable for one reason or another. So I'd like to leave some things behind on my next (last) visit for them to find over the years that will ease the transition of my absence for them, and just be fun, too. I'm looking for suggestions on both the what and the how.

Constraints: There are other family members who visit and live there, so it's not as if my kids will be the only ones exploring or happening upon something in a closet. In addition, there are renters every couple of years. Lastly, the climate makes it difficult for many paper-based items to survive even from year to year, because they get moist, salty, and disintegrate.

I've considered simply mailing them things for their arrivals, but the mail is notoriously slow (sometimes taking a month for first class letters), gets delivered haphazardly depending on who's at the house, and packages are expensive from the States.

I've also considered crafting a scavenger hunt where they find things to bring home, but that would exclude all flora and fauna, and anything that won't fit in a carry-on bag. Plus there's not a lot else on the island besides groceries.

posted by Yoshimi Battles to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Several messages in bottles that would only be meaningful to them, buried shallowly in sand? And then each time they go, you could point them in the direction of one (or two, if your worried about some migrating/getting lost) with handmade treasure maps.

If there are little plastic things you could put in the bottles, too (action figures? little toy boats?), to play with on the trip, then it could be even more like treasure.
posted by ldthomps at 9:15 AM on February 7, 2013

Paper notes in ziploc bags hidden/tapped behind furniture, paintings, etc? They also make those little containers for holding your personal items while swimming, which are water-tight. Those might work for burying things.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:18 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Will your husband assist in this process? It seems like you might have a lot more options if you have an adult who can help on that end.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:20 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Come up with a message to them. Embed that in a QR code. Have that QR code etched into a smallish piece of metal at a trophy shop. Epoxy/bolt/nail that piece of metal somewhere out of the way?
posted by stenseng at 9:22 AM on February 7, 2013

I think that the biggest hurdle is the other visitors. You might be able to get some leavings into the next year, but not for years to come, without curious children or conscientious cleaners finding them.

You will have ongoing relationships with your kids and the chance to make new and different memories with them. It's ok for them to have parts of their lives that you *aren't* a part of, even if you used to be. That may make you sad in the short term -- loss and grief are part of divorce -- but in the long term, you'll be glad that most of the time they don't need to be "reminded of you" because you'll be right there with them as they grow and change! Let go of this one thing and let them have things to tell you about when they get back.

Just my two cents, of course.
posted by acm at 9:23 AM on February 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Use GPS coordinates? To make them personal geocaches. These could be in or outdoor. You could introduce them to geocaching elsewhere then give them the coordinates when you want. See Obviously they could be found and lost so not foolproof.
posted by RoadScholar at 9:26 AM on February 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Could you do something special there during this visit that will last a lifetime? Plant a tree together or something like that?

The tree wouldn't be a "surprise" every time they visit in the future, but it will remind them of you and the times you had there together.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:06 AM on February 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

A sealed diecast aluminium enclosure, like a project box should survive burial for decades and keep the contents safe. On retrieval/discovery, all they would need to open it is a screwdriver. Some of these boxes come self-sealing with an inset o-ring, ones that don't you'd probably want to use some silicone sealant (and possibly dab some over the screws too - the screws will be quite resistant to the elements, but not as impervious as aluminium (the oxide layer is sapphire), and silicone could be picked away by someone without trouble, but could still keep the elements away from the screws).
posted by anonymisc at 10:34 AM on February 7, 2013

This takes some programming know-how, but I've always loved the reverse geocache box. The nice thing about this is you could don't leave it there, they have to bring it with them.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:16 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You could make a little map of the island yourself, and with notes about the locations of trees, paths, buildings or other markers. The next time they go, you can ask them to take a photo of "the tallest tree on the island" or "the red bush next to the orange tree" or something like that. If they're old enough, send them with a few little natural guides - flora, fauna, sea life, etc. Ask them to find certain species which will take some effort, but that you know are available on the island.

Basically, have them 'find' attributes that are already there, and bring the photos home to show you.

As they get older, you could figure out the constellations for that location, and have them track their movement over their trip. Ditto with tides and sea life.

It seems like a special place for all of you, and it's probably a bit difficult to imagine them continuing to visit without you. In some ways it's even more 'tangible' than everyday life because special trips are an easy marker of specificity within the continuity of life. I'm sure it's hard to imagine how they'll experience this place without you, but part of the separation is that your kids will continue to have experiences with both parents, just not together all of the time.

One thing to consider - would your ex-partner be upset about the hidden mementos or a scavenger hunt? If the trips will be part of 'his' time with them, would he be irritated that part of it is taken up by an activity orchestrated by his ex, who isn't even there? I'm not trying to insinuiate that he *will* be -- just something to consider.

Best of luck with it.
posted by barnone at 11:27 AM on February 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have done this. I used old school Tupperware (waterproof, airtight, corrosion resistant, and etch-able) the treasures inside were vacuum sealed to ensure a long life.

6 containers, 7 treasure maps (one to start, one in each container to lead to the next map)

the treasures were of gradually increasing importance and value.

it took 5.5 years for it to unfold, huge hit. containers and maps are in use by another set of people now!

good cheap DIY treasure map goodness here:
posted by bobdow at 12:00 PM on February 7, 2013

Like RoadScholar, I thought of Geocaching.

Assume that the kids will be going there for at least the next 20 years. Find 20 things to bury, and Geocache them.

Every year, before they go, give them the coordinates to one item for them to find. Nothing special. Little plastic toys are fine. Just the idea that every time they go, they'll have a thing that reminds them of you while they're away.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:44 PM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I like the geocaching suggestion but the island is only four square miles, so there is very little public/open land that is not highly trafficked, and I think it would be too much work to squeeze in on the next visit without them noticing. Planting a tree hits many of the right notes but I'm not sure the in-laws would like me introducing more work to the landscape. On that note, however, I think I'll donate books over the years to the tiny local library. I can put our names in them, let the kids know they're there, and other kids can enjoy them as well.

(For those who wondered if the general idea was ok with my husband, I specifically didn't want to do anything large-scale like a scavenger hunt for just that reason that it would interrupt their time together. It's not meant to do that, just meant to be the occasional candy with a note found in a drawer, or photo in a book, but I'll run it by him just in case.)
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 1:33 PM on February 7, 2013

If digging stuff up won't be a problem then I'd recommend PVC pipe for burying things in. PVC pipe is cheap, commonly available in many diameters from 1/2" to 4" (even larger but you may have to venture someplace besides home improvement borgs) and the contents are hermetically sealed when you cement on end caps.

Logistically you can easily cut the pipe to any length and PVC cement is easy to use.

And short lengths of pipe are easily buried. Smaller diameters, say up to 1 1/2", all you need is a pry bar, length of rebar or really any heavy pointy thing you can jam in the ground and wiggle around to make a cavity to accept the package. Larger lengths of pipe you can use a post hole digger.

Plus careful selection of the contents make the pipe invisible to metal detectors.

I've got a long stretch of sandy beach near my house; I think I've just come up with an ultimate idea in Easter egg/scavenger hunts
posted by Mitheral at 1:46 PM on February 7, 2013

I think the donated books idea is brilliant! You mail the books to the library months ahead, with their names on a "donated by" label inside. You send them with clues to help them find the books.
The books could be age-appropriate or copies of favorite books from younger years. I especially like that part of this is sharing with others on the island. It reduces the "I'm not here but remember me anyway" feeling that some family members might feel if your kids spend their time with them searching for your treasure.
posted by kestralwing at 9:56 PM on February 7, 2013

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