Dear Learning Expressions Readers,
Many of us remember it as the bane of our early holiday experiences. The odd-smelling, far-flung relative comes into town for the special occasion. The stranger bursts through the door, arms open wide, lips puckered for a smooch, screeching: “Oh my how you’ve grown! Seems like only yesterday you were a babe in arms, and I was cleaning your spit-up off my shoulder!”
You cling to your mother’s leg tighter and try your best to disappear into her skirt folds. But it’s no use. To your horror, Aunt Aggie the Alien grasps you from safety and thoroughly consumes you. And all the while you swear you’ve never laid eyes upon this person. And how very peculiar and alarming, you believe, for a foreign invader to be carrying on so intimately!
My husband and I are raising our family in the Midwest, far away from our children’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of our native California. I grew up in close proximity to my extended family and their presence was integral to my childhood. When we learned we were moving to Minnesota I must confess I had pangs of sadness over the likelihood that my beloved relatives would be strangers to my children. How was I to prevent the alien situation described above? I certainly couldn’t be flying to L.A. monthly.
But I ought not to have feared. There is an answer to this age-old problem, and it is Skype (or Facetime, or iChat, or what have you). Our children are the very first generation to grow up with this astonishing, easily accessible, free video-chat technology that lets them visit with relatives and friends living worlds away.
We’ve become quite adept in this house at using this valuable tool, and we are ever so grateful for it.
My three and a half year old has “used” Skype since he could sit up, and is to the point where it’s perfectly natural for him to have a visit with his relatives over lunch. My two year old, being less verbal at the moment, is a bit more of a passive observer during the process, but he does greatly enjoy it and throws his two cents into the conversation now and again.
Bubbie (that’s grandma to my boys), has this to say about Skype: “I consider it essential to my relationship with my grandkids. It lets me talk to them about everyday things and keep up with their lives. It’s a real visit, heads and shoulders above a phone call.”
Bubbie does have science on her side. Study after study has shown that only 7 percent of communication is verbal. That means a whopping 93 percent of communication – all the important non-verbal cues like facial expression and body language – is lost over the phone. And I’d be willing to bet that even more is lost over the phone when it comes to toddlers.
The technology has become easier to use and better in the last few years. All you need is a computer or a smartphone. For our Skype setup, we also need an Internet connection, but I know of some smartphones that need only a phone signal. The video is far less choppy than it was when the technology first came out, and there is practically no delay in communication from one party to another.
I’ve found that the best secret for a successful Skype session is to have my boys contained. For us, that usually means lunchtime. The boys are in their seats, and they are occupied with eating. The laptop perches right on the dining room table in front of them, and it’s really as if our relatives are sitting down right there at the table for a chat.
The grandparents, to their credit, have also become skilled Skype users. PopPop loves to send presents and have the boys open them right there on Skype so he can watch. He also enjoys taking the computer outside to show the boys how his garden is progressing. They squeal with delight if he manages to find a cabbakibba (caterpillar). Sometimes he’ll show off the boyds (birds – ravens) dancing outside his balcony, or the huge waves pounding the coast during a big storm. The boys love these glimpses into PopPop’s world. PopPop appreciates hearing all about the day at preschool or the latest t-ball practice.
Bubbie’s favorite Skype pastime is puppet shows. She has a small army of finger friends she uses to tell charming tales of triumph and tragedy. In fact, as soon as the chat is started, the boys begin to beg, “Mousies, where are you? Mousies, we want to talk!” The puppets have become dear friends to my boys.
Other relatives have their own Skype niches as well. Nana reads stories and shows the pictures. Uncle Mike likes to entertain the boys by using the visual effects to warp his face and create strange sights. This never gets old for a couple of goofballs (note: the fun visual effects are on iChat, not Skype).
One of my favorite parts of Skype time is that it buys me some mommy time. Usually I get the boys settled into their seats, fire up the Skype chat with the relative, and I’ll be able to prepare lunch in peace. Then, while everyone is eating and chatting, I can sneak around and actually accomplish things, like unloading the dishwasher! Or sometimes, I’ll slip into my own corner and eat lunch all by myself! It’s perfectly splendid to have other adults answering all those questions for a little while.
And of course, Skype has allowed my children’s relatives to be close, and dear, and loved, despite us all living 2,000 miles apart. When the relatives do come into town for a visit, the transition from computer to real life has so far been seamless. There’s no alien interaction and no warming up period – everyone jumps right in where they left off over their last lunch chat.
We are so lucky to live when we do. My 92-year-old grandmother even got to know the boys, her first great-grand children, over Skype before she passed away, and I’ll just never forget how she truly marveled over the technology. Imagine what video chatting is like for someone born in 1920, at a time when radio transmission was cutting edge?
I wholeheartedly encourage parents everywhere to fully embrace this technology and make it routine – especially if you have loved ones your kids don’t get to see nearly enough.
Thanks for reading!