Grandma, Grandpa and Max Headroom…

My son thinks his grandparents live inside a computer screen. I am certainly not the only one this happens to these days, right? In my case “the folks” are all over in Italy (Rome to be exact) and “hopping” on a flight is not really an option anytime we want my son to visit. He is still not in full conversation mode and let’s face it, handing my son a cell phone to babble at his grandparents is not wise, for many reasons. So I turn to one of those awesome “bring-it-to-the-masses” technological tools that may not seem all that much to the tech geeks, but to me is a lifesaver.

I have used Skype since way back when (a whopping 6 years ago) and at first it was definitely just a fun thing to do with friends, but now, especially since my son was born (and Skype added video), it has become a communications workhorse. Even his grandparents who come from the “how-do-you-turn-this-on?” generation are able to easily navigate the two clicks needed to call us via Skype.

The most obvious advantage is the cost saving on long distance calls that can add up (especially when your kid wants to hog the phone and yell gibberish into it for thirty uninterrupted minutes). Then, of course, there is nothing like your son entertaining his Nonna or Nonno (Grandma and Grandpa in Italian) and making them laugh. Whether my parents or my wife’s, the unpredictability of my son’s behavior is sure to elicit lots of cooing no matter how socially inappropriate it may be to the outside world. The possibility for my son to get some “face-to-face” time with his grandparents (and Aunts and Uncles who also live scattered around the world) is priceless and ensures that as “virtual” as it is, we are still staying in touch – frequently.

There are, of course, the downsides to this sudden 24/7 communications channel and they manifest themselves much like they would by leaving the key to your house or apartment under the doormat to allow for uncensored family access to your house. I am not referring to grandma or grandpa walking in on mom and dad having some alone time because that only happens in the movies (and I am told by friends with older children when your kids turn 18 and leave for college). More often than not it comes from the parents not fully understanding that the key under the doormat is there usually for emergencies and in all other instances they should announce their presence the old-fashioned way – by knocking.

Don’t get me wrong, I love talking to the folks and all, but sometimes their limited understanding of new technology creates a series of unfortunate Skype events like the “maybe-they-don’t-hear-the-ringing-despite-the-obvious-presence-of-the-BUSY-icon” twenty attempts in under a minute call, or the “can-you-hold-the-computer-and-follow-the-kid-as-he-runs-around-the-house” requests and so on and so forth.

In the end, it is invaluable for those of us who are far from family to stay in touch. It creates so many candid moments that otherwise would not be possible (like my son trying to feed apple sauce to his grandparents through the computer screen) and gives everyone a more “interactive” experience that a phone call alone would not allow. Luckily we do get to see them all “live” during the year just so my son knows that they are not today’s version of Max Headroom!

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