20 February 2010

Grandma in a box

I live in a computer. At least, that’s what my 18-month-old grandson, Price, thinks. Yesterday, my daughter in Orlando sent me a precious video of Price standing in front of the computer monitor, pointing and saying, “Nana!” It is there, in that small square, that he sees me the most. I play tickle with him by waving my fingers at the webcam and blowing kisses his way. He leans in to hug the monitor and then looks confused that it looks like me, but isn’t me. I want to reach out and grab him, but we aren’t at the “Scotty, beam me up” phase of our scientific progress yet. Webcam is definitely the next best thing.

Living overseas has many challenges. Maintaining a family life with those in the United States is one of them. When I joined the Foreign Service in the late 1990s, technology—especially communication technology—was still very basic. There was email, of course, but no Facebook, blogs, webcam or Voice over Internet Protocal (VoIP). The special-occasion phone calls were very expensive and mail (via the U.S. diplomatic pouch system) was slow. The only thing that has remained the same is the pouch.

Another significant change for me is my family framework. During the early years, my four older children were all single and in university. They didn’t have much time to communicate and, frankly, not a lot of interest. If I managed to talk to them every other month and saw them once a year, that was OK. We were all busy with our individual lives and, because my youngest child was with me overseas, I still had a family core.

Then, in quick succession came the weddings, followed by the change that rocked my world—grandchildren. The birth of each little boy—there are seven now—tugged my heart a bit more and, I believe, gave my grown children a different perspective about staying in closer touch with me, too. The difficulties of frequent communication became more apparent to us all, and while webcams had become available by then, I didn’t have computer access that could support one.

When I moved to Islamabad in 2006, I could finally sign up for VoIP and use a webcam. My then youngest grandson, Trevor, who previously would have nothing to do with me on home visits because I was a stranger to him, learned who I was and would happily babble to me over the Internet. Now, when I would visit, he came to me easily. When my next grandson, Caden, was born, he grew up seeing me on webcam and never viewed me as a stranger at all. His mother would announce as I was leaving from a visit, “Nana is going back into her box!” and the transition was smooth. Little ones are amazing like that.

I fully understand how much this advance in technology has helped me stay satisfied with my Foreign Service career and life out of the United States. I feel like I am part of my children and grandchildren’s lives on a more personal level and, as a result, any guilt I might have of choosing to be so far away is largely assuaged. It is a tough choice to move to the other side of the world from one’s family and friends. I am very grateful to have the benefit of technology to bridge the distance.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership, published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.

1 comment:

  1. Just found your blog, and hope you don't mind if I link to it. My son felt the same way about his dad recently...we had a trial separation while Pete was in HT training (prep for a year in Iraq). Nicholas (our almost 2 year old at the time) was convinced Daddy lived in the computer...would wave and say, "Hi, Daddy" every time he walked past the office.

    Such a relief to have Skype,as the kids felt much more connected to him and are less anxious about the upcoming year, knowing that we can still 'see' Daddy.