photo: Palo Coleman
We just had a delightful visit with our daughter. We got to ooh and aah over the view from her window. We took a quick tour of her apartment and sighed over the smallness of one of the bedrooms. We talked about what an attractive neighborhood she was living in and how the nervous energy in the home was rising since school just started for our Grand. The dog came over and gave us a paws-up.
Our daughter and her family are living in Berlin for a year. We sat at our computer here in Maryland, she at laptop in Germany and we linked up via Skype. There is a very "you are there" feeling with a video call, and when a grown child lives far from you, it makes you feel as if you've just dropped in for a cup of tea. It's just that you each bought your chai from emporiums on opposite sides of the Atlantic. You can chat while one of you makes dinner or is busy straightening up the apartment. It's intimate. It's personal. Almost as good as being there, except that there's no hug at the end--just an air kiss and a few shouts of tschuss [the informal German for bye-bye].
Technology helps cut distance down to size. There are visual clues to go along with the timber of the voice you hear on the phone. You can pick up the vibe of whether your child is happy or worried, whether things are going well or poorly.
But what we've been learning about the visual chat--Skype or other services--is that, as Tim Gunn on The Runway would put it--we should "use it wisely." Otherwise, they may stop clicking on "video call" when you ring them up. Here are three tips for proper Skype etiquette:
1. Don't press that video call button just because the Skype button is lit. It's the same as dropping in at their home for an unannounced visit. Popping in via Skype can be intrusive: Maybe they just got out of the shower or are in mid-Yoga workout or are having a spat with a spouse. Better to arrange times for calls or set a particular day and hour for a regular call.
2. Don't try to talk to everyone at once. With my daughter, we've been dealing with the question of the order in which we speak to family members--the Grand first, the parents second or the other way around? Skype really isn't the same as sitting at the dining room table together--there's no way for two people to break away and have a private conversation. With our son and his family of five, it's even more difficult to impose order. With the kids vying for screen time, the visit descends into minor squabbles over whose turn is when. And if they're using the iPad, OMG: It gets passed around and upended, giving those of us at the receiving end a dizzying view of the household, the ceiling and upside down views of faces.
3. Don't underestimate the power of emoticons. They are there, right in the instant message section of Skype. When the talk gets to politics or news of the day, my Grand tends to wander off. One way to keep her in the visit is to type messages and attach emoticons--with an emphasis on the plural of the latter. That's right: There cannot be too many teeny tiny dancing monkeys, lit-up birthday cakes or grinning clowns at the end of a message--or as the message itself. Hard to believe, but yes, it will keep them with you for a while--and they really really do see it as a form of personal communication. :-)