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This Is the One Tradition We Have That Keeps My Long Distance Family Together

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Every Sunday morning growing up, we had two rituals: a big Sunday breakfast and a phone chat with our beloved bubbe in Florida. We’d pass the phone among the five of us so everyone could say hello to Jeanette. Though she couldn’t physically be with us, she could feel us–the excitement in our voices as we shared our latest report card results. It was a ritual that meant the world to my grandmother, who carried photos of us in her wallet, and would kvell about how wonderful we were to anyone and everyone she encountered.

When I went away to college, life got busier. I missed those chats, but admittedly, didn’t make the time for them. So I began writing letters to my grandma—letters I wrote until she passed away from cancer in January 1999.

Eleven years later, I gave birth to my daughter, Maya. My parents live in New Jersey, my sister lives in New York, my brother and sister-in-law live in California…and we live in Michigan. While the distance between all of us can feel monumental at times, Sunday Skype (or FaceTime) has been our saving grace in between our visits.

My family has literally watched her, now 5, and her 2-year-old brother Ben– grow up over my iPhone, between daily photos and videos and our special Sunday ritual. Of course we wish we lived closer together–and I get envious of friends who have family nearby–but we’ve made do. They got to watch her hit all her milestones: rolling over, sitting up, standing, crawling, walking, talking. Even as little as a few months old, they could interact with her as though they were in the room, singing songs that she’d nod her head to or dance to. Then once she began talking, it was all over. When the phone rings, she wants (and expects) to see them on Skype–because it’s been such an integral part of her childhood.

Likewise, they’ve seen Ben grow up before their eyes in the same way–only this go around, they get to watch sibling love/rivalry at its finest as they vie for attention, or challenge one another for a toy/game/anything.

There’s really no other way when you have family far apart. You have to rely on technology, like Skype and FaceTime, to connect and bond. For anyone facing this daunting challenge–and fears their kids will miss out on a close relationship with their grandparents or other family members–allow me to dispel that myth. My kids are ridiculously close to my family–even though they only see them 3-4 times a year—and it’s because we all put in the effort.

Here’s how we’ve managed to do it:

1. Make time to chat a priority. Face time is critical, and when geography dictates that we can’t have it, this is the next best thing. We chat mostly Sunday mornings when the kids are still in their jammies and just playing at home. Sure, some weekends it’s not possible to chat at our usual time due to travel, other commitments, playdates, etc.—but we know at some point every Sunday we will Skype or FaceTime. And that consistency has been key for everyone.

2. Create a special ritual for those chats. Since Maya was super-small, my mom would show her this little wooden ladybug in a trinket box whose legs would wiggle when she opened it. Maya would light up every time she saw it. As she got older and could talk, she’d ask to see it if my mom didn’t show her first. And when we’d visit New Jersey, she knows right where to find it: on the shelf above the kitchen TV. That little ladybug is credited with curing many a tantrum over the years! Likewise, my dad always asks her, “Why are you so cute?!” and her response is always, “Baby, I was born this way!”–their special banter. (Ben’s answer to the same question is, “It’s in my DNA!” Both of these answers are courtesy of my dad). He also shows the kids their birds and cats, and brings the phone around the house, so it has become incredibly familiar to them–even though we aren’t there nearly enough.

3. Play even from afar. Maybe it’s pretending to give the kids a snack through the phone (playing pretend), or them singing a song together or reading a book. Sometimes they’ll “kiss” or “hug” the kids, and I’ll do the physical moment so it’s like they’re there. It may feel silly…but the small ways to connect are really big when kids are so small.

Connecting through the little box certainly isn’t the same as getting a waft of their freshly-shampooed hair or the warmth of their hot breath on your neck as they are tucked in to bed…but we make do, and we live for visits.

April 8 is our next one—not that I’m counting or anything …

How about you? Do you rely on FaceTime or Skype to connect with your family?


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The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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