"I hate Skype!" my friend Ellen snarled over the phone. "I want flesh!" She was calling me after a totally unsatisfying "visit" in cyberspace with her four-month-old grandson, Parker.
I know exactly how Ellen feels. I've been there — often. I've watched my now 3-year-old granddaughter Isabelle take a bath, munch on a croissant, spill hot chocolate all over herself, throw a couple of whopper tantrums and, more often than not, completely ignore my presence on the computer screen.
I hate Skype, too.
Now, I'm no Luddite technophobe. I'm Facebook friendly, e-mail is my preferred form of communication, I spend (altogether too many) hours cruising the Web, I have my own website, and here I am, a columnist for Grandparents.com. But when it comes to my grandchildren, like Ellen, I want flesh!
Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't get it when I hear other grandparents gush about the wonderful quality time they spend with their little darlings on Skype or other internet conferencing-systems. They read stories, play games, even create simultaneous art projects. The one time I attempted to read Fancy Nancy to Isabelle, she wandered out of the room by the time I hit page two. I haven't repeated the experiment.
Even when Isabelle stays in the room, the fuzzy picture tends to freeze or break up and the quality is suggestive of the moon landing broadcast of 1969. As for the sound quality, well, think 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and you'll get the idea.
I must admit, though, that it's not all terrible. It felt like a major breakthrough the day that Isabelle and I made funny faces at each other for a whole ten seconds. And her demonstration last month of a plie and other newly-mastered ballet moves felt like a moment of genuine connection. What's more, lately I've begun waving and making funny faces at four-month-old Azalia, who seems entranced and has the good manners to stay within the camera's range. (Of course, the fact that she can't sit up by herself, let alone crawl away, no doubt accounts for her attentiveness.)
[poll]It's lovely to catch glimpses of my two granddaughters in between visits. I'm grateful for the technology that (sort of) bridges the 3,000 miles between us. Still, the sight of these two little girls minus actual physical contact often leaves me feeling more yearning than joy. They seem so close, yet really they're so very far away.
Here, but not here.
I can sympathize with their distress, but I can't kiss their "owies." I can sing to them, but singing to an infant or toddler without rocking them is like ballroom dancing without a partner.
Skype acts as a tease that intensifies my desire to be with my granddaughters in three-dimensional space as well as time. And though I'm always happy to see them, after we disconnect I'm left feeling unsatisfied, as if I've been invited out to a Michelin three-star restaurant and then asked to leave just as the main course arrives.
Isabelle gets frustrated too. Not long ago, she tried to pin her Dora the Explorer barrettes in my hair through the computer screen.
"Soon the technology will be much better," my husband, who knows about these things, said in an attempt to console me after a recent session. "Just think," he chattered enthusiastically, "the picture will be high definition, the mics will be a lot more sensitive, and we'll be able to see the girls on the big television screen!"
I glared at him, speechless.
I want flesh!
Barbara Graham is the editor of the anthology, Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother, which tells "the whole crazy, complicated truth about being a grandmother in today's world."
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.