Lydia and Fiona goof around during a bedtime story.

My Facebook feed was recently filled with pictures of my kids and grandkids from one year ago. I hated seeing them as it reminded me that it has been a 12 months since I was with them in person. They live in New York and I make regular visits two or three times a year. Having my daughters in the Big Apple has always been perfect. I get to hang out with the grandkids, see plays and art shows with my girls, and find time to sneak off on my own to wander around a city I love.

But then the pandemic hit.

I am a man of intellect and science, so I took it seriously (if that sounds like a dig at people who refuse to wear masks and deny the seriousness of COVID-19, it’s supposed to). That meant no visits. At first, I hoped it would ease up by the fall, but that was not to be. So, it has been just over a year since I have been able to chase the little ones around, to have them climb over me, to drag me ice skating (it took six months before my wrist healed).

And I miss them.

But, fortunately, we live in a technologically enlightened age, an age where even four-year-olds are tech savvy. That means I get to talk to them several times a week. It is not unusual for one of them to call me at random to show me a drawing or tell me something that happened they find to be particularly insightful. Lydia has a tendency to call me, say something funny then put me on hold while she texts me 200 random emojis. And I’ve lost track of the number of hours I have spent looking at the ceiling fan while one of them goes off to get something — “Be right back” — never to return.

Luca does a magic show.

It’s not the same as giving them a hug, but at least it allows frequent contact for free.

I think back to the effort my parents put into having a relationship with my kids. When I left England in the early 1980s, it was in the knowledge that my parents would not get to see their grandchildren very often. Fortunately, they made the decision to visit yearly, and my kids feel close to them, but I cannot help but wish my daughters could have a called with the frequency their children call me.

The infrequent phone calls to England were big productions. I used to make a list of things to talk about, so we made sure to cover all the news. It had to be timed just right to account for the six-hour time difference. And I had to carefully time the call (an hour on the phone ran around $80). 

Apart from that, we wrote letters. We printed photos and sent over thick envelopes to catch them up on things. Now, my parents are on Facebook and get to see daily photos of school days, gap-toothed smiles of lost teeth, dance recital costumes (and videos). They can see Luca do his magic act, Fiona’s latest drawing, Lydia’s crazy-legged dance. The kids get to talk to their great grandparents (the GGs) fairly often on FaceTime. They get to see their faces (well, parts of my parents’ faces — they are still not brilliant with the tablet camera). In a way, they are more involved in the lives of their great-grandkids than they were in my daughters’ lives.

I think of the thousands of pounds my parents spent visiting us. I don’t know if they understand how much I appreciated it. The only hard part of emigrating was taking the kids away from my parents. I didn’t have the financial wherewithal to visit much, so they took the initiative.

This past year, being deprived of the visits, has made me more keenly aware of how hard it was for them to see the girls so infrequently. It all worked out in the end, and my daughters feel close to my parents. But it’s the little day-to-day things that were missed on both sides.

And every time Lydia says, ”Are you coming to our house soon?” it stabs a little harder.

I have my vaccination half done and it’s reasonable to be thinking about a trip. Until then, I’ll wait for the next call, there’s a ceiling fan with my name on it.

Lydia will “be right back.”

2 thoughts on “Virtual hugs better than nothing

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