(Not) Home for the Holidays

By Kathryn M. D’Imperio

When we were little, our mom would make us all line up in the hallway on Christmas day so she could video tape us running into the living room to find our piles of presents. Looking back, it is kind of embarrassing. Still, the memories make us smile. Sneaking a few Christmas cookies for breakfast was not uncommon. And for Thanksgiving, we would all do our part of the prep, usually helping with the ingredients for the stuffing, at least from what I can remember. As we got older, my focus changed to baking cookies, probably for just about every holiday. (I still love to do this.) Now that my brothers, sister, and I have all reached our adulthood, spending the holidays together has become more of a memory than a regular occurrence.

Over the past few years, my siblings have pretty much moved to all corners of the country. My youngest brother Michael is finishing up his senior year at the University of Tampa. Susie is polishing off her masters at Central Washington University, about an hour and a half from Seattle. Meanwhile Sean scored a great job out in San Francisco, after first living in Chicago and then Prince Edward Island in Canada. Living geographically distant from each other is no new thing. We’ve learned to deal with it. On the plus side, technology makes it so easy for us to communicate and stay in touch, thanks especially to phone, e-mail, Facebook, video chat apps on our mobile devices, and of course, Skype.

A few years ago, Susie and I were the only ones to make it home for Thanksgiving. Our brother Michael wanted to come home, but as a young college student, airfare during that time of year was just out of the question, especially just for a long weekend. As it turned out, my technology savvy siblings planned to Skype during Thanksgiving dinner. We set up Susie’s Netbook and gave Michael his own place at the table. He had his own turkey and mashed potatoes with all the fixings he wanted down in Florida, and we enjoyed Mom’s home cooking and Dad’s pro carving skills at home in Pennsylvania.

The family, including our grandmother who was nearly 90 years old, chatted and ate, and we even took a few pictures to commemorate the [unconventional] holiday gathering. For us, this was very meaningful as we all wanted to be together for the holidays and just couldn’t seem to make it happen. Skyping over turkey dinner proved to be the next best option for us. Plus, we all thought it was kind of a cool way to celebrate the holiday.

Special time with family seems to become more important with each passing year. My husband Justin and I welcomed our first child, our daughter Natalie, just this May. She is the first baby on my side of the family, and the second on his (and actually the first female child on his dad’s side in 50 years). Since then we have Skyped or used a video chat smartphone app with my siblings and Justin’s, and even with our baby niece Leah, who was just born this August. For our families, Skype has become an easy way to have a more personal connection across the miles. And while we all certainly wish it could be in person instead, Natalie’s aunts and uncles really enjoy getting to watch her play and hear her coo with the simple use of a laptop or a smartphone.

As Natalie gets older, it will be even more fun to stay connected with our family from afar. Whether for a special occasion, holidays, or just for fun, I am really looking forward to the days when she will be able to recognize her family members on the screen. Just the other day, my mother-in-law was telling us how our nephew Will, now two years old, could recognize her on the computer monitor when they were Skyping. “Grandmom, come out,” he said to the screen. Does it get any cuter?

I’ve also seen tear-jerking photos of small children Skyping with their dads, who are away on active duty in the military. A little girl kisses the computer screen where her father’s face appears; a little boy reaches his hand up to touch the screen where his dad’s hand is also reaching. If that doesn’t elicit some heartfelt emotion, I don’t know what does.

We have this wonderful technology at our fingertips – a much more intimate way to stay in touch than simply talking on the phone once in a while or shooting a text message – and it keeps getting better and better. Skype is among the most popular, but you can also use the FaceTime app to make video calls using the iPhone or the Google+ Hangouts app on Android devices, which allows you to video chat with your whole family or many people at once.

The next time you feel so inclined, take the time to make some nice memories with Skype or a video chat application on your smartphone. And remember, just because you’re miles apart doesn’t mean you can’t be together for the holidays.

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