Saturday, January 7, 2012

How Skype has Changed Christmas

How Skype has Changed Christmas
By Sue Leonard

Published in The Irish Examiner December 24th 2011

It was the week before Christmas. I was in the arrivals hall at Dublin airport, and all around me were scenes of joyful reunion. Couples embraced, and grandparents were in ecstasy as they met their brand new grandchildren.

I stood there, watching all this love, with tears streaming down my face. Collecting my man after a business trip, I so wished my eldest daughter, Josephine, would be stepping through those doors. But she wasn’t coming home. At 18, she was working as a Chalet Girl in France. Our brief, phone call on Christmas Day didn’t cheer us. She was upset, and hard at work in the kitchen. I was heartbroken.

Fast forward three years, and Josephine went off to Ecuador. It was a year out as part of her university course. She sent us a fax to say she’d arrived in Quito. And then we heard nothing, for three long weeks.

We sent faxes. And, finally, we rang the school where she was teaching English. They summoned her for us. We asked was she ok, and she said,
“Well I am now.” And told us she’d spent the best part of a week in hospital, on a drip, after eating dodgy ice-cream from the street.

That lack of communication would be unthinkable today. We would have heard about it on email. We’d have been getting constant texts. We’d probably have seen pictures of her attached to the drip on Facebook. Perhaps, in retrospect, our blissful ignorance was better.

Josephine will be with us for Christmas this year, along with her husband and children. But our second daughter, Lucinda, will be away; celebrating in the Rockies with her Canadian boyfriend.

She’s lived in Canada for ten years now. She’s sometimes here for Christmas, but when she’s not, we still see her. Thanks to Skype. We’ll get hold of her when we’ve finished Christmas Dinner and she’s just up to start her morning. She’ll show us her presents, and give us a glimpse of the snowy mountains outside. Best of all we’ll see that gorgeous smile. And we’ll know she’s with us in spirit.

Barbara Scully, from Cabinteely, has a love hate relationship with Skype. She loved being able to see her daughter Carla’s apartment in Perth, Australia, when she moved in last June. But there is, she has discovered, a downside too.

“My first mistake was to Skype from Carla’s old bedroom. She left it looking like a war zone. I tidied it up, rearranged it, painted it, and commandeered it as a room to write in. Carla noticed where I was and said, ‘show me what you’ve done.’ I showed her, and she said, ‘Most of my friend’s mothers will leave their bedrooms alone.’”

Barbara was heartbroken when Carla, 24, left for Australia.
“It’s an instinctual thing. It’s as if part of me has gone. Carla is such a home bird. I was a single mother for ten years, so there were just the two of us. And the longest she’d been away before, was three weeks in Irish College.”

Carla is in Australia with Paddy, her boyfriend of two years. They have great jobs, and share an apartment with another Irish couple.
“It’s a great opportunity for them, and if a fairy Godmother said, ‘You can have things back as they were,’ I wouldn’t, because I know she’s so happy.”

Barbara married fifteen years ago, and has two other daughters with her husband, Paul Sherwood. There’s Roisin, 13, and Mia, 11. They adore Skype.
“They love being able to see their sister, and show her the dog. That’s very important to them. We will, of course, Skype on Christmas Day. That’s important. But it’s formal. I don’t find Skype natural.

“I yearn to meet Carla for lunch. To have coffee with her, to be in her space and share her energy. If she was in Boston, or New York, I’d visit for a weekend. Perth is so far.”

Barbara prefers communicating by text – via Whatsapp.
“I love that. You text spontaneously. It’s more natural. There doesn’t have to be something big to say. I text as I go to bed, as she is getting up. I ask what she’s going to do for the day. We tic tac back and forwards and it’s natural banter. It’s an easy flow of conversation.”

Roisin and Mia keep up via Facebook. And Carla follows her mother’s activities via Twitter.
“She sometimes reads my blog, too.” Barbara’s blog, ‘From my Kitchen Table,’ can be viewed at

Monica McInerney, author of Lola’s Secret, comes from a huge, Australian family. There’s her mother, six brothers and sisters, more than a dozen nieces and nephews, and various sisters in law, and cousins.
“They’re dotted around Australia,” says Monica, who is based in Ireland, with her husband, John. Skype, for her, is a life saver.

“I’ll do two sessions of Skype at Christmas,” she says. “I’ll Skype on Christmas Eve to get them on Christmas morning. I’ll have sent presents to my nieces and nephews. Last year they opened them on Skype. I’d sent clothes and dress up, so I saw them wearing them.

“I have teenage nephews and nieces, and smaller ones. The little kids run backwards and forwards to their room, saying, ‘look at this?’ It’s chaos, but it’s like being in the living room.

“I love doing Skype with my mum. I love seeing the living room, and thinking, oh, there’s that vase! I notice the pile of books behind her, and get great comfort. It’s nice seeing their houses, as much as talking to them.

“On my sister’s 50th birthday last February, my brother set up a conference Skype call. There were all these separate boxes on the screen. It was like sitting round the kitchen table chatting. It was fantastic in theory, but it was mayhem. I was too busy watching the boxes to say anything much.”

Most of the real conversations happen on group emails.
“Today I woke to 23 family emails. There are whole conversations going on with various brothers and sisters butting in. It’s all wise cracking. My mother comes in now and again as the voice of reason. I join in at the end of their day. I love emailing nephews and nieces too, I love seeing the words they are using.”

Though she loves modern communication, Monica does have one worry.
“When I was nineteen I went to London. For two years I wrote weekly letters, but censored what I said. I had wild adventures, and chose the things I told about. With Skype and Text and Facebook, kids don’t get that freedom from their family. If parents don’t hear every few hours, they worry.”

Monica is looking forwards to spending Christmas with her husband’s family. But nothing quite beats seeing her own. In Those Faraday Girls, Monica wrote of a large family, who celebrated Christmas together in July.
Reading it, her family decided to follow suit. And next July, they’ll all congregate in a large rented house in Victoria, for their second July Christmas.
“It will be four days of games, and eating and fun. And no need to skype!”

© Sue Leonard. 2011.

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