Thursday, March 24, 2011

Connecting with Faraway Loved Ones

When you have loved ones who live on the other side of the world, it is hard to feel as connected as you would like to be. The separation is difficult. And that is particularly true for my wife right now with her parents living in Japan.

My wife was born and raised in the Tokyo area, and her parents still live there. She, of course, has been very worried about them. Thankfully, they survived the earthquake. But, the news of radiation from the nuclear plants continues to concern us.

Long before the earthquake, my wife has been dreaming about going to Japan with Kai one day. But traveling to a faraway foreign country with an autistic child just hasn’t seemed feasible for us, and probably won’t for a while yet.

It is easier on us to have her parents to come here for a visit, and last year they did. But the cost and distance prevent that from being a more frequent occurrence.

Emails communicate the facts, but without the emotional connection of a personal interaction. Phone calls are okay, but they don’t give my wife’s parents much satisfaction when it comes to interacting with their grandson. Let’s face it; communicating with Kai is hard enough when you’re in the same room with him. A phone conversation is even more difficult. In the case of his grandparents in Japan, there is a language barrier that further adds to the challenge.

And that is why we decided to try Skype.

I’m old enough that when I was a kid, the idea of a video phone was the stuff of pure comic book fantasy. I did not believe that I would ever see such a thing during my lifetime. And so, when video connections were starting to be made over the internet more than a decade ago, I was eager to try it. The quality on those early calls was bad, and once the novelty of it wore off after the first few tries, I never used it again.

But, lately, I’d heard a lot about how good the experience is these days. And so, when Kai’s grandfather in Japan said that he wanted to do it, we both got cameras and loaded Skype onto our computers.

A few days ago, we had our first video call. It was amazing, really, to see Jiji and Baba’s faces so clearly and to hear their voices so well. It was as if they were sitting at the kitchen table with us.

Of course, the best part was that they got to see and hear Kai. He showed them a book that he had just gotten from the library, and rambled on about it. My wife explained in Japanese what he was talking about.

Kai didn’t stay on the call too long. But, it was long enough for his grandparents to feel a bit more in touch with him. After Kai and I went downstairs to play, my wife stayed on and had a longer conversation.

This kind of connection would be wonderful anytime. But now, more than ever, it is particularly meaningful.

We are thinking of you, Jiji and Baba. We will see you again soon.

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