Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Family Matters – a reflection on Internet enabled grand parenting

Anyone who ever had a meal with our family back in the days when we were all living under one roof will recall one iron fast rule. No phone calls during dinner time. If the phone rang we would sit, glued to our seats, listening to the answering machine go through its paces. Mostly, the caller would hang up, dinner being the favoured time of telemarketers. At others, a digitised message from the Whitehorse Maningham Regional Library Service would tell us our books were overdue. Occasionally, it was a personal call and the intended recipient would turn besseching eyes on Andrew.

He never let them answer.

These days, the rules have changed.

Sunday night we had an impromptu BBQ. We went through the usual agonised debate over how to use our gas Weber Q. We've had the BBQ almost two years and I use it all the time. But when we have people over Andrew and I have to coordinate our efforts. This always involves the instruction book and loads of impassioned hand gestures, causing Seth to observe.

'Family BBQ's wouldn't be the same without the great Weber debate.'

Anyway, we got the meat cooked, table set, salads on the table, we had just finished saying the blessing when Andrew's iPad started to chime.

'That'll be Jack,' he said, determined to preserve the sanctity of our meal time. 'We'll call back after dinner.'

'But Charlie might be in bed.'

'Quick, Dad, you'd better get it.'

'There's a spare seat. We could pop him at the end of the table.'

A quick glance at his watch, a flicker of indecision, andrew lunged, and thirty years of patriarchal control crumbled.

Charlie took his place at the head of the dinner table.

This is not an new event for the boy. We do a regular Sunday night call, watching him finish his dinner have a bath and get ready for bed.

This is called twenty-first century grandparenting.

Tonight Charlie had two adoring aunts and an uncle to watch him plough through his bowl of his spaghetti. Skype dropped out at some point and we had enough self control not to call back. The conversation turned to other matters, for some reason we needed to know what the alphabet that goes Alpha, Bravo, Charlie… Is called. I mean we had to know. I was twitching to look it up on Google, but, old habits die hard. I knew Andrew would only say.

'You don't have to look it up now, Liz.'

Fortunately, the kids are unaccustomed to not knowing. When did that happen? The realisation that most family debates can be solved by resorting to Google? Except, when two phones are involved, each one bringing up data to support their side of the argument.

Sunday night, Phoebe was the first to cave.

The alphabet is called the International Radio Telephony Alphabet, in case you are interested.

After dinner we filled the teapot and took a follow up call from Jack. Charlie was in the bath. We chatted while Jack dried and dressed him. Once he was upright, in his nighttime grow suit, Jack said. Watch Charlie for a minute will you?

He ducked from the room.

Now I don't know about you but I have reservations about minding a toddler on Skype two states away. I wasn't the only with doubts, one uncle, two adoring aunts and a besotted grandfather stared open mouthed at the screen. Charlie's chubby knees came into view, his little round toddler tummy, two wide blue eyes. He then turned and toddled out of view.

'Charlie!' A chorus of voices. 'Charlie!'

He didn't return.

I started moving the iPad around, trying to find Charlie, which didn't achieve anything, apart from making us all dizzy.

'Hold it still, Mum. You won't be able to find him. Charlie! Come back Charlie.'

Fortunately, Jack returned with Charlie under his arm. After after a story, the boy was tucked up in bed. We then took turns passing Jack around the room.

This is not a new phenomena either. We do this whenever we have a birthday gathering. Mostly with Jack and Ness. Sometimes with Carine. Or my brother Ian. Skype attendance has become a normal part of our family gatherings. I don't suppose we're alone in this. I guess it's like that in other families too.

The evening finished off with a quick YouTube session. Also becoming a standard feature of family events. We huddle around each other's mobile phones (I don't know why we don't use the iPads. Bonding perhaps?) and show of our latest favourites. Seth generally has the best offerings. This week he showed us Seinfeld in parliament. Why not check it out? Then you can be part of the party too.




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  1. Carine

    What?!? Answering the phone during dinner? I’m shocked 😉

  2. Yes, Carine, I knew you would see the significance. Two chubby cheeks and a set of blue eyes and all our long held principles are abandoned.

  3. Liz, glad to see we were not the only family subscribing to such a “medieval-type” rule. Interesting how a decade later, the original protesters are now its proclaimers. I can certainly understand in your household how such a significantly gorgeous blue-eyed excuse rendered the whole idea moot, or should I say mute! And what a fantastic excuse he is. Plus, in a reversal, answering the call promotes your family dinner conversation. (A few years ago, a Skype call from Russia was our only exception. Even though the twenty-one-year-old traveller possibly not as cute as your Charlie.)

  4. Who could have imagined the world would change so much when we made those ‘draconian rules.’ Or that those youngsters sitting around the table would become so far flung.

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