The first time I set up a FaceTime call between my parents and their adult granddaughter, I was astonished at just how much my parents, sitting in their apartment, enjoyed just waving and watching, while letting my daughter do all the talking. That was nearly four years ago when my daughter was pregnant and had not seen her grandparents for perhaps half-a-year.
When my grandson, their great-grandson, was born a few months later, we FaceTimed sometime during his first month, and my parents could barely get it together to wave, so rapturously did they gaze at the sleeping baby on the computer screen. Actually they were speechless — something that doesn’t often happen in my family. But then, the baby was speechless, too.
We’ve been FaceTiming pretty regularly for just under four years, usually about once a month, and still each video call is an adventure. Over time my parents, who now talk a lot more when we connect, have delighted in watching their great-grandson grow — learning how to smile, then wave, then blow a kiss, scooch, and eventually crawl out of range of the camera. They laughed the first time he shouted “No,” because he did not want to wave, and another time when he banged on a very loud drum. That was noisy, but they clapped along with him. Always my daughter or her husband will chat, but the camera centers on the baby who has gradually transformed into a toddler and then into a preschooler.
These short interactions, perhaps 10 minutes maybe once a month (although recently we’ve started FaceTiming with other relatives), have brought immeasurable joy to my parents. My dad, despite increasing memory loss, knows that he has a great-grandson and chuckles with glee as he watches the sometimes raucous activities on the screen. My mom? Well, she ends each call feeling more energetic, talkative, and — happy.
About a year ago, after my parents moved into assisted living, Mom confirmed my observation about the calls’ effect. As we readied ourselves for another FaceTime session, she commented, “You know, these calls make me feel like I’ve been right there watching him grow for his whole life.”
Now that makes the effort worthwhile.
To conduct these calls families need robust internet access, and now that my parents live in an assisted living community, they no longer have their own wireless and rarely use a computer. When they do need access on their iPad, they can use a low-level guest wireless system which works for most things that they want to do. It does not, however, work for FaceTime or, I’ve been told by other adult children, for Skype. Without robust wireless, the FaceTime calls are slow and scratchy, frequently interrupted by lapses in the video transmission.
The retirement community has a workaround, but it requires several extra steps on my part. Each time I visit, before I even stop to say hello to my parents, I drive to another building on the campus, go inside to an information desk, and request a temporary login and password for entrée to a more powerful wireless network that will work smoothly with FaceTime. Although he administration offers this temporary access for more than one day at a time, usually I’m not visiting for two days in a row. Once I have the temporary pass in hand, I head over to my parents’ apartment, and we figure out when the FaceTime call will occur.