Introduction : Keeping in Touch Over Miles
I recently read a newly published book which I'll talk more about a little later but it really got me thinking about my immediate family situation and exactly how lucky I am to have such a close-knit family. It's hard for families to stay in touch and keep communications open when they all live in the same city, town, or state. What happens when your family gets spread out across the country. Where a face-to-face visit requires either several hours of driving or even a plane flight? Well keeping those communications lines open become even harder. Let me tell you about my story.
My Family Logistics
First off, I must say that I've been blessed with a wonderful family. My loving wife and I created the best legacy ever when we brought four beautful children into this world. We have 3 boys and 1 girl (order: boy, boy, girl, boy). At this stage in their lives, the three oldest are all successful college graduates, living on their own, and doing extremely well in their careers. The two oldest boys are both married and my youngest son is just entering his final year at Virginia Tech, studying computer science. Again, another success story in that he's already receiving career job offers before he begins his last year of college.
My wife and I settled in New Jersey after getting married and this is where we raised our family. As the kids grew and left the nest, we are all separated by great distance. My oldest son lives in New York with his wife (the closest physically). My second son lives in Boston with his wife. My daughter picked up and moved to Nashville Tennesee during the pandemic. And finally, my youngest son is in Blacksburg, Virginia. With my wife and I still living and working in New Jersey, that's 6 (+2) family members living in 5 different states.
Our Typical Routine
Thanks to Technology, we're able to stay in touch with our kids on a regular basis. Having a Computer Science background myself, I used to think I was very technical savy, but in today's world, these kids easily blow my knowledge away. Two of them are extremely technical, working with Computer Science degrees. The third works in sales and marketing for one of the top High Tech companies in the country. And my fourth is a data analyst (math major wizard). That being said, we use every type of technology possible to keep in touch.
First off, we text on a daily basis. That's both individual texting and group texting using Over the Top Applications like GroupMe. The Group Texts are constantly flowing throughout a typical day.
During the pandemic, just like the corporate world, we started using Zoom to hold face-to-face video calls over the computer.
And finally, for Father's Day, the kids bought me a Facebook Portal, which hooks up to our TV where I can video chat with each individually or as a group from my large screen TV,
Yes, these different technologies make staying in touch with each of our kids very easy.
Oh, and yes, I forgot one old fashion version of communication, the old reliable phone call. Yes we do still talk via the phone quite often. The phone calls are tyipcally one-on-one.
So taking all these neat tools into consideration, our daily routine really keeps communication lines open between my wife and I, with each of our 4 children.
On top of us communicating with the kids, they also have their own Chat Groups just between the kids without including us parents.
If I just read back over this section, I can only hope this means that my wife and I did at least something right in raising the kids. They actually still want to talk to us!!! I do not take that for granted. When we call, they pick up the phone. When they have free time, they call us. And to top things off, they all communicate amongst themselves outside these family activities. Talk about being a lucky guy!! What more can I ask of a family.
The Pandemic and It's Impact on Family Communications
So as you can see from the previous section, even though my family is spread out across 5 different states, we have always done a very good job in keeping communication lines open amongst all of us.
Then 2020 hits, the world suffers this terrible pandemic, and society is forced to lock down. Talk about a major impact on families who use every opportunity to get together and enjoy each others company.
As much as I hate to say it, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise for me and my family. Yes, I realize that's a terrible thing to say and I hesitate to even say it because I realize how much suffering took place during the pandemic and how many lives were lost to this horrible disease. But my life took a turn which was opposite all the pain and suffering that was going on in the country. My entire family came home to NJ to bunker down together with mom, dad, and all their siblings.
It started with my son and daughter-in-law from Boston planning to come down and stay a few days when their places of employment sent them to work from home. Coming to New Jersey where we have a big house and a large property would provide a temporary relief from the apartment living they were doing in Boston. So in the March/April timeframe of 2020, they came to NJ with their German Shepherd dog, and planned to spend a week with us.
Virginia Tech decided to close down the campus in the early spring as well so my youngest son returned home to finish his semester remotely.
The same thing happened to my oldest son, and my daughter. When their places of employment sent all the employess home to work remotely, they all decided to come visit mom and dad for awhile.
Well that temporary plan to visit mom and dad for a week or so during this remote working period from their employess turned into a 5 month adventure in NJ. In the middle of a kitchen remodeling, my wife and I now had all 4 kids, 2 significant others, and 1 large German Shepherd dog, all staying in our house. It was absolutely wonderful!!!
When else in life will you have the opportunity to have your grown kids come home and live with you for an extended period of time, when the reasoning is because they want to and not because they have to!! How blessed and lucky were we.
That's why I quietly say that the pandemic brought great fortune to my wife and I at the same time it was bringing sorrow and despair to most of the world.
So now we have this house full of people, all day, every day!!! Everyone of us was still working so the days had someone in every room privately working and on conference calls.
Yes, we had to upgrade our home Wifi and Internet communications network since we now had 8 people plugging away at it all day every day. As the weather got nicer, the individual working environments made their way to the back deck, under the umbrella, and even out to lounge chairs in the sun.
As I said, everyone worked hard all day. But when 5:00 hit, the work whistle blew and happy hour started. Every day we had appetizers and drinks, prior to a large dinner. We divided up the choirs and every night, someone different was responsible for making dinner. We created weekly charts which hung on the refridgerator door which stated who would be in charge of making dinner every night. That person or persons could make whatever it is they wanted. It really worked out great since the burden of cooking for this large contingency didn't fall on the hands of one or two people.
As you can imagine, dinner times were great. Aside from the great food, there was always great conversation. We no longer needed to use text groups, zoom sessions, or phone calls. We were all together each night at the dinner table having invaluable face-to-face conversations.
And as hard as it is to believe, everyone got along great. The social activities were non-stop and I have to thank the kids for that.
First off, every day, we would take a group walk during a work lunch break. The walk was typically a short one mile walk to the end of the street and back. We'd repeat that same walk every night after dinner. Imagine that, a group walk twice a day.
Weekends were always extra special. The kids would come up with different theme activities. There were so many that I'm not going to be able to list them all here but a few of the more memorable one's I'll touch on.
There was an "around the world" food extravaganza. Each one of us picked a foreign country and we each had to make some sort of food from that country. With 8 people participating, there was alot of food prepared and we went from one station to another, getting a presentation on that countries food and being able to sample the food. They even made each of us little passports where we got stamps at each countries food station. All the food was delicious. The one country that really stands out is Australia. My oldest son picked Australia and for his dish he prepared "kangaroo burgers". I have to say, it wasn't something that thrilled me when I heard of his masterpiece, but in the spirit of the event, I did indulge myself.
On top of all the food, did I mention there was alot of alcohol consumed? One night, similar to the around the world food event, each person came up with a different drink that you had to sample. Everything from wine and beer, to exotic drinks. In case I didn't mention it, alot of alcohol was consumed over that 5 month period!!!
Every weekend, we took advantage of a fire pit we have in our back yard back on the edge of the woods. We'd take chairs out back, circle the chairs around the fire pit, get a huge fire going, and sit around eating smore's and talking and playing games.
Similarly, we have a small firepit on our deck, so nights when we didn't feel up for the big firepit, we simply lit the gas powered fire pit on the deck and sat around with foud and drinks, talking, telling stories, and playing games.
Then one night, we brought the family room big screen TV out on the deck, selected a movie, made lots of popcorn, and watched a movie outdoor under the stars. These were all always fun nights!!!
As things slowly started opening up, we'd make reservations at different places for dinner and/or outdoor activities. There was never a dull moment.
One of the great things the kids did was make a video of our entire family based on the theme song to "Full House". It's a pretty funny video and you can watch it by clicking on this link.
There were so many great times over this 5 month period that I couldn't even begin to put them all on paper. I wish I took better notes while all this was happening but I was too busy enjoying each and every moment.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
I guess it was sometime in late July, early August, that everyone decided it was time to go home. What started out to be a simple week for all of us to be together turned into a 5 month adventure.
I like to think that those 5 months helped strengthen our family bonds. As everyone returned to New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Tennesee, the house all of a sudden turned very quiet. My wife went back to work face-to-face as well. This left me working remotely in this big house, all by myself. From a full house of 8 people, now down to one.
The lunchtime walks I now take by myself, but during the entire walk, I have this huge smile on my face thinking about the great opportunity the pandemic created for me to be able to bond with my children and family. It just made me realize more and more how extremely lucky and blessed I am.
Keeping Communications Open: Post Pandemic Lockdown
So now we returned to being that family that is living apart but we continue to use all the tools mentioned earlier to stay in close touch with each other. Communications are as good as ever and we always look forward to the next time when we will all be together.
That has happened twice since the 5 month live-in. The entire family got together in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week's worth of eating and drinking which culminated in the small pandemic impacted wedding of my second son. Did I mention there was some alcoholic beverages consumed. It was a great time. We rented a large AirBnB one block from the ocean and the house was party central for the entire week.
More recently, the entire family went out to Nashville to spend a long weekend visitting my daughter. We all met up there, rented another AirBnB, and had a fantastic time. If you've never been to Nashville, its definitely a place to visit. Did I mention that there was alot of alcohol consumed during that weekend? In either case, the country music, the weather, the atmosphere, and the culture were all fabulous, but the best part of all was us all being together again as a family.
The Book That Got Me to Write this Article
The entire reason that I decided to pen this article was based on this book I read, entitled "Long Distance Family - Keeping Communications and Family Relationships Strong When Living Far Apart", written by Melanie Rose. Sure, right now I think we as a family have this communications thing covered. We are still a pretty young family with plenty of time ahead of us. I'm sure there will be difficult times ahead when communications will become more difficult to keep up and running. When our kids have kids of their own, life gets alittle more difficult and having the time to stay in touch with family that is far away becomes even more difficult.
It is during these difficult times in the future that I hope this communications fiber we created continues on and even gets stronger as we bring more people into the family fold.
The hope is that the rituals and habits we create today carry on far into the future and will be used to continue keep our family relationships strong as well as for generations to come.
I think that open communications will always be there as long as you work to keep those communication lines open.Don't let distance stand between you and your loved ones. A simple "hello" and "I was thinking about you" in a two second text message will go a long way.
I'd love to hear your comments on this topic. If your family is spread out geographically, I'd love to hear what, if anything you do to keep in touch.
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