Of course the invention of video calling like Skype and Facetime was a great thing. The positives are obvious – it’s free, it allows people to see friends and family across the world, it’s simple and easy to use. Once upon a time you needed a desktop computer and a headset and microphone, then every laptop had webcams and microphone’s built on and now all you need is your phone.
So what is wrong with me that despite all the obvious benefits, I hate Skype? After eleven years of living abroad and five years of motherhood, I have Skype burnout. Yeah, I get it’s not about me and my parent’s just want to see the kids and that most Skype calls are probably people calling their parents and grandparents with children, but all this logic doesn’t stop me hating it with a childish intensity usually reserved for the nightly news. When I get the text, e-mail or phone call in preparation for Skype, I feel like whining “Nooooo, not the news” like millions of children across the world whine at six pm.
Even when there’s no child wrangling involved, I hate it. Where do you look? Do you gaze straight into your friend or relative’s eyes for the entire conversation? Does anyone look this intently at someone in a face-to-face conversation? Do you try to make out what the room or house looks like behind them and then force them to awkwardly manoeuvre the computer around the house and narrate? “Um, this is the laundry room, we haven’t finished painting in here. Here’s all our dirty laundry and dirty dishes…literally.”
I definitely don’t need to see my own double-chin starting at me while I talk. The pallor, dark circles, patchy skin, parts of your neck and jaw you would never normally inspect are a big distraction on that mini-fun mirror in the corner of the screen. Throw in a five hour time difference and you have lots of video calls in bathrobes or at very inopportune times. My children think my mom never gets dressed and wears pjs and a robe all day because of the time difference (or maybe she doesn’t?!) That brings me to the real torture – babies and children on Skype. You know how as soon as you try to make a phone call, your children either cling to your legs and say “Mom, mom, mom” or else the flee to corners of the house where they silently grab bags of chips or worse less edible snacks like play dough and scoff them down with glee? Or how they grab diaper cream and wipe it all over their face and a spare bed? Well, a video call in my house means “Me too” (the youngest) is stuck like glue to the computer and insists (by screeching at the top of her lungs “I wanna hold it. I wanna press the red button!”) on taking control while the older more coherent child turns into a spy and hides around corners only letting his foot show. “Tell them I went out. Can they see me?”
What’s the big deal, it surely can’t be that hard to get two kids to sit and chat a few times per week for five minutes? Well there’s a reason I don’t have any family portraits done and Skype is just like a family portrait session on Groundhog Day.
We have some version of this conversation every week in our house. Oh, we can’t use Facetime because my mother has the only Iphone in the world ‘that doesn’t have Facetime.’
Please tell me I am not alone in this video communication hell.
“Come here Thomas and Meabh! (Repeat ten times). We’re going to call Granny/Grandad/both on Skype so you can talk to them.” (This is said with lots of enthusiasm like a pregame pep talk.)
“Why?” (I have answered this same why roughly 253 times).
“Because Granny and Grandad miss you and want to see you. Now you’re going to be good and talk to them. No running around. Please turn off the match/movie/show for a few minutes so we can hear.” (I’m still using my smiling mom phone voice).
“I don’t want to talk.” “I wanna use the ‘puter. I wanna watch monkeys jumping on the bed!”
“No Meabh, we need the computer to call them. Do you really need that laser on right now Thomas? Turn off that Peppa Pig keyboard/talking Buzz LightYear/awful race car.” (Smiling voice is going).
When I sit down, the other person is inevitably not online despite arranging this Skype call by text, email or actual phone call. Yes, we have pre-Skype phone calls to arrange Skype.
Once the ‘connecting’ rigmarole is over, I need to shout to get the children back into the room but this is fine because my mother or father’s sound or video or both will not be working at first attempt so I have time to yell between uttering the following lines:
“We can’t see you. There’s no picture.”
“No, we still can’t see you. You need to put the video camera on. Press the video button.”
“Where’s Granny? I can’t see her” (my toddler loves this part).
“There’s something wrong with this thing. This computer is acting up again!” my mother.
“It’s not the computer Mom; you need to turn the camera on.”
“I did. It’s this computer. It never works right! Aah, there you are.”
“Hello. Say hi everyone….Dad ,you’re not in the picture. Your head is cut off Dad. Still can’t see you, Dad. Caroline, now we can’t see you. Nope, still can’t see you. You have to stand in front of the camera.”
“Are you still in your pjs, Granny? Are you in your pjs again, Granny?”
“Come here and say hi Thomas. Tell Granddad about football. Tell him what you did yesterday?
Blank look. “Remember you had football training?”
“Yeah, I had football training.”
“Get off the couch, get up off the floor. Come back here and talk to your grandparents. Stop jumping on my back. I can’t hear anything
“How are you Colleen? Anything new?”
“Sorry, what? I can’t hear you. Shhhh. Be quiet for two minutes.”
“I don’t know what happened. It just froze. The internet is not great. You’re fading in and out.”
“You look exhausted Colleen. Very pale, are you coming down with something?”
My husband walks in the room.
“Oooh there’s Johnny”. In chorus, “Hi Johnny. How are you?
“Meabh don’t touch the red button. No, not yet. You can press the red button when we’re done. Ok say goodbye. Say bye to Gr-“
“I wanted to press the red button. She ALWAYS gets to press the red button!”