Text and social media may disrupt some families, but it’s what keeps this family together.
The sound of Sherlock Holmes’ deep, throaty “I’ve got a text” is a welcome interruption throughout my day. There is a power in those four little words only I can relate to, a feeling I can’t quite describe.
Hearing those words makes me smile, makes me feel warm inside whether I’m in the midst of grocery shopping or an endless pile of laundry. You see, that sound means my husband has sent me a text from across the ocean and it is more than a notification. His words take flight, swirling across the miles, over hills and mountains, city lights and sun drenched beaches to a final destination that is my phone but ultimately my heart.
When you spend five out of seven days with a large body of water between you, turning into forty-something year old texting teenagers, carrying your phone around like it’s attached to your hand is inevitable. When I read articles about how important it is to disconnect from our phones, to limit our children’s time on electronic devices, it makes me cringe because of what that would mean to my family. Disconnecting from these devices means disconnecting from each other. I realize the articles are meant to encourage “quality time” and “family time” but for us, our devices are what allow us to share these times even if it is in a non-traditional way.
Once upon a time, like most couples, our conversations were long, drawn out discussions about our future, world issues, hopes and dreams, as we gazed into each other’s eyes, holding hands on a lazy afternoon. Now, my husband is gone almost every week from Monday through Friday, leaving only weekends for both family time and time as a couple. Today, we embrace every aspect of modern technology to keep the conversation going. It is our way of staying connected and my way of ensuring my husband still feels like part of our daily lives. Imagine feeling like you’re seeing your family through a fishbowl, wondering what the water is like, watching them laugh at inside jokes you don’t get because you’re always on the other side of the glass.
We no longer have the traditional family dinners around the dining room table, passing the potatoes and covering the day’s events. Those dinners have morphed into the kids and I sitting at tray tables in front of the television while my husband connects with us via Xbox Kinect. There is no passing of the potatoes, but seeing him on the screen makes it feel a little less like something/someone is missing during our meals. It is a way of giving our children a sense of normal even if isn’t a scene from The Waltons.
And when the dreaded math homework has me stumped, even though our children are only in third and seventh grades, the kids Kinect with dad to solve a math problem. Much like it would play out in person, they express frustration, lose patience, and want to quit. In that moment, as I watch from a distance, I am grateful that my husband has the opportunity to teach them, encourage them, and console them when the waterworks inevitably begin. It gives him the opportunity to virtually kiss the boo boo and put a band aid on it.
It’s not ideal, but social media keeps us connected when it’s simply impossible to be present.
We’re not the kind of couple who “talk” via each other’s Facebook walls, but I do tag him in photos of the kids at a game, playing outside, or simply laying on the floor petting the dogs. The photos may appear mundane to those who see them, but to my husband they mean the world because they are tiny glimpses into the parts of our life he feels he’s missing out on by being so far away. He follows the kids and me on Instagram, though I’m fairly certain he’s never posted a single photo. For him, it’s another way to see the world through our eyes when he can’t stand beside us.
Our lives may appear different, but he is a father above all else and like most parents, he is always finding ways to keep that line of communication open with the kids. On any given day, our twelve year old daughter will receive multiple emails from him with a recent article on The Avengers next movie, especially if there is mention of Loki, or a link to anything Sherlock Holmes (the BBC version, of course). He even sends her announcements of Hot Topic’s latest buy one get one 50% off sale. Wait, that’s every day. Our son’s emails from him are all about football, the latest Madden release date, the draft, etc. It’s yet another way for them to remain connected and feel their dad’s presence throughout the day.
When our kids were babies, my husband loved to bounce them on his knee, while playing his endless variety of music until they dozed off to the sounds of Frank Sinatra one night and Nine Inch Nails another. I would stand in the doorway and watch as he instilled his own passion for music in each of our children, which is why it’s no surprise today they share a Spotify account and interact on yet another level with their playlists and song choices. I love to see my kids crank up the volume when a song that is older than the two of them put together comes on, and when asked how they know it, the answer is always “Dad” with a big smile on their face. I believe with all my heart as they get older and move away, there will be certain songs that will instantly transport them back to the nights when a man who loved them more than life itself held them in his arms and shared his music collection.
As for the two of us, our phones can predict our words before we type them.
“I miss you.”
“I love you.”
“Wish you were here.”
“I can’t wait for you to be home.”
It’s comforting and a bit sad because it means we’re having the same conversations over and over, yet it shows we still miss each other enough to say it. It’s hard to constantly find a different way to express emotions through texting, though I have been known to send him photos of Legos in compromising positions that have made him literally laugh out loud at work. It’s the creative spirit in me.
As grateful as we are for all the technology that helps us stay connected as a family and as a couple on a daily basis, there’s no substitute for being together physically. And, there is no greater reminder of this than bedtime.
I tuck the children into bed each night, holding the cell phone with one hand so they can see their daddy, and I’m struck by how normal this routine has become for us. I remind myself that this isn’t permanent. One day soon, their on screen daddy will once again be in their room every night, holding their hand and stroking their hair while they share all the last minute golden nuggets of information that children save for those moments right before they drift off to sleep. I tell myself that they will once again experience bedtime as it should be, filled with hugs and kisses and whispers, and tickling because what dad doesn’t get the kids stirred up when it’s time for bed. As I tiptoe out of their room, I long for the nights when rather than placing their small finger to the screen as they crave his touch, they can simply lay their head on his chest as he wraps them in his arms.
As for me, bedtime is that moment at the end of my day when I lay my head on the pillow and review the day’s events, mentally checking off all the moments I’m grateful for and all the moments I hope to do better tomorrow. I check my Twitter feed for current news, scroll through Facebook for the latest on my friends, and see what my kids have shared on Instagram. And, because Pinterest is “just for me” I spend a few minutes pinning my dream kitchens and dream vacations.
Before turning off the lamp, I send my husband one more photo of the kids asleep in their beds.
As I drift off to sleep, having received one last “I’ve got a text” notification, I am grateful for all the ways technology is the glue that keeps my family together. We have found modern ways to live a traditional life. And yet, there’s no substitute for pillow talk and cuddles, nothing can replace the physical touch of the person you love. Falling asleep to the rhythm of their breathing as their chest rises and falls beneath you can only be experienced when you’re sharing a bed. Technology has helped us survive the miles between us bringing us closer in many ways, but it will never beat the feel of a long kiss goodnight.
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Photo: Getty Images