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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Skype That Smile Off Your Face


My father, who cannot use a computer, much less receive e-mail, has been pushing and pestering me toward a new computer project: Skype. He’s preceded me into cyber-computalk-land for one very compelling reason. It’s free.

Trailing after that is the fact that he has never “seen” his latest grandson, apart from still photos and a bit of video. Not enough for the restless native grandparents, clanging the locks on our front gates. Nothing but real-time simulcast will suffice. With Skype, our Russian extended family will now be able to interact and chat to their hearts’ content, which will create a whole host of new problems.

Think about it. There may be valid grounds for why we live quite some distance from each other. As a matter of fact, both Benedetto’s and my side of the family have moved far from us. Could be a ritual shunning of sorts.

So I do my part and send out the occasional funny newsletter, chronicling details of life that I’m sure interests a whopping 2-3% of my faithful readership. I’m not one for phone calls, the inane chitchat that consumes large pockets of time, gobbled at a gulp, never to be seen again until the phone bill comes at the end of the month.

Skype was actually my idea. I mentioned it in passing, knowing that my father had practically no chance to follow-up on the idea. Enter his wife who has relatives in the Old Country. The rest is history.

“Alexandra, when will you be getting your web cam?” he telephones me one day, ostensibly to speak with the boys. Instead, he needles me with his favorite subject, Skype. He is pursuing this thing with a passion, and it’s becoming irritating.

“Dad, it’s a time issue, okay? We have to research a camera, learn how to install it, figure out how to make a call,” I try to explain.

“Go to any regular store that has web cameras. That’s what we did. They’re $25.”

Honestly, it must not be difficult if he and Tamara had installed one. They don’t even have a printer for their computer since neither one would know how to set it up. That’s why he tells me all the time not to send any photos by e-mail. He needs a hard copy. And now this elderly technophobe had a web cam before we did.

Naturally, any of the cameras we can find are not Mac compatible. It takes a few weeks to locate enough time to go to the Apple Store, look at them, and buy the camera. At last, all the components come into place. We are ready for our trial call.

And that’s when I start to have second thoughts. Our family has just driven for eight hours to the dacha. The plane is being serviced. We’ve been up far too long, and now I have my pajamas on by early evening. Do I really want to appear on a camera?

These are the things we must consider. But off we go, tripping into tech time with the grandparents. We learn how to click on the computer to call them. They never even notice the clothes.

“Allo! Allo!” shouts Tamara, her voice garbled, shouting in Russian that could have been Urdu for all we knew.

We see their picture, two older people squinting at the blank screen before them.

“We can’t see you,” Dad puzzles.

“We see you,” Benedetto confirms.

“Turn the Skype off, and then on,” I instruct in Russian, having learned this from Petya, our own computer whiz. Some would need to take college level computer classes to have such valuable information.

They call back.

“Allo! Allo! Oy, vee see you!” shouts Tamara. My father’s large head with bushy white hair takes up most of the screen.

They begin drilling the grandchildren with multiple questions. It becomes apparent to me why we live far away, even though my mother and father were the ones to move. My head is spinning after just five minutes. It’s as though they have never met the kids, now that they can see them face-to-face. They have been together with Petya numerous times. Pasha is the only new arrival.

“Pashinka! Vhat do they call you?” Mind you, this is all in Russian. Benedetto sneaks away after his 30 seconds on camera.

“Uhhh… Pasha-?” the poor child is confused.

I jump in, as I am prone to do, sticking my face inbetween the boys. “We call them by their formal names outside the home, and by their diminutives inside the home.”

“Ahhh,” they relax, understanding why we refer to them in a dual manner at various times.

“Do you have blue-grey eyes?”  they shout, as though they have never received a photo of the children, and as though this high tech machinery requires shouting like we’re talking into a tin can with string inbetween us. How they can see any color or definition is a mystery to me. All I can say is that our camera must be much better than their el cheapo one. We must be crystal clear, while the grandparents are blurry, and grainy. Neechevo, doesn’t matter. Still worth it.

Pasha sits silent.

“It’s a video camera,” I prod him. “You have to speak.”

The grandparents chuckle. Pasha is visibly impressed with the ability to see his own living, breathing image in the small square inside the bigger picture. I would need a magnifying glass to see myself, but am not about to put on my reading glasses at a history-making moment such as this.

“Mama, can I go back to the movie?”  Petya whispers at my side, while I am coaxing Pasha to speak. This is not working. Pushing and pulling, the story of my life. I can’t whisper, elbow, threaten, or make any other type of reasonable parental telephone gestures now that we’re on the big screen.

“Right, Pasha has blue eyes like Mama, and Petya has brown eyes like Papa,”  I insert.  “Okay, well, we just wanted to try it out, maybe next week, we’ll be able to call…”  I wrap it up and we set a time for a few days distant.

At the appointed day and hour, they call 20 minutes early. This was not in the plan. I was humping even to be ready by the set time. We had traveled eight hours again that day, one dog had been at the animal hospital at 5:00 am for a quick prescription, Pasha had forgotten half of his schoolwork at our first house, and then felt ill himself for most of the day.

“What is that NOISE?”  I shout to Benedetto in another part of the house. It sounds like the twang of a mouth harp, very odd.

“That must be the Skype. Someone is calling,” he shouts back. Though we have intercoms installed, or maybe they’re security alarms, or could be smoke detectors or mini microwaves, for all I know about electronics, it’s easier to shout.

“Now?”  I’m in shock. “It’s 20 minutes early!”

“Allo! Allo!” I hear Tamara screaming. The grandparents have come to visit, and we can’t get rid of them. “G’dyeh dyeti?” (Where are the children?)

“Petya! Pasha!” Benedetto calls them.

“Pasha, come here!” I bellow back. I had told both boys ten minutes ago that they needed to brush their teeth. Neither had, of course, since “we had time”. The kids would be chatting with chicken stuck in their teeth. Wonderful. No time now. Plus, Pasha’s hair resembles that of one who had wrestled with a wild Russian bear. He was not going on camera like this.

“Boys, come here!” Benedetto directs again.

“Pasha, now!”  I yell back. It takes me all of two seconds to slick him down, and slick him back. There, good as new. Off we all go for our appointment. Dad’s head looms front and center. Tamara is shouting incomprehensibly.

And I wonder why we avoided these fun family moments.

“Okay, if you shout at the camera, we can’t hear you,” I say, trying to direct it at no one in particular. “Dad, it might help if you back up. Step away from the camera.”

Unlike my intentions, the boys have nothing to talk about. They have departed from the script. There is no script. For a Type A controlling personality, we have just entered the eternal abyss. Let the inquisition begin.

“Vhat did you eat for dinner?” starts Tamara.

“Cheeken, kooritsa,” says Pasha, which will be one of his few real contributions to the conversation today.

I wonder whether they can see the boys’ teeth with our high-quality web camera. We discuss vegetables and which ones the boys like. So far, so good. This is what grandparents are for: to urge the Eating of Vegetables. Now we move on to Behavior.

“Santa Claus, what is Santa Claus going to bring you?” urges Dyedushka.

“We don’t believe in Santa Claus,” Petya responds. The time delay means we are all constantly talking over the top of each other. We might as well be cosmonauts calling from outer space.

“You have to be good, or you won’t get anything,” he stresses.

“Nyetoo Santa Claus,” Pasha inserts. (There is no Santa Claus.) We’re getting nowhere. It’s becoming an Excedrin moment.

“Have you been naughty or nice?” Dad continues unabated.

“Where are the dogs?”  I call to Benedetto who has left me in this Russian rabble-babble conversational pit.

“I’m taking them out,” and he disappears once again..

The time delay kicks in. “The dogs? Are they there?” asks my father. “Show us Misha and Grisha.”

I wish I could. I feel like Groucho Marx and his brothers with subjects running in and out of the doors of my house. Each time I want one topic to appear, a different one pops up. Slam! goes the door behind him.

“In a minute they’ll be back. Petya played golf today and tested very well,” I try a new theme.

“Oh? And what sport does Pasha play?” inquires Babushka Tamara.

“Well, he took swimming lessons so far with my help, but the other sports he needs to learn some English first.”

“Shah’matee! Do you play chess? Shah’matee!”  Tamara grills. I wonder if she knows about the long-distance pause. The kids can’t get a word in edgewise.

“Dah,” Petya tries.

“Russian or American chess?”

They fall mute. We don’t want to ask what’s the difference, or does she mean do they play in Russian or in English, or what? There are lots of gaps in this see and speak session, where we rarely see Tamara at all.

Meantime, my dad’s head looms closer and closer, like a UFO that’s ready to land. He’s playing with the control panels and all of a sudden his face goes pixelated, his head breaking up into dozens of Kandinsky-like squares. Sputnik is quickly going kaput.

“Dad, what did you do to your face? Don’t touch any control panels!” I warn him.

So he fiddles some more.

My mother and Benedetto’s father are no longer with us. They would have loved the kids. I’m glad we have grandparents who want to talk with, or shout to, their grandchildren. In a high-tech world, old-fashioned memories are being made.

Just then the dogs come in. We give the folks a quick look-see and they love them. Black, fluffy, adorable, the Scotties listen intently as kisses are blown to them. At least the grandparents can’t ask the dogs many questions. A shame, they really looked interested.

Saved… until next week, same time.



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