Thursday, August 15, 2013

Holidays: Thriving on Birthdays with Skype

Gabriel's birthday is coming up in September. We have plenty of time to come up with a plan. And what a great plan it is shaping up to be!

In the States, we got together with family for birthdays. The grandparents all spoiled the children rotten for their special day. Gabriel's last birthday, we went to the grandparent's house and had an Angry Bird birthday party. He loved it! He loved being with family. He loved the decorations. He loved the presents and the awesome cake!

But just because we are almost exactly on the other side of the hemisphere from our family, doesn't mean we cannot have family get-togethers for birthdays. It just takes a little more creativity and determination... and a little cooperation from the internet.

There is no doubt, we have been blessed with really great family members. They share the same desire of making the miles between us seem less than they really are. And not just for birthdays either.

For Christmas morning, we woke up to Mr. and Mrs. Claus. It was hilarious! Our family doesn't even do the Santa Claus thing, and that made this even FUNNIER! They had the Skype zone decorated for Christmas, too.

For our oldest son's birthday, they went all gangsta... or were they Men in Black??? Ha! Either way, the Skype zone was loaded with birthday decorations.

These two do not even need a holiday to send a Skype smile! Here they are as Farmer Bob and Betsy.

The real message these Skype calls send? They aren't sitting there pining away over how much they miss us, nor do they want us doing that for them. They are keeping things positive, refreshing, and fun. They are, in a crazy and fun way, saying that they are cheering us on from the other side of the world... and that distance cannot stop the closeness of a family.

Now, my mom is not as out-going and crazy in that sense, but she is definitely loads of fun and grandmotherly sweetness! Just last week, we figured out how to play Connect Four with her over Skype. We put the game up close to our camera. A child would take a turn, and then my mom would call out the number of the column she wanted her disk to be dropped in.

One of the funniest activities we have done with her over Skype is play MadLibs! Talk about laughing until we couldn't breathe!

She may not be dressing up as a comic book hero or a cartoon character, but the quality time she is spending with us is a treasure. Her Skype style is games, reading books, and just being the silliest, funnest Mamaw she can be.

She and my Granny love to hear the kids tell about all their adventures here. (Speaking of Skype birthdays... on my Granny's birthday, we put the camera beside the piano and sang songs for her and my mom. Skype concerts can be a real blessing. My Granny cried and cried! She loved it!)

Again, my mom and Granny aren't focused on how much they miss our family. They do miss us, but they choose to keep things positive, playful, and relationship-building. Yes, our biggest cheerleaders are our family members.

Tips for making the most of Skype:

  1. Timing is everything! Pick a time to "meet" that works the best for everyone, including the internet! Our internet seems to work the best in the morning or early afternoon. Evenings are tough and can lead to real disappointment. Plan the time ahead of time. Surprise Skype calls in areas where internet is not very dependable can cause unnecessary tears and frustration.
  2. Have a back-up plan. Sometimes the internet just will not cooperate. We keep our Vonage phone ready just in case. There have been times where we could get a picture, but then lost the sound. So we used the phone for sound and Skype for the picture. We have also had times when we just had to accept it was not going to work out. We try to plan a back-up TIME as well. Just remember that the number one trait of a missionary is flexibility. Also remember that the children are watching our reactions. When we get overly frustrated with an uncooperative internet that ruins our plans, they see that we lack self control. Have an attitude of thankfulness. Warn family of the likelihood of these occasional hiccups and keep things positive for them, too.
  3. Discover your Skype style... and theirs. My In-laws (especially Donna) are all about creativity and dressing up. Nothing brings them more joy than to see our reaction when the camera loads up to reveal their latest costume. My Mom is more of the sit down together and play a game or tell a funny story type. She can play pretend with the best of them! She is focused on relationship-building. Our style is a little of everything! We just love to hang out with family! We aren't afraid to dress up, play a game, or sing songs. Granny is the sentimental type. Make the Skype call more meaningful to family on both sides of the screen by respecting that their style may be a little different. I certainly wouldn't expect Granny to dress up like Captain America. She gets embarrassed too easily! But we know she loves sentimental moments. We try to make the most of that when she gets on Skype.
  4. Take advantage of the visuals to be a blessing. Skype is a very visual tool, obviously. Pick good lighting. Don't be afraid to decorate the Skype zone! You don't have to do it every time, but occasional banners, balloons, etc. let others know you really thought about their call and value your time together.
  5. Make a list. There is nothing more frustrating than getting on a Skype call with nothing to talk about. It usually isn't that there is nothing to tell, but sometimes we forget what happened that week. Before the call, think through the adventures of your week that the other person may enjoy hearing all about.
  6. Show and Tell. Grab items that you want to show people and tell them the story behind them. Have them close at hand. Did you get a new outfit? Find a new gadget? Did the kids make pet rocks? Get a good grade on school work? Etc.
  7. Think outside the box. Play games, read books, have a meal together, have a party together, dress up, fake mustaches, gather supplies to work on the same craft together over Skype, challenge each other to build the tallest house of cards... the options are limitless!
  8. Keep it positive! The most important factor is to make every Skype meeting something the families on BOTH sides of the screen look forward to. The more creative you get, the more it will seem like they are right there!
  9. Share the moments. Time differences do not always make it possible, but grab every chance to share moments that would have been shared if you lived in the same town. Pulled teeth, first bike rides (if you have a portable Skype device,) holidays, graduations, Lego creations... 
So, now speaking of "sharing the moments," here's the plan for Gabriel's birthday...
Uh oh... here it comes... To Be Continued...

(If you have been following the Holidays: Thriving, Not Just Surviving series, you knew that was coming...)


Joyful said...

Wow, your family really puts a lot of thought into "together time". How fun for all of you. xx

Jen said...

Such great ideas! I've shared this with my family and my husband's. Thanks, Charity!

Rachel said...

We Skype with both sides of our family as often as we can all fit it in our schedule. Thanks for lots of new, fun ideas to work on to make those times special and fun.

One year we had a great time Christmas caroling (with Santa hats on) to our family for a fun family night.

Jolene Sloan said...

This has GOT to be my favorite post on here ever!!! I even shared it with my hubby, and this is an idea we can share with his missions students. :-)

You have AMAZING parents!!!