As an aunt whose nieces and nephew live in other parts of the country, I am a big fan of Face Time.
I have often celebrated and commended this modern technology that has allowed me to interact with my favorite young relatives on a regular basis. I can see what they’re eating for dinner, watch them open packages I’ve sent, sing them “Happy Birthday” (and vice versa), and let them see what my kitties are doing at any given moment.
As a result, I have often wondered what it would have been like if FaceTime had been around when I was a kid.
I remember talking on the phone with my grandparents and my favorite aunt, and I have a lot of special mail that they sent me over the years. But even though my aunt called us from California about once a month, I had no idea what she looked like until I first met her in person when I was 9. (I had pictured a tall, pale redhead, when in fact she turned out to be fairly short, with dark hair and an olive complexion.) I’ve realized that my own nieces would never be confused about what I look like, because they have seen me dozens of times in their early years, even though now I’m the aunt who lives far away in California.
Last month there were a couple surprising twists in my communications as an aunt.
First, I received some postcards in the mail from my 4-year-old niece, who had been visiting with my mom. Mom let my niece dictate what she wanted to say on the postcards. “Dear Auntie Rebbles, We went to the aquarium. And saw lemurs. We rided on the shuttle and it broke down. We went into the old train station and we went into the tea room and it was so fun…” (These will be hanging on my fridge from now until the end of time.)
When I texted my sister and asked her to pass along my thanks for these treasures, she told me that their family had recently installed a landline phone, and answering it had become my niece’s new favorite thing.
Which is how, in the year 2017, I came to be calling my 4-year-old niece on her landline to thank her for the snail mail.
To my surprise, it was one of the most engaging and entertaining conversations I’ve ever had long-distance with my niece. After answering the phone (“Hello, Charlotte speaking”), she proceeded with several pleasantries: “Auntie Rebbles, how are you?” and “Auntie Rebbles, how are your kitties?” She told me what she’d been doing that day, gave the phone to her little sister for awhile, and finished with a rousing singing performance.
It felt like a real full-circle moment, to be communicating with my niece for the first time in the ways my favorite aunt had always communicated with me.
And it reminded me that, in those years long before Face Time and texting and phones without cords, I never doubted that my aunt and my grandparents loved me deeply. I always felt their strong presence in my life, even when I didn’t know what they looked like. Modern technology certainly offers amazing tools to connect, but real, genuine presence can be felt no matter how it is conveyed.
Presence is one of the guiding principles of Braid, and I watch it in full force every time I get to observe all of you interacting with your youth.
When you are with your youth, I can feel each of you directing your full attention toward them. Even if you are not interacting with them directly at every moment, it is obvious that you are completely conscious of their wellbeing. If I had some sort of x-ray vision, I think I would see beams of affection radiating out from your hearts directly toward those young people, almost like the telephone cords that used to connect me to my beloved relatives – and now, my niece.
Thank you for all the ways you find to communicate and transmit your wholehearted presence to your youth. I know they feel that presence and care in the hour you spend with them each week, and I have no doubt that it echoes through all the hours of the week in between and will continue to echo throughout their lives.