Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Not many of us are destined to live in the romantic comedy geography that always seems to be the backdrop of family closeness. The idyllic living situation where your parents are close, but not too close. Your best friends and siblings are all within a short drive. You have family dinners and can hold all celebrations together in a big backyard where something memorable always occurs. That is not the reality for most of us.
Almost everyone has at least a few loved ones very far away. In different time-zones and even different continents. With the new norm of pandemic life exacerbating this harsh reality I thought I would share some of the ways I have been able to share my love from a distance.
Take them out to dinner
So much of our celebrations revolve around sharing a meal together. If you aren’t able to do it with them physically - fake it. For Mother’s Day/Father’s Day/ birthdays/anniversaries etc I have sent a meal from their favorite restaurant or food genre. Even for my mother who lives in Germany I was able to pull this off. There are “UberEats” equivalents all over the world. Google Translate enables sites to be translated for easy ordering. Most people don’t enjoy to eating on a video call. Combined with the fact that you may be in different time zones I would recommend not setting up an actual meal video call. I generally schedule time after so we can talk about how they enjoyed it rather than watch them eat it #awkward. This can be expanded to many types of occasions. I’ve sent the nurses on my niece’s NICU floor coffee and doughnuts, sent birthday cakes, sent a box of New Orleans flavored goodies for Mardi Gras, get creative. When you are far apart you don’t get to just go out to lunch or dinner with your loved ones for no reason. Create a reason to celebrate. Usually you can keep the cost lower than if you did go out to dinner and the sending love is worth so much more.
Schedule regularly reoccurring video calls
Everyone has a busy life. Sometimes you look up and realize you haven’t seen or spoken to your loved ones in weeks. Prevent this by making it a regular calendar item. This eliminates the forgetful or “too busy” factor because it is already on your schedule! It also creates some excitement throughout the week. Something to look forward to. If you need to cancel or move it one week, fine. However, it will give you a cadence to work from. Children and grandparents especially look for to this. If you have tiny beings that you are missing, I highly recommend this. They know that they will see Grandma or Auntie or whomever on Tuesday night. It is comforting to them and allows you to celebrate the week’s little and big events.
Utilize connection apps
If you have children, then you probably know about a service called Tinybeans. This app allows you to upload daily photos and videos in a calendar like map and share them with very close family members. You don’t have to share with the whole of social media. There is a level of privacy and intimacy. You can also look back easily over the months and years. It is easy to save to your camera roll, and order photo books of the photos in a few simple steps. I adore this app for following my nieces and nephew. Every morning I sip my coffee and look at the new uploads of their tiny lives. I can see them start to talk, progress with shapes and sounds, and even have full blown melt downs. It is a great way to see the everyday things when you aren’t physically there.
Marco Polo is a video message-based app I absolutely love. This allows you to send video clips to your group that they can view at their leisure. You can record quickly in the app or upload from your camera roll. It is so nice to send quick messages to your family. It doesn’t take up a bunch of message space on your phone and makes it easy to go back and look at past videos. This again is something I look forward to checking every day.
Finding connection points can be difficult with distance. Creating fun themes is a way to celebrate together when you are apart. My niece in the NICU has different themed sheets, custom made by my mother, that give us a reason to celebrate. We have institute things such as “Flamingo Friday”. This gives us a reason to sport a theme all day knowing that our loved one is too. Things like this have grown into family symbols. I now sport a bright neon pink LED light shaped like a flamingo on my desk. I take pictures or videos with it on Friday to send to my niece. It may be small, but it is a connection point that brings me some joy.
Have twin items
Items normally have value not for their monetary prowess but for their emotional connection. My best friend and I have identical silk scarves that we bought together in Paris at Chanel’s flagship store on rue Cambon. Every time we wear it the other gets a picture and a little bit of the friendship magic lifts our hearts throughout the day.
My mother has the exact same Pete the Cat stuffed animal as my nieces and nephew. When they video each other they are always excited to hold it up to the camera to show grandma their same toy. They know that is a connection to this person. Whether it is a toy, book, or matching wine glasses it is a little some extra to tie you together when far away.
If you have tiny ones that are far away it can be especially difficult to get those daily moments of singing songs at bath time and reading them goodnight stories. My niece Tilly has never left the children’s hospital where she was born over a year ago. The noises there are constant. Beeping, talking, drawers opening and closing. I found one trip that Tilly responded particularly well to music and loved people talking to her and around her. Even when she was heavily sedated you could see her stats tick up with singing and storytelling. I knew I could not stay by her bedside forever, as much as I wanted to. I wanted to find a way that Tilly could regularly have updated stories and songs from Auntie Coco without me physically being there. SoundCloud provides a great option. I bought a SoundCloud pro account (which gives you a vast online storage amount). I signed my sister into the account and created playlist of stories and songs that she could stream or download. I can add to it from across the country anytime and moments later it is available for Tilly. I make holiday playlist, bath time playlist, and something I have dubbed musical stories (where I read Disney books and stop and sing the movie songs in the appropriate place). This gives the parents the freedom to have you do story time that night or have you sing them to sleep. It is a wonderful and lasting library of you. PSA – DO NOT have too much wine on Thanksgiving and record drunken Christmas music. They will listen to it, love it, and play it for everyone they know in perpetuity. Do NOT drink and upload!
Joint Movie Night
Sharing a show or movie with your loved ones is such a fun connection point. It can be difficult to start films or shows at EXACTLY the same time – I have done it but it’s hard. This would allow you to video call and literally watch together. Most often we start the movie together and then text and send pictures throughout the viewing. This way we can talk about Elle Wood’s early 2000 hair and style and laugh together even though we are apart.
When you can’t be there to hold their hand send something they can hold in their hand. I send notes that talk about a memory, funny thought, or smile worthy story. It is small but there is something to the lost art of letter writing. I have kept many of these letters and cards over the years and it is wonderful to revisit. It really does hold more value than scrolling through old texts.
Our world seems to be growing smaller but sometimes the spaces and distance can seem larger. I hope these few tips and tricks help bridge that divide and bring you and your love ones together even when you are far apart.