Family in the distance

When it comes to building and sustaining family relationships, technology and a little work can make for big pay-offs

I moved to this far-off island, on the entirely opposite side of the country, eleven years ago this Labour Day weekend. It was both an exciting and terrifying journey. I knew little of what to expect from this move, from this new place, from the people that I might meet. I didn’t yet know how my life would change, or what direction it would take. I certainly didn’t know that I would still be here, eleven years later, with a baby and a family, with career changes and new passions developed during my time on this island. I absolutely didn’t know how entirely this place would capture my heart, how this place would become my heart.

It took many years for people to begin to refer to me as a Newfoundlander. And I myself — knowing the deep history and love that people in Newfoundland have for their home, the deep connection to the land and the pride that people have in their community regardless of whether they live here or have moved away — was hesitant to call myself a Newfoundlander. But here I am, raising a Newfoundland baby, knowing that there’s nowhere else in the world I’d call home. I am proud, everyday, to call this place my home: to explore the land and the space and the culture and the people. To explore my own connection to this place.

Long-distance relationships

This of course means that my baby’s family, on his maternal side, all live away. They are dispersed across North America, and even as far as Australia and Germany. He has grandparents and great-grandparents in British Columbia, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Australia, second and third cousins in Calgary, and further extended family in Germany. And of course, there are the friends that remain family from our many years in British Columbia, and the many friends who have since left Newfoundland for places afar. My baby, indeed, has a rich extended family that is truly global.

It’s an interesting experience of family, living here in a place where other people have such rich, close extended families. It’s not uncommon for grandparents to take their grandchildren to playgroups and play dates and library outings, helping parents manage childcare as they return to work. So what of the transplanted come-from-aways? Or vice versa: what of the transplanted Newfoundlanders who make their home in other places around the world? Aside from the lack of family support, how do we manage the family connection?

I cannot imagine living in a world without the internet. I am thankful each and every day for the internet. Because in addition to the extensive travel that we’ve been lucky to experience this past year and a half, my baby is able to “talk” with his grandfather in British Columbia, his cousin in Australia, his mom’s best friend in California — and is thus easy and familiar with them when we see them in person. He is possibly even more familiar with some of them than he is with people that he sees in St. John’s on a regular basis.

Electric family

We are so lucky. We get on Skype with my Dad in British Columbia and my baby is easily familiar with his delighted grandpapa. They play peek-a-boo and mimic words to one another easily. And the connection is easily apparent when we take visits to BC, which makes the long journey that much easier. My baby, though missing his Newfoundland home while we travel, is happy and familiar in these new places, because he is already so familiar with the people that we see.

I’m happy that he can forge such connections at such an early age. And it did indeed happen quite early. My baby first met his grandfather — in person — at the early age of two months old, and then again at four months old and ten months old. Each time he was easy and happy and delighted to be with his grandfather. There was no stranger anxiety or uncertainty at mom leaving the room (or the house!), the way there is here in St. John’s with people he may see on occasion (or even regularly). Thanks to Skype, Google hangouts, and Facetime, video calls are enabling my baby to have relationships with people from afar.

And when we travel, when we’re half way around the world in a different time zone in the Australian heat, or hanging out on a Santa Monica beach or having a BBQ in Chilliwack, we can Skype with our family back in Newfoundland. And they, too, feel a little less far away. Even with a day’s difference between Australia and Newfoundland, where baby and I might be drinking coffee in the morning (having just crawled out of bed while his Dad is getting ready for bed in Newfoundland), we can all come together and talk for a few minutes. And baby, so happy to see his primary family – his people – will squeal, will laugh, chatter away about his day, and lay down against the iPad screen to spoon his Dad, so very far away.

Love and relationships: they really can transcend distance. Certainly not without a little work and a little effort. But the payoff is really so very wonderful. It adds up to a lifetime of closeness. It’s my greatest hope that my baby will have wonderful relationships with his far-away relatives. He’s certainly off to a great start.

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.

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