Long distance granny

Sometimes, I have been known watch daytime tv and all things Place in the Sun related, kidding myself I am learning about interesting places and cultures far away. One of these programmes is Place in the Sun Down Under where a family of Brits go to Australia for a short time to help them to decide whether to make the move there. There is a bit in the programme where the family in Aus gets a video of their loved ones back home­: tears flow both at home and abroad, with everyone missing each other hugely. But usually the family having a taster of life in Aus opts to move there anyway, which for them can be very exciting.

There must be loads of grandparents whose offspring have migrated to all points of the compass and who have grandchildren a long way away on the other side of the planet. This is hugely sad for grandparents left at home who try to put on a brave face, knowing that they probably won´t be with the departing family again or share in their grandchildren growing up. Eons ago, I moved to the Caribbean with my daughter and her father (my son was born there later) and we had two ways of communicating with family back home­: very expensive telephone calls with dodgy reception (used rarely) and folded pale blue airmail letters which took more than a week to arrive.

My son and his partner live in Patagonia, Argentina, close to the Andes in an area of beautiful lakes. They have two children aged seven and two-and-a-half and I am so lucky to be able to visit them once a year. And when I´m not there, I´ve got access to the internet and the wonder that is Skype.

I count it as a major triumph that a marginally techno-phobic granny has managed to load, download – whatever – Skype and a webcam. However, Skype can be a law unto itself and in spite of technological leaps, sometimes you communicate with shadowy figures resembling moving celluloid images like the negatives of photos from box cameras in the 1950s. (Disconcertingly there is always a superclear image of yourself in the corner of the screen which banishes the rather more favourable image in your mind – vanity, vanity, etc, etc…). Sometimes the pictures are so clear of your loved ones that they could be sitting beside you – fantastic but emotional too – the impulse is to give them a hug, not yet digitally possible. As ever, my son has a mug of tea on the go – v. British – although from time to time he is sucking maté (a strong herbal tea in a wooden gourd) through a bombilla (a metal ‘straw) – v. Argentinian.

My Argentinian grandson (nieto) is two-and-a-half, and like his cousin, toddler boy, is a force of nature and can usually be seen climbing all over his dad (papi), grabbing the microphone and trying to plop it into his papi´s cuppa tea or trying to position the camera all by himself (not much cultural difference here, then). He has begun to speak in both English (with his papi and me) and Spanish (with his mamá) and finds it difficult to stop – well, stop anything, so I hear. My son warned me that I might have to double the blood pressure pills, but I think I´m pretty seasoned in toddler behaviour.

My Argentinian granddaughter (nieta) is seven and has been preparing for my imminent visit for months. She is super-excited, can switch from Spanish to English without a nanosecond of thought and would like to chat for hours via Skype. She is into scientific experiments (from an English book), like her cousin in England, granddaughter 2, and it is, of course, a source of sadness for my daughter (who would like her brother and his family to live down the road or at least on the same continent) that the cousins are unable to play together or even know each other well. My nieta has read out painstakingly to me various very detailed experiments that we will be doing when I arrive. Last time we made a butterfly feeder, a wormery, a diver in a bottle and searched for fairies with a magnifying glass (with globalisation, all culturally–neutral pursuits). This time one of the experiments involves a bowl, tin foil, the sun and a marshmallow. My son thinks marshmallows do not exist in Patagonia and I was thinking of smuggling one through customs. You aren’t allowed to bring in various foodstuffs and I wondered fleetingly whether one marshmallow would cause an international incident, bearing in mind the recent cut and thrust of comments re. Las Malvinas, aka the Falklands, with Brits bearing placards stating ‘Free the Marshmallow 1´. But I checked online and although curiously it doesn’t specifically name marshmallows, it appears that things that do not contain meat (i.e. beef in Argentina or horse in Britain), or plants or seeds are ok. It is the autumn in Patagonia now so we are hoping there will be enough sun to do this collaborative Argentinian/British project to further the cause of peace.

Anyway, I digress – the flight from London to Buenos Aires takes thirteen-and-a-half hours and then I change airports for another flight two-and-a-half hours into the most beautiful scenery of lakes with a backdrop of the Andes. But a zillion times better than the scenery is to see my son and his daughter making faces at me through the glass of Arrivals and to be able to hug and kiss them – and then to get to their house where my nieto is hopping around (as toddler boy does, like Peppa Pig in a muddy puddle). My daughter-in-law is drinking maté to calm her down for the visit of ´the evil mother-in-law´ (intended as an ironic Argentinian take on the British music hall joke), so she says. At first, jetlag sets in though they are only three hours behind us and it takes me a few days to become ´my usual annoying self´, as my son tells me endearingly. But I´m no longer a long distance granny and can read stories, do jigsaw puzzles and messy experiments etc, etc, and hug and kiss them all as often and as much as they can put up with.

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