National (Virtual) Grandparent's Day

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My mother informs me, over the telephone, that she has just returned from a trial run of her inaugural ‘live-cam’ tour at the local Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. My niece, who lives in England, is learning about Hinduism in her Religious Education class and would love to show her classmates a live, on-site presentation of her grandmother’s temple.

Grandmother on video call using laptop (Mayur Kakade/Getty Images)

It will include the rituals before entering the temple (removal of shoes and washing of feet), the sounds of the temple bells chiming, the colours of the flower garlands for sale by street vendors and a glimpse of the priest preparing to conduct prayers. My niece’s class will also observe the chaos of cars and motorcycles jostling for room as a sea of temple-goers descend upon the street in time for the 7 o’clock prayers.

This pioneering approach to a field trip is my sister’s idea. It is one of many ways we try to stay connected, with my mother living in Malaysia, my two sisters in England, and me in Australia.

‘How did it go?’ I ask my mother hesitantly, knowing she is uncomfortable with these high-tech gadgets as she calls them.  

But my doubts are unwarranted. It was a successful rehearsal and she is looking forward to the performance in a few days. O me of little faith. Necessity is the mother of invention, and my mother has reinvented herself as Techno Gran, because nobody is jumping on a plane anytime soon, and the threads that bind us together are reinforced with regular communication.

She sends voice messages when she can’t be bothered to type into her mobile phone. She teaches me recipes via video chat. She has an ongoing emoji conversation with my six-year-old. All in all, she’s pretty savvy with these high-tech gadgets.

 

'They will, I hope, get a sense of the thread that connects us to our culture, and the grandmother who managed a Show and Tell 6000 miles away while only leaving her comfort zone.'

 

My children are lucky — they have two grandmothers. My mother-in-law, who lives in England, has been coming to Australia every year around Christmas. We have two months packed full of activity, lots of memory-making, plenty of dhal and roti, and a New Year’s Eve countdown. While these visits provide some serious bonding time, it doesn’t allow for the day-to-day relationships and learning that come from an intergenerational living arrangement, or having a grandparent who is just a short drive away.

My own grandmother was an integral part of our family unit when I was growing up. She was there for many firsts, milestones and memorable moments. In Indian culture, grandparents play a key role in raising children and are an important part of many rituals in a child’s life. But if you live in another country, those milestones must be recorded and celebrated in a different way.

For some occasions, we try to make the stars align. The first feeding of solids, a birthday party celebrated two weeks early, the first day of school. But most milestones happen in the quiet, unmarked days with no ceremony or schedule, and cannot always be recorded or re-enacted — a tooth falling out, a soccer goal scored from the halfway line, using the word rhetorical correctly.  

Both grandmothers receive photo and video updates to document the development, progress and hairstyles of their grandchildren. I send artwork by international mail, to be displayed on refrigerator doors. The overseas curators are less harsh. Advice is sought, friendship issues are discussed, and songs are sung over the telephone.

It is National Grandparents Day on the 25th of October. A day to celebrate the contributions made by grandparents to their families and communities. This year, the distance between us feels immeasurable, and virtual everything can never take the place of real life anything. These high-tech gadgets can transmit sound, picture and motion, but they cannot convey the feeling of a warm embrace, of fingers intertwined, of a reassuring squeeze of the shoulder that says, ‘You’re doing just fine.’   

So when my niece and her classmates tune in to the live stream, they won’t experience the scent of jasmine that permeates the air, the humidity of the Malaysian evening where beads of perspiration trickle down your back, or the taste of the sweet temple prasad. They will, I hope, get a sense of the thread that connects us to our culture, and the grandmother who managed a Show and Tell 6000 miles away while only leaving her comfort zone.

And until we can visit again, I know there are two refrigerator doors, one in Malaysia, one in England, always ready to accept submissions of artwork from across the miles.

 

 

Seetha Nambiar DoddSeetha Nambiar Dodd is a Malaysian-born, Sydney-based freelance writer.

Main image: Grandmother on video call using laptop (Mayur Kakade/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Seetha Nambiar Dodd, Grandparent's Day, COVID-19, social distancing, Malaysia, Australia, England

 

 

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Existing comments

A delightful read, Seetha. I live a couple of hours drive from two of my grandchildren while the other three grandkids live interstate. Technology is great, especially FaceTime, although I am no expert. However, it is amazing to see them and be able to hug them. This year has been challenging for many families in terms of physical separation but it has made us appreciate that bonds aren't always dependent on being physically together.
Pam | 24 September 2020


Awesome ???? Heart touching and very thoughtful ???? Not only at this very difficult time but Seetha you always made connections between my grandchildren through the latest technology and other resources. Well done and well said. God bless you all with all my love ????
Kalvinder Dodd | 25 September 2020


Read the question marks in my post as tech error
Kalvinder Dodd | 25 September 2020


Even after COVID recedes, you can only touch Grandma in the flesh perhaps once a year. Often, it's once in every two. But, it has taught people about ministering cherubs such as zoom, webex, adobeconnect, and various of their siblings, to touch Grandma in spirit daily, in want or in need.
roy chen yee | 27 September 2020


A delight to read. Funny, informative, non- judgmental, unbiased, educational without being preachy. I'm tempted to inject some poltical sociology concepts but they would cast dark cèrebral shadows over a pleasant walk in the park and the sharing ofanecdotes (mentally) from my own life of growing up with Asian students at western educational establishments. This article deserves wider distribution. Seetha, you have a gift!
Uncle Pat | 20 October 2020


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