Original version of this article was published in Woman and Home magazine.
Near, Far Wherever you are…. .I Will Get You On Zoom! A few weeks ago, we planned a Zoom with my husband’s entire family in New York, Florida and Los Angeles. Getting my mother-in-law set up on her laptop was a Titanic task… literally.
You see, our brother-in-law Mike Kanfer who was given the job of talking her through it, actually won an Oscar for visual effects on the blockbuster movie.
Turns out, that was a doddle compared with what he went through to get our mother-in-law on Zoom. But after a three hour long distance phone call she was finally up and running. But as we all appeared on her screen, our images were the size of a postage stamp. From our end all we could see of my mother-in-law was the top of her head and my father-in-law could not be seen at all. Being the pro that he is, Mike wanted to enhance their experience by guiding them through the final tweaks. “If you just push the buttons I tell you,” he calmly persisted as the rest of us remained in a holding pattern. “I’m not pushing any more buttons,” my exasperated mother-in-law replied with a certain finality!
I knew just how she felt and frankly I am in awe of her. I too have become techno challenged .. something I first realised three years ago when I became a grandma for the first time. A few weeks after my grandson’s arrival I was thrilled when my daughter, Catherine, asked if we could have little Harvey for a sleep-over. The question was, were we equipped for the task? My husband and I are strong and healthy grandparents, but that's not what I mean by equipped. I'm referring to actual equipment - the likes of which I'd never dreamed possible when my own children were born!
The morning of the sleep over was brisk as we were bombarded with Amazon Prime deliveries of baby equipment courtesy of my daughter. "Just some bits and pieces you'll need for his overnight,” Catherine informed me. By midday day my kitchen was jammed tight with cardboard boxes containing all sorts of baby gadgets, much to my husband's horror. "How long is he staying for?" he asked for the umpteenth time. And so the unpacking began.
First up was a bottle making device that wouldn't have looked out of place in Starbucks, promising perfectly prepared formula bottles at the press of a button. I wouldn't have been surprised if it had offered a cappuccino option! Next came a Microwavable Sterilising Kit, a couple of glow in the dark dummies, a "Pod" in which my grandson likes to sleep...(whatever happened to the good old Moses basket?) and a strange looking sheep which glows in the dark while playing a lullaby with a weird noise in the background..."You'd think for the price the music wouldn't have that mechanical drone" Charlie quipped. Turns out the “drone” he was referring to is a high tech simulation of sounds inside the womb.
While Charlie made a start on the giant recycling pile, and assured our neighbours that we weren’t moonlighting as an Amazon warehouse, it dawned on me that we had to put this stuff together. The instructions were in such small print that we had trouble deciphering them even in our most powerful reading glasses. Time was flying past as we hurried to construct then initiate dry runs to ensure everything was prepped and operational. By this stage my kitchen work tops resembled a high tech science laboratory.
A Pram that folded with the gentle press of a single button sounded straightforward; if only we could find said button. A “reflux wedge” that resembled a piece of equipment at my gym and a video/sound baby monitor streaming live until we lost the connection....(obviously we had no idea how to get it back!) In any case, the only thing I could hear clearly via the monitor was Charlie in the ensuite bathroom.
With Harvey’s drop-off imminent, my stress levels were off the chart but just as I could see light at the end of the tunnel, I had another call from my daughter. "Don't forget to download the white noise app! Harvey likes the hairdryer option.” I had no idea what this meant but played along, while mentally acknowledging we might be in serious trouble.
The killer was the car seat which looked like it had been issued by NASA. Catherine had given us a crash course earlier but now I was flying solo I realised I didn’t remember any of it. I lowered a wriggling Harvey into position and began the very elaborate “strapping-in” process which went surprisingly smoothly until I realised I had one of his arms where his leg should be. It was an easy fix so, feeling slightly calmer I announced to my husband, ‘OK he’s strapped in, now all we need to do is spin the seat round to face the back.” Then it dawned on me. I didn’t know how to do that. Judging by my husband’s face he didn’t have a clue either. After about twenty minutes fumbling around, with Harvey becoming increasingly agitated at the lack of action, I was feeling sweaty and desperate so I folded and called Catherine. As the seat locked into its new position my grandson was now tilted at the kind of angle in which I imagine astronauts find themselves prior to a moon launch. He didn’t seem to hate it so off we went.
By the time Harvey had finished his midnight feed we were fading fast but he seemed to have a second wind. ‘I’ll try the white noise app,” Charlie suggested hopefully. “Use the hairdryer setting!” I yelled wondering whether we had finally lost our minds. The truth is, Harvey was an absolute joy but by the time his parents picked him up the following day we were exhausted wrecks! The lack of sleep was the easy part, it was the crash course in mechanics that had my adrenals pumping.
As the kids drove off, Harvey at his usual 45 degree angle ready for launch, it dawned on us that we now had to deconstruct everything and store it in readiness for Harvey’s next stay. If we had only known…. this was just the beginning of what was headed our way!
Fast forward three years and we found ourselves in lockdown with our son-in-law who very generously bought us a new, state of the art coffee machine to accommodate the rise in numbers at our home. Up until this point we had been relying on our trusty old cafetière and the truth was, it couldn’t keep up with demand. As he talked us through the basics, we both nodded and played along as if we knew what the heck he was talking about.
Of course once he left us to do a dry run we were in a state of panic. The water level markers which seemed to be in plain sight for my son-in-law, were invisible to us. So I sent my husband off to find his reading glasses. After what seemed like an eternity of squinting and moving the machine into the light, he still couldn’t read the numbers.
Knowing that our son-in-law would appear any minute to assess our progress and not wishing to appear like a couple of imbeciles, I was feeling the pressure to get cracking. “Let me have a go,” I snapped. ‘I just need to find my glasses.” ‘You’re already wearing them,” my husband calmly pointed out. It was official. The days of spending hours searching for my glasses then finding them on my head were now the “glory” days. I had been kicked up a notch…. unable to read anything even when wearing said glasses. Still, we managed to get the coffee machine going just as my son-in-law sauntered back into the kitchen only to discover a jug full of hot water. Somehow, we’d forgotten to put the coffee in. Charlie thought I had already done it apparently.
It was now 8am and as we stood there like a couple of idiots, from out of nowhere a loud whirring sound kicked in causing Bailey, the accident prone lab, to start barking. It was the washing machine and, somewhat spookily, it appeared to have commenced a one and a half hour washing programme of its own accord. My son-in-law looked totally non plussed explaining, “Oh yes, I pre set the timer last night before I went to bed.” A timer on a washing machine! Needless to say we had no idea we had a timer on our washing machine.
Which brings me back to Zoom and my poor, exhausted mother-in-law. After forty minutes the session timed out… and ready or not, she could get back to her techno free life. Put it this way…. I don’t think she’ll be zooming any time soon!