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Harrington: Skypeing Grannies

12/06/10 5:55PM By Elaine Harrington
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(HOST)  Commentator Elaine Harrington says that one particular new technology is bringing scattered families closer together.

(HARRINGTON)  The women who came of age in the 1960s may now have a few wrinkles and pounds - but they come from a legacy of rebellion and freedom.  They've often broken barriers and brought change to the workplace, politics, and family life.  
Each passage they've experienced - from breastfeeding to menopause - has meant discussion, new books, and more options for women.  So is it any wonder that Baby Boomer women would approach grand-motherhood a bit differently as well?
Combine this attitude with the latest communication technology - and the scattered American family - and you have:  Skypeing grannies.
The computer savvy of both grandparents and kids is bridging the generations, with even toddlers and babies getting involved.  Skype software, which allows free video and voice calls over the internet, is the key.
For some Vermont grandmothers, it's like visiting - with a touch of Show and Tell. Angela Patten of Jonesville Skypes with Luki, her 3-and-a-half year-old grandson in Boston. When Luki brings his new book about a bus over to the screen, Patten will get the toy bus at her house. "You can play with it when you come up," she tells him.
Skypeing bridges the distance between relatives,  Patten says -  much better than phone calls did when she emigrated from Ireland.   
Skypeing to a grandchild can bring out one's inner actress. Bonnie Seideman of Plainfield waves, claps, and blows kisses to ten-month-old Hannah Frances, who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. "It's all with my hands," Seideman says. The child is starting to wave back and her grandmother hopes for "big things in the future."  She also likes watching the subtle changes that happen between visits.
Skypeing grandparents often use props - for fun and to support a child's unique needs. Mary Evslin of Stowe Skypes to California - staying in touch with Jack, who is 2-and-a-half, and Lily, who is one year.  Lily has a genetic hearing loss, so Evslin uses both spoken and sign language, with finger puppets, to communicate. The family dogs, who sit on Evslin's lap, are also popular.  Evslin will soon be trying Readeo, a program that brings books with "turnable" pages to part of the screen. She says the children recognize her both on the screen or when she comes through the door. 
Some Skypeing grandparents bridge even longer distances. My sister Marie Skyped from Connecticut to one-year-old A.J., when he was in China for two months. She watched him play in the courtyard with his other grandparents, halfway around the world - and says she enjoyed studying his development as he interacted with a new environment.
There is often a special bond between children and the older generation.  Even when families live far apart, today's grandparents have found a new way to deepen this connection - with one of the best uses yet of our new communication technology.
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