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Quality family time on Zoom

by TYLER WILSON/Coeur Voice contributor
| November 28, 2020 1:00 AM

‘Twas a couple days after Thanksgiving And all throughout the world Not a single Zoom call made it Without at least one crash or voice garbled.

Look,I may have an English degree, but I didn’t take any poetry classes.

For many this year, Thanksgiving became a much smaller affair thanks to COVID. It also meant many more Zoom calls and/or FaceTime sessions with loved ones… in particular loved ones who are, um, less experienced with technology.

In a test to see if my own mother reads this column (doubtful), I’m going to share a few details of some of our recent video conferencing experiences. I eagerly await her angry phone call.

My mom was out of town for a few months earlier this year, and during that time, I convinced her to use the Marco Polo app in order to communicate with me and her grandkids. The app lets you record and send video messages, which can be viewed live or watched later at your convenience. It’s a nice way to communicate visually without worrying about the video freezing or calls being disconnected, and, most importantly, I can quickly discard all the incoherent messages where all four of my kids talk and scream over each other.

It worked great… except when my mom didn’t wear her reading glasses. She sent me dozens of 2-3 second videos where she just squinted at the screen in silence. I think she was pushing the wrong button (or the same button twice), and rather than sending her intended message, she’d send videos of that time between where she thought she stopped recording and then tried to record again.

My kids thought it was hilarious, to the point where they didn’t want to tell Grandma she was using the app incorrectly. After a few days or weeks (or so), we finally told her, but we still get the occasional squinting-in-silence video.

I think it’s okay to tease her about this one particular issue because most of the technical difficulties between us have been the result of my own ineptitude and inability to control my children.

Case in point: We had Grandma on Zoom to participate in a few Halloween festivities with the kids. For pumpkin painting, we set up the iPad on the kitchen table, resting it inside a tall-lipped baking pan. Grandma painted a pumpkin on her end, and the kids splattered paint all over my table, foors, walls, and, yes, occasionally onto the pumpkins.

It worked fine until our 5-year-old daughter decided to “manage” the iPad. She swung it around in circles, placed it in the pan upside-down (obstructing the camera), and kept walking off with the device and leaving Grandma in other rooms, including the bathroom.

We also played a game of Charades (with kid-friendly clue cards that had pictures rather than words, discouraging literacy). On Grandma’s turn, we held a card up to the camera, and she acted out the clue on her end. Her camera framing was impressive, and she demonstrated her clue actions clearly for our kids to see and make guesses.

We were... less successful on our end. For one, our 3-year-old son kept wandering in front of the camera, blocking Grandma’s ability to see the other kids act out their clues. He was also running around in his underwear complaining about having to poop. He bent over in front of the camera and even mooned Grandma on several occasions.

Also, at this point in the evening, I had already enjoyed a glass or two of wine (“No-no juice” in our house). I wouldn’t say I was impaired, per se, but I did struggle to figure out how to invert the camera on the iPad so that Grandma could see what I was seeing.

Our biggest hiccup of the night can be blamed on multiple parties. We decided to play a Halloween-themed game of hide-and-seek with all the lights off in the house, and we let the 5-year-old hold the iPad and carry Grandma while she searched for the rest of us. Grandma decided to have a little fun and make random “spooky” noises while she wandered around. It kept startling our daughter, and she dropped the iPad on the hard floor a few times.

So call it 25 percent blame for the 5-year-old with the butterfingers, 25 percent blame for Grandma making scary sounds, and 50 percent blame for the parents thinking a 5-year-old should wander around in the dark with one of the few valuables we own.

It turns out plenty of precious memories can be made remotely thanks to technology. Just be sure to protect your devices from careless kids, inebriated parents and aging eyes. And maybe think about adding another iPad to the holiday shopping list. The one we have will surely be broken by Christmas.

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Tyler Wilson is a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad to four kids, ages 3-9. He is tired. He can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com.