Expats and the “Grandbaby Effect”

My wife, Suzan Haskins, and I are new grandparents. And I have to say that, if this had happened 13 years ago, we may never have left the U.S. and become expats.

As all grandparents know, something happens to you when those aromatic little bundles of drooling cuteness arrive. You are compelled to spend as much time around them as possible. Resistance is futile: you need to see and hear and touch them. They’re like little sponges, soaking up every sight and sound and smell and feeling that happens to them, and you want to contribute to that input. You want to be there for the almost daily changes in appearance and behavior, because that kid is growing fast and you don’t want to miss a minute. You want to be part of it.

Thirteen years ago, when Suzan and I moved abroad, we would have left all that behind in a very literal way. At that time, the only means of tracking the lives of the ones we loved were expensive and low-quality international phone calls, letters which would take weeks or months to find us if they arrived at all, and some new technology that was just getting on its feet…email and instant messaging.

None of which were, at that time, satisfactory ways to keep up with the progress of a newborn grandchild and satisfy the urge to participate in her life.

As I said, if we’d become grandparents back then—before we became expats—we may never have made the move.

But that last method of communication…that new technology made possible by something called the Internet…turned out to be a game changer.

Fast-forward 13 years. Our first grandbaby arrives. Thanks to some good planning and decent airfares, we’re lucky enough to be there for the event. But all too soon, we have to go home, which for us means getting back on a plane and flying 3,184 miles away.
What’s the first thing we do when we get home? Book another flight back, of course, as soon as our schedule and finances allow.
But the second thing we do is get on our laptops, open our email, and look at the hi-res photos and HD videos that the kids send us. Unlike 13 years ago, Internet service is now so fast and so widely available that even up in our little village in Ecuador‘s northern Andes, we almost take for granted being able to see and hear these incredible electronic slices of our grandbaby’s daily life.

The third thing we do is our weekly video call, when we use one of the half-dozen programs and apps that now exist to actually sit down and see and talk to our grandbaby and her parents in real time on our laptops. (We could even do this on our smartphones if we wanted, but we like a bigger picture.)

I’m old enough to remember a time before all this was possible, so it still amazes me.

Expats are more connected than ever with family back home due to vast improvements in technology.

It isn’t the same as actually being there, of course…but it’s definitely not the same as not being there. Thanks to this new technology, even if we’re not physically there we can still see and hear her growing and changing and smiling and laughing.

I’m feeling that tug on my heartstrings at this very moment, in fact. I just got an email with a new batch of photos from Panama, where the kids are visiting the other side of the family. There is an entire set of Panamanian grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, and they’re having a riot with International Baby, as we’re calling her now. The photos I’m looking at right now were taken yesterday. As I said, I’m old enough to remember when a snapshot in your wallet and a book of Polaroids was all you had between spotty mail deliveries and crackling, echoing phone calls to remind yourself of your distant loved ones.

So we continue plotting our return flights to get our face time in with International Baby while at the same time using FaceTime or some other app to keep track of her daily life and adventures. We’ve never felt completely disconnected from family and friends during our time as expats, but these days we feel more connected than ever thanks to new technology.

Things have worked out about as well as I could have imagined. We can be part of our new grandbaby’s life between visits, and we can still take advantage of all the expat lifestyle has to offer. Thirteen years ago, that would have been impossible.

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