Being Here, Not There

Thursday evening we convened in the living room… of ten different families. It was a social gathering, corona style.  We were supposed to be having an actual party in Bethesda to celebrate my mom’s 90th birthday…or as she would say it, “my privileged ability to survive for 90 years with great health insurance and then Medicare paying for everything I need.  Big deal.” As an aside, she has also informed me that she thinks that should she get the dreaded virus, she does not believe it would be a worthwhile use of Medicare funds or medical resources to provide her with any life sustaining treatments or equipment. Suffice to say, she doesn’t like being fussed over.  She reluctantly agreed to the real party. We didn’t even inform her that the virtual party would happen. I had merely told her that my sister and I would love to be able to talk to her and see her on her birthday.

The previous weekend’s lead-up had been frustrating as we took several phone calls and attempted meetings to determine that in fact my mom’s computer didn’t have a camera or a microphone.   Those are kind of important. Still, she had a monitor, so she could see us. She had a phone, so we could hear each other. We, meaning I, decided it was worth a shot.

In our living room, Nancy, Sarah and I wedged into a love seat and logged in.  I spoke to my mom on the phone, trying to get her to install the grid view so she could see everyone on the screen…and by everyone, I added, “I mean just  my family and Barbara’s.” My mother declined. She had endured enough of my tech support. Five minutes before the meeting, she informed me that she was heading down to check the mail.

This surprised me, since the hallway from my mom’s apartment to the elevator is approximately seven miles long.  On top of that, there is often a 2-week wait before the elevator arrives. My mom also no longer walks at the brisk pace that used to be her trademark.  Going to check the mail is definitely not a 5-minute task. I sighed.

My Aunt Peggy was first to log on.  She is not as old as my mom or my mom’s brother, her late husband, but still, she did exhibit the lack of social distancing from her camera and microphone that sometimes betray an age gap from younger generations.  No offense, Aunt Peg. We were very glad you made it…and with no tech support! She was followed by my sister and brother-in-law. Slowly the other guests logged in. I informed them all that Mom would be back sometime within the next two or three days.  She just needed to check the mail. I might have detected an eye roll or two had the resolution been better.  

Once the meeting began, our obvious inexperience with virtual meeting etiquette became clear.  Very little voluntary muting occurred. My mother, having returned from her trek, needed to be informed that her phone and the speaker phone that she had turned on for my father’s benefit, may have been the reason that everyone else in the meeting was recoiling, grimacing, and holding their hands over their ears.  She finally turned off the speaker, and the air raid siren subsided. To compound the awkwardness, many in my family would fall into the introvert category. This was evidenced by the fact that my sister chose not to speak until spoken to, and one of my cousin’s children positioned herself to the side of her computer for the entire conversation, allowing us a fine view of the fence in her backyard.  We are not a showy bunch.  

Fortunately, this allowed my mother, who may have had a glass of wine with dinner, to take on the role of emcee.  We turned on captions, ostensibly so that my father could follow the conversation, but it turned out to be more for our reading pleasure.  My mother let out a guffaw each time the transcriber referred to Peggy as Piggy. There were other blunders, but I can’t recall them. Then, as we serenaded her from all corners of the continent, my mom’s appreciation was, shall we say, a bit muted:  “I didn’t hear the altos.” Perhaps a mild dig at two grandchildren, who actually have singing talent but had demurred when asked to perform a duet. There was a moment when each of us had to invite our canine friends to send their best wishes. Farley had to be roused from his bed to sniff the screen, but Homer, now the elder statesman at nearly two years of age, allowed as how he would prefer to continue his nap.  “I think we just might have to let the sleeping dog…you know…stay sleeping,” my nephew said.


“He said, ‘He’ll just have to let sleeping dogs lie.”

“Oh, yes, very original. Haw haw.”  That from the birthday girl. Oh snap!

“Well,”  my cousin suggested. “Let’s hope we can get together for a real party in October.  I was thinking maybe the 17th.”

“Or maybe, how about October 7th,” my mom suggested, a date she chose because it happens to be my sister’s birthday.

“Okay, but I was just looking at weekends, figuring that some people might find that an easier day to travel.”

“What did she say?”

“I thought people might prefer a Saturday.  The 7th is a Wednesday.”

“Oh are you going to be in Timbuktu?”  My cousin’s work calls for lots of travel.

“I don’t know.   I just thought a Wednesday would be kind of challenging .”

“Oh, yeah.  Good point.”

“Well, I don’t have a calendar in front of me.

Slight pause.

Then, my niece’s husband, not to be left out, chimes in from his left wing position at left couch on the left coast with this gentle non-conformist interjection, “Uh, we would prefer a Wednesday.” 

It was funny.  Trust me.

I guess these days, you don’t say, “You had to be there.”  

Because we can’t.

9 thoughts on “Being Here, Not There

  1. We have not attempted a zoom family call as yet. Bob’s mother can barely operate her phone. Sunday we did make the rounds of phone calls. The situation seems to have frayed many edges of our family’s day to day life. I admire your technological bravery.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am really glad this worked out! I giggled my way through your description of the call – Zoom calls can be challenging, but yours sounds quite funny. I’m glad you all did it, challenges and all. Somehow, getting together virtually seems worth it. It’s not the same, but it’s something, and something counts.Happy Birthday to you mom & may there be a gathering in October… sometime.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That walk to the mailbox! I pictured your mom on the seven mile trek as you all waited for her to return. This “meeting” held all of the family dynamics that a any good party would have. I hope the live version lives up to this. I’m glad it worked out!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So glad you found a way to celebrate. I once again laughed at your descriptions and subtle humor throughout. The zoom can be a challenge for introverts. On Easter my kids were in a silent one- many of them were just staring at the screen. I told my own kids I hope this situation improves their social skills!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Love the glimpse in to your extended family – “To compound the awkwardness, many in my family would fall into the introvert category” :). I celebrate that you pulled this zoom birthday off and I do hope that you get the face to face birthday celebration date and day — nailed down! Happy 90th Birthday to your mom and sure hope she enjoyed the glass of wine!

    Liked by 1 person

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