Media Moment: Together When Apart – Staying Connected via Video Chat

Media Moment: Together When Apart – Staying Connected via Video Chat

I’ve never regretted my move to Boston from South Florida, but when my niece, Lucy, was born at the beginning of 2019, I felt awfully far away. That first year, I saw her in person twice. The first time, she was only one week old and mostly asleep. In the months that followed, my brother would regularly video chat with me, keeping the camera on my niece during the calls. He and I would catch up as I watched Lucy stack blocks and hoard pacifiers, blissfully unconcerned with my presence on the screen. The second time I saw Lucy in person was eleven months later. She was taking her first wobbly steps, showing an affinity for music, and did not know me at all. I was gutted.

During that visit with Lucy, we bonded over mealtimes, playtimes, car rides, and naps. I marveled at her curious spirit and treasured every sound she made. Before I left, I vowed to be back for another visit soon – If I wanted Lucy to remember me, I needed to be there. Then 2020 happened.

When COVID-19 hit, any hope of multiple trips to South Florida was dashed. My brother and I resumed our video calls, and I worried that the connections I’d started to form with my niece would fade. But it didn’t. In fact, we noticed that now, when Lucy would hear my voice come over the speaker, she’d toddle over to the phone. She wouldn’t wave, but she’d show me things – the book she was looking at, the toy she was playing with. She wouldn’t talk, but she’d listen, she’d smile, and she’d hold eye-contact through the screen. The older she got, the more social our interactions became. These video calls became a weekly occurrence, and when I saw Lucy in person again many months later, not only did she know who I was… she greeted me like a familiar friend. She gave hugs and smiles freely, and called me, for the first time that I’d heard, by my name: “ibby.”

Yes, I’ve missed milestones and holidays that I wish I could have shared with Lucy, and of course I would have preferred to make all those trips I’d planned pre-COVID-19. Nothing can make up for those in-person moments. Nevertheless, I am heartened by and grateful for the way that video chat has allowed us to stay connected over the past many months. We are building a relationship through a screen, and knowing that makes being far away a little easier.

Libby Hunt, Master’s student at Tufts University’s Department of Child Study and Human Development
(Now Clinical Research Specialist at the Digital Wellness Lab)