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I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I love it for work, but I'm fiercely protective about how I use it in my personal life. I'm happy to share a joke and banter on Facebook, but pictures of my children, and family in general, are rare.
I have family in Ghana, where we're from, Italy, Greece, Germany and various states in the U.S. As a result, I'm pretty used to not being geographically close to the majority of my relatives. Despite this, my parents succeeded in making sure that me and my sister stayed in touch with them—well, my grandparents at least.
I'm glad to say I know for sure that love really is a universal language. I never doubted how much my extended family loved me. I may not have talked to them every night, but they always knew what was going on in my life, and they made a point to speak with me even if in some cases there was a slight language barrier.
There were some days when those phone calls didn't quite make up for the fact that the only proof of me being in the same space as my grandfather and my great-uncle, (both of whom I doted on, I'm told ) were the pictures I took with the former in Ghana when I was 3 years old, or the earrings the latter made for me. Whenever one of my parents returned to the UK from a trip back home, there'd always be a gift and a message for me.
I did get to spend a little more time with my grandmothers, who stayed with my family for a year when I was a teenager and in my early 20s. I recall making a mental note of their quirks, how they smelled, how they told me off or what traits I shared with them because I didn't know if I'd get the chance to see them again. After their visits, our phone calls became more familiar and intimate—fun, even. But I only got to see my paternal grandmother, who passed away a few months ago, one last time. I didn't get the same chance with my maternal grandmother, whose soft, white hair I combed and plaited at her request. I used to wonder why she asked me to do it, but I'm glad for those memories now.
I love the fact that my children recognize their grandparents when they see them.
Now my kids, just as I was, are the "absent" grandchildren. They're the ones that live thousands of miles away from their extended blood relatives. They don't get to take their family for granted, or have sleepovers with their cousins or grandparents. That's where my love for Skype, Facebook and Whatsapp comes in.
Even though I'm not a huge fan of posting my kids' faces on the Internet (I'd much prefer them to have a say over where their image appears), I love the fact that my children recognize their grandparents when they see them.
Sure, my kids aren't very fazed at seeing their "umpah" talking to them on that little screen, but at least they know what he looks like, and can see what his face looks like when he talks. And then the idea that I can send digital photos of my kids at any time during the day has been a godsend. While my grandparents had to wait for my parents to develop and then mail the film—all things that required time to drop off, pick up and mail—I can take a photo, open an app and press send within a matter of minutes. The eight-hour time difference withstanding, the family gets to see my kids growing and playing.
Technology has allowed my family to play a large role on daily basis in my kids life. In my lifetime, we've gone from monthly updates on the broad strokes of our lives ("What music do you like?" and "What is your favorite toy?"') to more specific and present moments ("Where did you go today?" and "Can you sing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' again for me?"). My parents are even trying to teach my kids a little Twi (my father's language) along the way. And my kids know who all of their cousins are and are building their own relationships with them.
As for me, technology has brought me even closer to my uncles and aunts in Ghana. They know more about my life than I thought they did, and now my family can expect phone calls from them on all of our birthdays. If there is a birth or death, we don't have to wait a week to hear about it. My family members even helped me plan my wedding from afar. And I've maintained a close relationship with my niece and nephew just by sending and receiving random texts about the weather or music, even though sometimes I don't know what some of her acronyms mean. But that's a barrier I'm sure we'll overcome.