Stuck on FaceTime, Staring At The Toast

16 Nov Stuck on FaceTime, Staring At The Toast

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 22.11.21


A couple of days ago, I spent half an hour accidentally eavesdropping on my daughter and grandchildren. It was less a “fly on the wall” situation than a “phone on the table”.

With the border shut tight between where I live and they live, FaceTime and Zoom have become our way of talking. It is all very casual – phones will be propped up in bed, or in the kitchen, or at the dining table, and people will get on with whatever they might have been doing before the call came through. Kind of like we have actually dropped round to each other’s house – I will put the kettle on, or my daughter will make the kids some toast, and we chat happily while we get on with the ordinary things.

Which is all quite different from the long phone calls my mother used to make when I was a kid. These would be focused events that were planned and prepared for – coffee would be poured, lipstick would be applied and children would be hushed or chased outside.

This is decades before phone calls came with pictures – our green rotary-dial phone was the sort you see now in museums and our phone number was four digits – so the lipstick was about feeling right, not looking good.

Once you were on the call, you were stuck right there in one spot with the built-in telephone. My brother and I would be alert to our mother’s little mimes indicating she would like another coffee. If you had a hankering for something – a pair of Levis or maybe Bata Bullets – and had been told “we’ll see”, you might earn yourself some better odds by bringing the next cup of coffee without being asked.

But that’s a big kid’s trick, and my daughter’s kids are still little. Last Sunday’s call started out in bed – me with my cat, her with my grandson. When he needed the loo, she took the phone elsewhere (good manners, well brought up) leaving it (and therefore me) in the care of my granddaughter.

Which is how I ended up propped on the dining room table with a view of a plate of Nutella on toast while life went on out of sight. I mean, sure, we had a good chat first – school is great, yes, her teacher is nice, there’s a Lego set she’d like and she will send me a screenshot – but then she needed the loo (it was that time of day) and I was left on the table with the toast. 

I promise this was more delightful than you’d think it would be – almost exactly like an actual visit where I might sit in the kitchen and listen happily to my family’s life going on around me.

In many respects, things are very different now but also not. By the time you read this it will be my granddaughter’s birthday – only the second one I will have missed since she was born 8 years ago. I mean, the birth was a close-run thing – I flew to Australia just as my daughter’s waters broke and then got stuck in a lift at the maternity hospital, but I was in the room when my mokopuna arrived.

This year she will experience an old-school birthday – cards will be written and packages will arrive in the letterbox from people far away, and Happy Birthday will be sung down the line, and I hope someone leaves me on the table by the cake.