It’s summer in Iowa City, which means it’s time for the annual population turnover. You can see the shift especially well downtown. Every year at the beginning of summer, students head home, and the streets fill with families enjoying the reprieve from the crowds. In July, the University hospital begins its new year, bringing with it hundreds of families new to the area, drawn here for jobs – temporary or otherwise. In exchange, it sends off many other families, who have completed their training programs and are relocating for permanent positions. At the end of the summer, University employees return from whatever summer vacation they may have taken, and fresh faces join the faculty and staff rosters. Finally, the students return, and we all settle in for another spin around the sun.
All this movement contributes to the vibrancy of this area, but it also means that a large portion of Iowa City parents are raising their children far from “home.” My own family is among them, and I can attest that raising children while living far away from family is no easy task. There are no free babysitters, no family dinners at Grandma’s house to give Mom and Dad a break from cooking and cleaning, and fewer opportunities for bonding and building relationships with extended family. It really does “take a village” to raise a child, so what can we all do when our village is hundreds (or thousands) of miles away?
For our family, technology is the answer. While we limit screen time heavily in our house, we have always made an exception for screens that have a family member on the other end. Thanks to FaceTime and Skype, we are able to stay connected and share those special moments with our family members all over the country.
We’ve used it to share milestones, so that our parents could get to know their grandkids. They’ve cheered on our babies while they worked hard to hold their heads up. They carry on babble conversations, sing silly songs, and act as audience to our preschooler’s spontaneous recreations of Frozen scenes.
We’ve used it to expand our family dinners, seating the iPad at the table like a dinner guest, and sharing a meal with grandparents in other states. (It’s extra fun when they’re sitting down to dinner in their home at the same time!) We talk about our days, hear stories about daycare, and look forward to the next time we will all be together.
We’ve used it as a “babysitter,” too, instead of the TV. After putting in a full day at work, walking to my car, making two daycare pick-ups, and driving home, the last thing I want to do is make dinner. It’s so much easier when my kids can read stories with their grandma over FaceTime while my husband or I prepare a meal.
As my daughter has gotten older, she has learned how to call her relatives all on her own! At the wise old age of 3 years old, she knows how to pull up the FaceTime app, and call each particular person. She has even memorized who is who based on the first character of their user IDs. (And yes, we do have parental control safety measures in place!) She will carry the iPad all over the house (thank you, Otter box!) and take her grandparents with her on all her adventures. I’ve found her snuggled up in bed listening to them read her a story, sprawled on the couch making funny faces, and on the floor showing them her toys. It has also given us an opportunity to teach Internet safety, conversation skills, and telephone etiquette in age-appropriate ways.
So if you’re new to the area (or not) and find yourself missing your family, don’t worry! Iowa City is a great place for families, and it’s never been easier to stay connected and keep building bonds with far away relatives.
If you have favorite ways of staying in touch, please share!