I’m fighting off a cold so no posting today.  Rather, this is “Essay 1” from my English Composition class.  It is entitled “Skyping with Madison”

Long ago in my youth there was a marionette show on television called “Thunderbirds” which took place in the future. I was enthralled with the technology: the flying machines, the space stations, the cool cars and video “phone calls”. No matter where Ace and Lady Penelope were they could talk face to face via video link. And, as an excited child in Connecticut, I always wondered why they signed off with the cryptic “FAB”. The present doesn’t have any strings other that the ones I attached myself. I make a good living showing companies how to use new technologies in my own version of “International Rescue”. And every night, at 6 pm, I reenact the show from my childhood with my 6 year old niece by “Skyping with Madison”.

Skype is software that uses the microphone on your laptop to make cheap phone calls throughout the world. Another feature is, if you have a video camera and you are connected to someone else with Skype, you can videoconference at no cost other than the Internet connection. Skype is not the only software “solution” for connections such as these. Last year, as part of a larger project, I researched standards-compliant software for one of my clients and Skype was the best for one-to-one connections. My wife and I moved from the Northeast last year and it became painful not being in touch with our family – particularly for my niece, Madison. So, after a long technical support session with my brother-in-law over the holidays, Skype was installed on most of the family laptops and we were ready.

Every night follows a set, unwritten family protocol. At 6pm our house phone rings. I always answer the same way: “Men’s Wear” I say in my deepest announcer voice and every time the phone speaker rings with my niece’s laughter. “Uncle Thomas can we do Skype?” is always the question. After I give her the OK, with perhaps a delay to fix dinner or feed our pets, we start our session. The software will make a quick ringing noise; then there will be a black screen and then my niece’s face will appear with some room in her Long Island home will fill the background. Judy sits in front of the screen and I will sometimes stick my head into the frame from the side or the top to make Madison laugh. After Judy and her sister exchange updates on their parents’ health it is Madison front and center. She tells us at length about her day, which friends she has played with, and any other activity whether it was of note or not. She will ask to see our dogs and moving our laptop to whichever room they are sleeping, we will show her Kelsey and Henry so she can say “Hi”.

Every weekday Madison gets a reading assignment as homework from her first-grade teacher. Judy and I always make a big deal and settle in for the reading. Madison, in her best impersonation of Mrs. O’Connell will read us the day’s story showing us the pictures by holding the book very still so her computer’s camera can pick up the details. Madison is an excellent reader and we are always encouraging her to sound out words she doesn’t know. At the end of the book comes the lesson. Madison, still doing her impression of her teacher, starts the discussion of the “text to text” elements of the story (that is: what other books we’ve read together are like tonight’s) and the “text to self” elements (those elements that reflect our personal experience). Occasionally, if she has the energy, she has us repeat the story in “our own words” grading our efforts and the end . Judy and I never failed to be amazed at how well she does these exercises even as we know she is right now just mimicking her teacher. In the background on the other side we’ll hear proud laughter from either of her parents.

Once we’ve finished analyzing the story, and if there are no other important news to be exchange by “the grown ups”, Madison will sign off. At our first set of sessions she would just press the disconnect button. This was far too abrupt for Judy and I – to go from our intelligent, animated niece in an instant to a blank computer screen was too much for our hearts to bear. So I taught Madison the “sign-off” Now, when time to finish our connection, Madison says “I love you and I miss you” and then the part I taught her. In her best announcer voice she’ll say “And this is Madison S, signing off”. Which, since I’m the one who taught it to her, never fails to make me smile.

And, it sounds a lot better than “FAB”.