At 85, Jonita had made it her life’s work to raise and nurture her eight children. But as they grew up, moved away, and started families of their own, the technology that was supposed to make it easier to stay in touch was actually leaving her behind.
This is the story of how with love, patient tutoring, and Marco Polo, Jonita surprised herself by stepping out of her comfort zone, trying something new, and discovering that the technology she feared could actually help her do the thing that made her happiest.
When I was growing up, we listened to radio programs for entertainment. There was no such thing as social media. There was barely black-and-white television! I’m convinced that the younger generations were born with an extra computer gene that I didn’t get, because I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around technology.
But technology is how people keep in touch now, and I felt left behind. I have a desktop computer and a flip phone that I got when my plain, old cell phone could no longer be serviced. Facebook has helped me keep track of some of the family, and occasionally I use FaceTime, but that can be limiting since you have to schedule the calls.
And that was pretty much it. With 8 kids, 44 grandkids, and more than 50 great grandkids spread all over the country, I was missing out on my biggest source of joy – my family. I wasn’t seeing the younger ones grow up, and they weren’t getting to know me. It was hard.
Every year, somebody would try to talk me into getting a smartphone. But if I ever touched one, it would go blank or do something weird. I think they were on the brink of giving up when my youngest daughter, Carrie, made one final try last Christmas. Against the advice of all my other children she rallied her nieces and nephews, and they all chipped in to get me an iPad.
Carrie understood that my brain doesn’t work like these younger kids’ brains, but she said, I have confidence in you, and I know you can do this. We’ll start slowly.
The first thing she put on the iPad was Marco Polo. I hadn’t even heard of it. But believe me, I was so excited when I realized I could actually talk to and see all of my family, no matter where they were. And it seemed easy. I could actually do this!
I decided it would be fun to send messages to more than one person at a time. So I created a Grandma’s Favorites Group. When I accidentally added every single one of my family members, I thought, Oh my gosh, who’s going to want to be a part of this enormous group – how do I get rid of this? But everyone thought it was great and told me to leave it.
It turned out that this “accidental” family group brought us together in a whole new way. We’ve had such a good time. Somebody will spontaneously bring up a topic like, “What are you watching on television now?” or “What are your favorite books?” Around Easter, Carrie asked everyone what their favorite candy was. We found out that quite a number of people like stale Peeps. During Teacher Appreciation Week we all chimed in about our favorite teachers. With a lot of teachers in our family, it was really nice to honor them.
One really sweet group question was, “What’s your favorite memory of Grandma and Grandpa?” I’d forgotten so many of the stories that came up. Hearing them just blew me away.
Carrie was an angel for getting me started with Marco Polo. It’s opened up a whole new world. Little by little, I’ve even started learning more about what I can do with my iPad and getting more comfortable with technology. It all started with Marco Polo, and I don’t see it coming to an end.