In the age of Facebook, WhatsApp, and instant, fleeting connections, why would anyone want to send an old-fashioned postcard, affixed with a stamp, to family far away from home? Precisely because it’s such a slow and tactile way of staying in touch, and saying ‘Wish You Were Here’…
When my children, aged 14 and 11, left with their mother to stay in Germany for a year, it was always going to be hard, for all of us. The children had just spent four months in my solitary care, and my house is now very quiet and empty, although littered with the evidence of their having been here. I knew that it would be difficult to stay here, and fantasised about moving out, having a change of scene. My daughter asked that when she returns, her room is exactly like she left it. I seem a bit stuck.
Distracted by all that a European city has to offer, their relationship has been difficult to sustain
I confess that I do not miss the school lifts, but do miss the podcasts I got to know along the M3. The amount of time I have on my hands – no laundry, cooking, washing up for them, no French cricket in the garden or obstacle courses or treasure hunts, means that I am left to my own devices. Top of the list is to perpetuate my relationship with these loved ones, at this distance.
Distracted by snow and ice, new friendships and all that a small European city can offer, their relationship has been difficult to sustain.
I felt like I had lost my children, and sometimes I still do
I was told that Skype would become my friend, that WhatsApp would be my conduit to them. However, Skype conversations are often unsatisfying, as they demand a willingness to sit down and talk, which is not something my adolescent offspring particularly enjoy. Skype chats seem forced and are in fact quite boring, I find.
Similarly, WhatsApp calls tend to be stultifying, cursed by poor connections, and have sometimes done more harm than good.
While my son is usually effusive, my daughter is reticent, and when she has nothing to say, feels miserable afterwards. A call to her puts her on the spot. She clams up and feels bad. A solution has been to remove the pressure, and simply send photographs and voice messages, a trick I learnt from my ex, their mom. There is no imperative to reply, and she can hear her dad’s loving voice, and I’m sure feels comforted that I am okay. Which I am, most of the time, but not always.
A few days after they’d left, after distracting myself with friends and activities, I experienced my first panic attack. This happened after I stumbled upon some pictures of them I had never seen, in my son’s desk, where I was searching for abandoned school-lunch sandwiches. This trigger of loss soon enveloped my entire being and I found myself grieving for so much from my life.
My pulse went haywire, I was shaking, hyperventilating, and could not stop sobbing, howling, crying. I called a friend and she called my sister and brother who sat with me and consoled me and it was okay. In a way, I’m glad I went through it, as there was no way around it.
I felt like I had lost my children, and sometimes I still do. I don’t get a whole lot of news from them. Every few days I might hear from their mom who sends an update, which allows me a window into their world. That they are happy makes me happy. And then, I came across the idea that has really helped sustain my sanity in this time of radical change.
Every day, I send them a postcard
Most of them, I make. I cut out a picture from a magazine, a discarded atlas, or an old book for the scrapheap, and stick it to a piece of card, which I stick to another piece of card for strength. I’ve enjoyed finding different stamps to decorate them with (one has to look pretty hard for these). I can write a small few thoughts and describe my feelings and then pop it in the postbox.
I’ve discovered that if you post something on a Friday it only leaves on the Monday, so sometimes I’ll take Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s cards together. I’ve become friendly with the people at the post office who told me that I can slide my cards under the door after hours. When I do so, and see my single card lying on the floor beyond the glass, it feels like I am sending love in its purest form.
I’m really glad to have found a way to keep them closer, with this little hobby. I’m pleased that it’s so archaic, non-electronic, tactile and concrete. Also, that there is some kind of luck involved. I wonder if my most beautiful cards will reach them. I wonder which ones go astray. I don’t keep track of how ever many I send, and when I visit them soon in Germany, I hope to find some record of how I’ve been these long months. I’ll send myself cards from over there, and come home to them, and find myself here.