Family Time & Space Travel

Time travel does exist. And in our family, it’s a phenomenon my kids are all too used to. I’m not so adaptable.

My sister and her two toddlers arrive from their home in South Africa in a few weeks. We have been phoning, texting and video chatting them even more than usual. The kids think it’s completely normal to be cousins online, this way. Then, again, it’s all an experiment in this generation of social media families.

Short of a hologram, my kids and their cousins are in each others’ living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens across the globe through our devices. They joke, sing, misbehave, show off new tricks, bad injuries and pet kittens. They snack and fight and share the weather outside their window. They get reprimanded by their parents, introduce friends and show up to the computer in their pajamas and their swimsuits.

When it’s daytime here, it’s nighttime there. When it’s winter here, it’s summer there.

Certainly, families have lived apart for millennia. Sisters have endured infrequent visits and oceans between them. But never have humans lived with the ability for communication of such frequency, clarity and familiarity.

Our global family is our very own reality TV.

However, in-person visits are when it really gets strange. In a few weeks, as my sister and her kids prepare to leave South Africa on a two-and-a-half-day journey, we will enter the confusing vortex of space and time and it always takes my breath away and leaves me a little nauseous and mystified. Just before she leaves, we panic text and video — much more than normal. Then, she gets in the space tube and can’t be reached for many hours. During a mid-point layover, she may relay a reassuring text.

One moment, they are firmly planted in a land very much “far away.” And then we go to sleep; they travel. My day seems to go by at its normal lightening speed. We go to sleep again. We blink. They’re here. Standing in front of me in the flesh. It just doesn’t compute. My mind and heart are racing to catch up.

I remember what a 13-hour car ride to Montana to visit my cousins from Oregon felt like. We passed rivers, waterfalls; then prairie and mountains and sometimes snow and ice and, finally, arrived at what was very clearly “someplace else”.  Outside our car window, we saw sunsets and moon rises and changing landscapes to prove it. And I hadn't been skyping my cousins weekly before I arrived. We got re-acquainted with each other every year.

Air travel is literally time and space travel. You’re catapulted over the earth. You lose hours. You gain hours. You pass over sunrises and sunsets and seasons and your body mysteriously adapts physically. But our primal human hearts are still left confused.

While my sister and kids are here for a month, we will be very much present. Playing, dancing, snuggling, teasing, wrestling and being together.

But this isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve been doing this long-distance family thing for a decade now. I can’t help but ache when they arrive, knowing we only have a few short week.

Being the ones who get left behind is the worst. There is no transition. No travel. No packing. No boarding passes. No jet lag to tell you something has happened. My sister is here beside me and – poof! – she’s gone - and I try to do the dishes. Until a few days later, when she pops back up on my computer screen.