Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

This has been the first Thanksgiving that’s passed without having my son at home. He’s on the other coast working his new job, and when the budget and time allowed only one holiday for travel, he decided on Christmas instead.

I don’t like that he’s not here, but these absences are part of middle-age empty nesting that we just have to accept. Instead, we see each other through FaceTime, that brilliant smartphone app that lets us talk face-to-face, the way the Jetsons used to do.

FaceTime is better than a phone call, for the obvious reasons but also because young people have a thing against phone calls. I can’t remember even one phone call in which I spoke with either of my children for more than the time it took them to ask what’s for dinner or can their friends spend the night.

FaceTime, on the other hand, doesn’t require the same level of concentration that might be causing these kids to reject a phone call. A conversation of only audio requires some imagination their digitally wired brains may not have. Everything’s a literal picture now, so what’s the need to conjure one?

My son and I talk by FaceTime about once a week. The call comes to my phone with a buzzy ringing sound and when I answer, there he is. Because he’s at home and relaxing, he’s wearing his glasses (and not contacts) and his long curly hair is askew and he’s padding around the apartment in jammies or sweats. Most recently, he was shirtless. The first thing I notice is the beard.

“Getting long,” I say. He reaches up to smooth his hair.

“The beard, I mean,” I say.

He says nothing, which actually is his way of telling me the beard’s not going anywhere. Nor should it, really; he’s an adult making his own way.

I remind him that he has a strong jaw and beautiful blue eyes that get lost with the beard and all. But again, there’s silence.

Maybe it’s something about how close everything seems on the FaceTime calls. If he holds the phone close to him, his face fills the screen. In the upper corner I can see myself – it’s what he’s seeing as we talk.

“I look so wrinkly,” I say, backing the phone away from my face.

“No you don’t, Mama,” he says, obviously lying.

Sigh. I miss him so.

And then he moves the phone around the room to show me his new area rug, the TV stand he put together, the wall art. He says he and his girlfriend like to cook dinner in their slow cooker.

“Sorry I’m missing Thanksgiving with you guys,” he said. They would be having their meal at a restaurant. It doesn’t seem right, but I don’t say so.

Something about seeing him so up-close incites my instinct to mother him. I remind him to get to the dentist, get his flu shot, don’t leave the slow cooker too close to anything made of fabric, like tea towels.

“That causes fires,” I said.

I tell him the quick recipe for a Mississippi roast, which cooks in the slow cooker and is so delicious.

“That sounds good,” he says. “Send me the recipe to my e-mail.”

Then it’s time to sign off. Our FaceTime calls are longer than phone calls, but not by much. He has things to do and places to go.

We say goodbye and exchange kisses. But first:

“Maybe trim the beard a bit,” I say.

“You just can’t help yourself, can you?” he says.

What can I say? It’s the holidays and I miss him. And he’s not here.

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