When Valerie went away to college, I thought we had plenty of ways to stay in touch with her; we could send text messages, chat on FaceBook, send emails, call on the phone or send the occasional care package and note through the mail.

Although I had heard other parents talk about using Skype which is a free video and voice communication system, the service seemed like one more layer of technology that we really didn’t need. After all, she’s only in Southern California and not on the moon.

But Valerie loved using Skype to talk to her friends and pretty much insisted that we also sign up. We did, and now that we are regular Skype users, I have to admit that it is a much more satisfying way to communicate than any of the other options.

Being able to see her face while we are talking really closes the distance gap. Since Steve was the one who moved her into her dorm, I hadn’t seen her room or met her roommates. But because of Skype, I have been introduced to her roomies and given a tour of her dorm room, albeit a dizzying one, as she swung her computer around to show me how she had arranged her living space.

Talking on Skype is much more of a shared experience. One of the things I missed most when Valerie went away was not being able to see any of the art projects she was working on. But the cool thing with Skype is that she can hold up the book that she made for her Book Arts class or the illustration she did for an assignment in Visual Literacy and we can oooh and aaah over it. And I think doing that gives her encouragement too because she is still enough of a kid that she likes having mom and dad appreciate her work.

During other conversations she has modeled the $8 jacket she bought at a thrift store or showed us the prop she made for her Halloween costume. While we’re talking, she sends us links to videos and then all of us can watch them at the same time. We feel like we’re in the same room watching TV together.

And it’s great because Skype is like using a speaker phone with the addition of video, so the whole family can be a part of the experience. Steve, Jennifer, the cats and I all crowd around the computer screen and chime in on the conversation. It’s nice to get all her news first-hand.

It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t have Skype right from the beginning when she was in the depths of being homesick. Watching her tears hit the keyboard would have been tough on all of us. At that time, the distance that a text message provided was helped keep the emotion out of the communication and prevented us from getting sucked into her fears.

But now that life is looking a lot sunnier to her, being able to see her bright, beautiful face on the screen is the best.