Several years ago, I turned my mother onto Facebook. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. She and her partner didn't go out as much anymore, and many of their friends and relatives had moved away from Atlanta or died. Facebook would connect my mother with those who'd relocated, including me, my sister in Colorado and her children, and some old neighbors. It would also introduce her, virtually, to a whole posse of friends of friends whose posts she might enjoy.
What I did not foresee was that, following a few tutorials where both I and my brother explained how to use Facebook in terms so simple we could literally feel our brains begin to crumble and die, she would immediately conflate Facebook with email, email with texts, and texts with websites. So when her pleas for help came in — "I tried to text you on your website but it wouldn't post!" — it was hard to know what, exactly she had tried to do and what she had ended up doing.
She once posted a 20-second video of her own finger reaching toward a radio dial. Many times, she has attempted to use Facebook as a search engine, typing in things like "Kroger popcorn." Sometimes she has tried to press it into service as her personal assistant, entering things like "Leslie's email" and "post office."
Texting — despite tutorials so simple I could hear my brain double over and begin to weep — also proved to be a challenge. The other day while getting my hair done, I received a text from my mother that said, "Dana." "Yes?" I texted back. "Am I texting?" she texted.
It was a weird moment of meta-texting, much like the riddle of existence whereby we point to the fact that, since we are able to question whether we exist, we must exist.
I tried to shame my mother into learning her way around Facebook and texting by pointing out that my husband's mother is worlds ahead of her, technology wise. Shortly after this, in an unfortunate twist of fate, my mother-in-law became suddenly and inexplicably unable to text. This necessitated a several-hours intervention by my husband that involved not just a software update, but also a tutorial (brain crumble/die/double over/weep) to refresh her texting skills.
So imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, I logged onto Facebook to discover my mother and mother-in law deep into a discussion of my recent wrist surgery and post-surgery state of mind. Back and forth went the conversation on my oh-so-public feed, between my mother, who does not know how to use Facebook, asking me how I was doing, and my mother-in-law, who was not at my house and to whom I had not spoken, offering up that I was resting comfortably, my pain level was manageable and her son was taking good care of me.
Granted I have outed myself about pretty much everything over the past 20 years, in my columns and in my book, so I can hardly say I'm a private person. Nevertheless, there is something unnerving about discovering two people discussing your medical procedure and emotional state in front of an audience of 600 of your friends, ex-boyfriends, acquaintances, old co-workers, business contacts, editors and random people who have friended you, or whom you have friended, for reasons unrelated to any desire on their part to receive your medical or mental health updates.
Nevertheless, there it was. And because my mother doesn't know how she started the public conversation, there is no way of explaining to her how to never do it again. And because she means well — she genuinely wanted to reach me through Facebook, so as not to wake me in case I was sleeping — I can't be openly angry or annoyed or irritated or any of the other emotions that are clearly owed me.
I keep my emotions in check by thinking about all the things she tried to hammer into me when I was young, lessons for things that she was certain would make my life fuller, easier or more fun. There were the sewing and baking lessons that lasted just long enough for me to realize counting and measuring were involved, after which I declared I was never getting married. There was the 20-second knitting lesson that sent me screaming from her bedroom. It's the memory of these and other moments, when I was epically unable to follow the simplest of my mother's directions, that almost give me sympathy for what she's going through.
And then I receive, via text, a blurry photograph of the top of her headboard where it meets her bedroom ceiling. And my brain, so close to compassion, explodes.
Dana Lise Shavin is an award-winning humor columnist and the author of a memoir, "The Body Tourist." Email her at Danaliseshavin@gmail.com and follow her on Facebook at Dana Shavin Writes. For more of her writing, go to Danashavin.com.