Mama, Technology, and Me

mama in motion

Both of my parents are in their 70s and they still haven’t quite adjusted to the world of technology that we now inhabit. I thought of this yesterday while I was listening to a voice mail message from my mother.

“Hello,” pause, “you must not be home. You don’t have to call me back. This is your mother. I love you,” another pause, “bye-bye.”

I was thrilled that she left a message, as often she doesn’t. She is always somewhat surprised when I get home and call her back after her hang-ups.

Mama: “Hello sweetheart, I was thinking about you earlier today.”

Me: “Yeah, I noticed that you had called; I’ve been thinking about you too!”

Pause, “But I didn’t leave a message. I know that work keeps you so busy and I didn’t want you to worry about calling me back.”

I’ve tried to explain about caller ID but I don’t think that it fits the parameters of her world. I think that’s why she always feels its necessary to identify herself when she does leave a message, just in case I don’t recognize her voice after nearly 53 years.

It’s taken a bit of time, but I’ve finally learned that I cannot force my mother to embrace technology. My sister says that I’m just hardheaded; she gave up long before I did. The final clue for me was what I refer to as The Computer Affair.

For years my mother gazed longingly at the computer set-ups that my siblings and I have in our homes. She began sharing words of wisdom that her friend Felice would print out for their mall walking group, and wistfully sighing that she needed to get a computer. [Felice generally dispenses alarmist medical advice that she has found on the Internet, like don’t drink cold water because it will chill the chambers of your heart and result in instant death. I happen to like ice-water, so for a time, whenever I loaded my glass with ice cubes before filling it with water, I received the benefit of Felice’s computer generated wisdom. Eventually Mama became resigned to my refusal to change my ice loving ways, and now only watches me surreptiously when I drink a glass of ice water, prepared to leap into action should my heart chambers freeze and I suddenly collapse.]

Her friend, Mary, another member of the mall walking group, is also an avid computer user. She prints out jokes that generally don’t look favorably upon the intelligence of men and generate much laughter among the all-female group. My personal favorite involves a woman whose wealthy husband extracts a death bed promise that she will bury all of his money with him. At the funeral, one of the widow’s friends inquires if she kept her promise and honored his request. The widow replies that indeed she has. The friend gasps in wonder at the widow’s presumed folly until the widow announces with a beatific smile, “I wrote him a check.”

Each year, my mother’s fixation on having a computer grew. I offered to take her shopping to purchase a computer and she professed to be interested in doing so, but the timimg was never quite right. Less you think that the issue was the cost of a computer, my parents are quite comfortable financially and money had nothing to do with it.

I suggested to my sister that maybe we should consider purchasing Mama a computer as a gift and my sister replied, “She doesn’t want a computer.” My brother said that if I thought that it was a good idea, that he would contribute to the computer gift fund.

My sister is the middle child, and she is the practical one. Her assertion that our mother didn’t really want a computer nagged at me and I put the gift idea on the back burner; however, Mama kept sighing about wanting a computer.

Finally, I became frustrated with the lack of memory on my home computer. I had recently become addicted to an online game called WORD WHOMP and every time I played, I had to shut down all other programs. So, I purchased a new computer with two gigabytes of memory. (What? I like word games!) I got a better deal if I also purchased a printer, and I needed a new power bar, and a computer Scarbble game, any way, when I was done, I decided to give my mother my old computer, printer, and power strip.

She was thrilled and watched giddily as I set it up for her. For her first lesson, I attempted to teach her how to turn on the monitor, the computer, and the printer. It didn’t go very well, so I labeled all of the on/off buttons. Then I introduced her to the mouse. They did not become good friends. I instructed her to practice moving around the screen with the mouse and suggested that she play Solitaire to facilitate getting accustomed to using the mouse.

“I don’t know how to play Solitaire. Do they have Pinochle on here?”

I went home a few weeks later and asked Mama how her use of the computer was coming along. She explained that she thought that she might have broken it.

“Did you drop it, throw it, or spill liquid on it?”

“No, but the screen looks all funny.”

Reassured that it wasn’t broken, I sat down in front of the computer and I agreed that the screen looked all funny. Forty-five minutes later, after I had restored all the default settings, I summoned my mother for her second, and final computer lesson. I had given up on the mouse and altered the settings so that she could move about the screen using the arrow keys, but the thrill was gone and she was no longer interested.

She patted my cheek, and brightly volunteered, “What I need is to take a computer class. I’m going to sign up for one at the Tech.”

It’s been nearly four years and so far she hasn’t signed up for that class. (If you are a computer instructor at the Wilson County Technical College, you can relax; she’s never coming.) However, she is able to happily tell her friends that she has a computer. She dusts it off weekly.

P.S. Isn’t she just the cutest little thing! My mother is all of 5’1″ and has more energy than people half her age. The photo is one I took of her last July 4th while she was preparing dinner.

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8 responses to “Mama, Technology, and Me

  1. When I was growing up, every time there was another cake, we’d sing “Happy Birthday to You” and then immediately, my French mother would cry out “encore, en Francais!” and we’d sing “Joueux Anniversaire” to the same tune.
    Well, I could almost repost this about my Mom, but with a French accent. Poor dear. She did make it to faxing, years ago, to all of our surprise, but the computer is too much to be borne. Although I think she at least understands it better than Ted Stevens, the Alaskan senator who called it “a series of tubes.” At least she doesn’t think the Internet is a hairspray.

  2. Oops, that’s “Joyeux”

  3. this is a really sweet post. my family definitely have their quirks. and i can’t change them, nor do i really want to. the quirks are attached to the same sweet souls that have loved me all through my life no matter where i found myself or what i found myself in the middle of. unconditional. i guess it goes both ways.

  4. I found you with Rod’s direction. Glad I did.

    I think I love your Mama. So quirky and so loving. I also think your sister is very wise.

  5. Sheria, Happy Birthday, have a good one and many more, Bill

  6. Happy belated. I’ve enjoyed your comments on Bruce’s’/Jack of all thumbs site. I must plead political ignorance as I am just a dumb farmer, but your tech story fit my experience with my mother-in-law. Folks of a certain generation want to seem connected, but the realities of such an impersonal interface just doesn’t jibe.

    LOL

    Alan

  7. Alan is hardly a dumb farmer as his blog shows. He’s a prime example of someone who has decided to focus his energies and intellect on maintaining and advancing his world, by concentrating on his family, his land, his animals and his community. Sounds like a strategy that all our ancestors would agree with.

  8. I also have to comment on your efforts at bringing mom into the computer world. Your story eerily parallels my own, with the mixed messages from mom and the eventual ‘failure to log on’. Hey, we tried.

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