#Love: When Mothers Text

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Editor’s Note: Fara Warner is the editorial director of Aol Tech, overseeing editorial teams on TechCrunch, Engadget, Joystiq and TUAW. She also heads up editorial for Aol’s newest platform This Built America. (www.thisbuiltamerica.com). She has worked at the Wall Street Journal and Fast Company, and is the author of “The Power of the Purse: How Smart Companies Are Adapting to the World’s Most Important Consumers–Women.”

I bought my mom a cellphone a few years ago. It was just a simple Nokia flip phone. Something to keep with her on long drives to use in an emergency. She has a penchant for driving long distances, often to see me.

The first thing she did was send me a text. I don’t even remember what it said. She probably does. But I do remember the exchange that followed. I texted: “hey look at you texting.” She wrote back: “I might be old, but I’m not stupid.”

Touche, Mom. Touche.

So began our almost daily text exchanges. We have laughed, fought, sent photos and videos of my dog Jake (this is a favorite pastime of ours), given each other advice, sent photos of shoes we thought about buying–and then didn’t. Through it all, I never once received a text I didn’t understand, not a single line I’d put up on a site called “when parents text” or whatever.

She does have her own shorthand for things such as cleaning the house: MOTTP…mucking out the tee-pee. (Feel free to use at will.) She grew up on the Ute Indian Reservation in northeastern Utah so it makes sense. Oh and she grew up in a house without running water, electricity or indoor plumbing.

“I might be old, but I’m not stupid.”

When friends–particularly friends who are 20 years younger than me and with mothers who are yes my age–say things like “oh my mom doesn’t know how to text,” they get that smug look on their faces. It says with no sense of shame or regret, but with the appropriate amount of snark: look how technologically illiterate my mom is.

I equate it to the same sort of thing that used to happen when people first bought VCRs and joked that they had to ask their grandkids to program it so the time didn’t endlessly flash at them, like a beacon of their stupidity. But then every generation likes to think it’s smarter, faster, cooler, whatever than the one that birthed them.

IMG_3082My rebuttal is always “my mother can text.” She also does a lot more on the “stupid little phone” as she calls it. She generally runs right up to her monthly data limit because she pretty much uses it for everything–ordering dog treats from Amazon or house-hunting or critiquing the mobile experience for a new journalistic venture I’m working on.

Recently, she had a fight with her phone because I suggested we upgrade the iOS after the whole security scare around SSL encryption. I wish I’d just left well enough alone. Overnight, her phone went from being something she understood quite well to being like a city whose buildings and streets were just in slightly the wrong place. Some things were completely missing.

Suffice to say, she did not consider it her fault that she was having problems with her phone. It was Apple and its unwillingness to let well enough alone. I hadn’t realized that she hadn’t upgraded her phone in about a year, so truly her phone was completely different once the upgrade was done. But she didn’t throw up her hands in despair.

Instead, she called Apple to complain mightily about not being able to go back to a previous version (Apple you might want to consider that). She talked to a writer at a tech blog who kindly walked her through the biggest changes and how to fix the phone so it worked well for her. (Thanks, John Michael Bond at TUAW.)

But I digress or am going off on a tangent. This column is supposed to be about love in the time of technology.

But she didn’t throw up her hands in despair. Instead, she called Apple to complain mightily about not being able to go back to a previous version of the OS.

Since I went off to New York for graduate school, my mom has put up with her only daughter wandering around far-flung places. Back before mobile phones, Skype, or yes the Internet, you stayed in touch as best you could. When I moved back to New York after a year in Seattle and Salt Lake City after grad school, I drove a Ryder moving truck by myself from Salt Lake City to Astoria, Queens.

Every five hours, as agreed upon before I drove away from Utah forever, I would stop and make a call to my mom on whatever pay phone I could find to let her know I was safe. When I moved to Singapore a few years later, I finally had an email address so we stayed in touch that way and made weekly calls with a callback service that made it a lot less expensive to call internationally.

I was pretty late to getting a cellphone. I could have bought one in Asia, but it wasn’t until I moved to Detroit and was required to carry a cellphone–I was a writer for the Wall Street Journal–that I began to understand how helpful they could be. Filing stories by from the United Auto Works strike line in Flint, Mich. was my first brush with “backpack journalism.”

I also have come to realize how cellphones can be used to express love. Often it’s not the big, all-consuming love. Instead, it’s love expressed in small ways.

I have called my mom to have her “walk me home” a few times when I’m in a place that feels sketchy. But on one memorable evening I asked her to help me pass the time as I hobbled across the campus of the University of Michigan in a pair of high-heeled boots I had worn for far too many hours. She didn’t miss a beat when I told her the only way I’d get to my car with the boots–and my sanity–is if she just talked me to my car. I still have my feet and those boots.

dogmomI still travel, too much now it feels, as I don’t leave an empty apartment behind, but also Jake. There’s nothing worse than the “are you ever coming back” look a dog gives you when you drag the suitcase out the door, tempt him with a treat so you feel better yelling good-bye and quickly shutting the door behind you.

My mom helps out immensely, flying in to stay with him when I need to go on a long business trip or staying a few months as I transition between apartments and houses. But she does more than that. Pretty much every single day that she is with him, I receive at least one, if not several, photos of Jake doing something she thinks I should see.

There are also the videos of him gnawing on bones, catching balls or just going for a walk with her. I will fully admit to being hopelessly in love with my dog. I am one of “those” people. My mom knows this. She also knows that a text doesn’t make up for being there. But it helps. It helps.

So I’m thankful for a mother who doesn’t think a piece of plastic, metal and wires will ever get the best of her. Instead she takes it all in stride and I suspect that when she can pop up as holographic image from her phone and say hello to me, she will be one of the first people to try it out. And she’ll bring Jake along with her.

So on this Mother’s Day, instead of joking snidely about how your mother doesn’t know how to text, teach her how to do it, be patient and don’t be an ass about it. And then, turn off both your phones and have a good chat.

#Love is a new column on TechCrunch dealing with digital matters of the heart. It explores our relationships, their relationship with technology, and all the gory details that come with it. I will be leading the charge, and am looking for guest writers to tell their own stories each week. Maybe you found your soul mate on Tinder, or got dumped on Facebook, or have an outrageously interesting sext life. We all have our stories. If you’re interested in contributing, send an email to jordan@techcrunch.com with the subject line #Love for more details.