It’s universally understood that the first amendment to the Ten Commandments — perhaps not as grave as the other 10, but respected by Jewish daughters and sons just the same, and I am no exception — is Please, Call Your Mother.
And my mother, now 85, has made it much easier for me to obey No. 11 during the nearly 20 years that I’ve lived away, due in large part to her willingness to adopt (albeit at times kicking and screaming) new technologies.
Though she is an expert texter — LOL, TTYL, LMAO and other catchy phrases fly off her fingertips — and she uses FaceTime and Skype like a pro, it wasn’t always so. I, my sister and especially my niece have logged “time at the screen” with my mom, patiently guiding her through steps that allow her to keep tabs on her brood and, of course, for us to keep tabs on her. That is, when she has her phone with her. Oh yes — and when it’s turned on.
“Mom, the whole point of having a cellphone is that you can take it with you when you leave your apartment,” I’ve said, in a mix of exasperation and relief on many occasions when finally reaching her after a few panicky texts to family members to determine her whereabouts (OK, yes, and to confirm that she was not lying in a ditch.)
But when those tables are turned, cellphone holders beware! Such as the night the police showed up at my sister’s house at about 10 o’clock “to make sure she was OK,” implored my mother to the police dispatcher. My sister was home with her husband, and they were asleep. But my sister hadn’t answered her phone in the last couple of hours, so in my mother’s mind, it was a national emergency … but I digress.
My mom, of course, is not alone in embracing all things digital. It’s evident everywhere you look that more seniors are becoming technologically proficient, whether to stay in touch with children, grandchildren or simply to stay up-to-the-minute informed and plugged in like the rest of us.
My mom cut her texting teeth on a flip phone, back when you had to repeatedly tap a number that corresponded with a letter to pound out your message.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at my mother’s innate aptitude when it comes to communication because she’s had decades of practice, since the old days when landlines were king, and, really, you had to be much more resourceful if you wanted to reach someone immediately. One particularly impressive ‘mom-comm’ occurred when I was seated at the gate area waiting to board a plane. It was not by the typical overhead paging system that I was alerted, but instead I was beckoned by a rather stunned Northwest Airlines employee. She answered an incoming call on the push-button slim-line phone at her desk, listened a moment and said, “Will passenger Melissa Gerr please step up to the counter?” Eyes wide, she handed me the receiver and said simply, “It’s your mother.”
Though I have no recollection of what she wanted, this was not an emergency communiqué. Most likely, it was just to say, “Hi, have a safe flight.” The feat still impresses me to this day.
Over the years she’s continued to stay flexible with technology and allowed me to “be present” via Skype or FaceTime. Once it was when she opened a gift I excitedly sent express mail overnight, other times it’s on Sunday mornings when we’ve had coffee dates or at special dinners at my sister’s house. She sends me pictures of her latest haircut or fashion-forward purchase too. She even pays bills online now, thanks to my adept and incredibly patient niece.
Over the phone I’ve instructed my mother how to take and send a photo (there is still some mystery to this for her), how to open Skype and use the speaker-phone feature and also how to return to her home screen to open another app — “Press the one and only button on the bottom front of your phone mom!” Though frustrated expletives may fly, she perseveres.
Could either of us possibly have imagined how much would change from decades before, when she simply opened the back screen door and yelled my name into the dusk to call me home for dinner, that someday she would activate a different kind of screen and achieve the same effect of calling me home, now from several states away?
It’s I who choose to live in another city, and I’m thankful we remain close and can easily “see” each other often, in part due to an evolving digital world. But really, it’s my mom who has moved, from one technology to the next, being brave and patient and curious enough to master yet one more way to stay connected so that I may continue to obey No. 11.