The first time she showed up, it was at a safe distance – as a friend of a friend. There was no picture, but I recognized her. My mother had joined Facebook.
During my last visit, she had asked me if I used the site. "Do you like it?" she pressed. "It's OK," I replied.
I wouldn't categorize myself as a fan. I joined reluctantly, succumbing to pressure at work to incorporate social networking into my skill set.
At first, I used it solely for friendly Scrabulous games. I waited six months to post a picture of myself, and only then because the androgynous silhouette assigned to the pictureless wore me down. A year in, I'm a lurker at best. I upload photos intermittently. From time to time, I take a quiz. I've posted a "status update" all of once, a failed attempt to scare up some real-life social activity ahead of a trip to Pensacola to see family. Mostly I log in to steal looks at other people's lives.
I'd only recently gotten over the trauma of reading the overly intimate tweets of a co-worker and general TMI (too much information) from any number of people who would normally keep a respectable distance.
What if my mom "friended" me? Should I accept? Could it be awkward? Would I have to guard myself?
I'd read about the evolving field of ethics in online social networks, who ought – and ought not – to be friends online. Teacher and minor student? Definite no-no. Therapist and patient? Probably not. Parent and adult child? Gray area.
My mother must have considered the potential problems, too. If she'd used the Facebook utility to scour her e-mail address book for potential partners, it would have turned up my name. She had decided not to friend me.
Ten days later, the e-mail arrived: Tracey O'Connor added you as a friend. I had options. I could ignore the request. I could add her as my friend but give her limited access. Instead, within five minutes, I let my mom in.
My mother assimilated quickly to the site. She got her vitals down – hometown, birthday, relationship status. She got her nonvitals down – favorite music and movies. She put up a picture of herself within days. Then the updates began.
Tracey is glad she and Fred watched Righteous Kill. They both thought it was good.
Tracey just set her highest weekly score in Word Challenge.
Tracey is relaxing after watching Bruce Springsteen during halftime at the Super Bowl.
Tracey completed the quiz "Who is Your Twilight Guy?"
Then my mother – a card-carrying member of AARP – typed "OMG!!!" My status update would have read, "Stephanie is ROTFL" in reaction, if I went in for that sort of thing.
Meanwhile, this woman, who in life mastered what we've dubbed the "mom crawl" whereby she eases into the pool and swims 20 laps while keeping her hair bone-dry, had dived into Facebook headfirst.
Some actions confirmed what I knew. Tracey became a fan of QVC. Anyone who wasn't aware of her penchant for cable-based shopping obviously isn't on her Christmas list. Tracey is excited about bowling 8 straight strikes for a 263 in Wii bowling. Not surprising. She'd beaten the pants off all of us over the holidays and probably should have been penalized for excessive celebration.
I learned some things I didn't know about my newest Facebook friend, from the mundane – she reads all the comics in the newspaper every morning – to the sublime – she wishes she'd had more time to spend with her father.
The most interesting discoveries revealed differences between the way I see my mother and the way she sees herself. In a note, she shared: "I am a perfectionist pretty much about everything (just ask my family)." I would never have described my mom as a perfectionist. She had high expectations for the rest of us. But if I had to use a "p" word to describe her, it would have been "procrastinator." Then it hit me. What I deemed procrastination – waiting until midnight to pack for a predawn family trip, never quite getting around to organizing all her piles of papers – was her perfectionism. If she couldn't do it right, she didn't want to do it.
I now realize my mom was a natural fit for Facebook. She loved to pen "away messages" for her instant messenger. She adores games, which she can now play competitively and gloat about on the site. The only thing she's more fanatical about than the hundreds of holiday cards she sends out is the family update she stuffs into each one. And what is Facebook but that?
I haven't had to censor myself or put my mom on restricted status. I've done little more opening up on Facebook than I did before she arrived – not because I don't want her to know what I'm doing right now or "25 Things About Me" – because I don't want anyone to know.
As far as I can tell, my mom isn't holding back on my account either. I e-mailed some friends recently, warning them that their parents, too, could show up on Facebook. "My mom always said, 'I'm your mother, not your friend,'" my friend Kim shot back. "So, I'm safe."
I think I like this way better.