Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Skype Mother


Thirty  some years ago when the US was still across the ocean, I left my parents in Israel and travelled with my husband to the US to attend graduate school. Living abroad at that time meant being disconnected from everything that was going on in Israel.  

 Every week I wrote long  letters to my parents  and reported all the details of our new life; they were filled with longing and love. The letters that my parents wrote back expressed similar sentiments, but they never questioned our decision to go away or doubted the merit of advancing our education abroad.

However, the idea that one should sacrifce being geographically close to family in order to advance a career or achieve a better life is not shared by everyone. When I wrote my PhD on the connection between life and literature in 1950s Britain, I was surprised to discover  a different reality in Family and Kinship in East London, a 1957 sociological study by Michael Young and Peter Willmott reporting on the life of working classes in Britain. Young and Wilmot  found that  being close to the mother was one of the most important considerations in finding housing, and that young people tended to stay within walking distance from their mothers.

Although I was very close to my  mother, staying nearby was never a a factor in my considerations of where to live.  I took for granted that in order to move ahead we needed to move away, and my parents agreed with me. Only later when I was already a mother myself, I would sit down to have a cup of coffee in the morning and think “What am I doing here? I could have had this cup of coffee with my mom”

We went back to Israel in 1994 and I had two good years to enjoy the company of my mother, but she died in 1996. To this day I regret all those years that I missed not being close to her.

Then, following our footsteps, in 2000 my 18-year-old daughter left Israel to study in Germany. At the time there was still very little internet connection, and Skype had not yet been invented. She had to wait a whole month for a phone, and I got a chance to experience what my mother must have felt: a nagging feeling of  worry and longing mixed together with happiness that my daughter was moving ahead with her life.

My two daughters are in the US now and we connect through email, Skype, Facebook and cellular phone. Thanks to video chat I can even see them when we talk.  Moreover, it seems that social network has trained young people in the art of documenting their life. They devote time to report what they do and attach appropriate photos.

People complain that the cheerful public persona reflected from Facebook, for example, is never the real person, but didn’t we write letters to our parents and report that all was well even when it wasn’t, as to not make them to worry?

Since to connect with my daughters we use all the technology available, we can detect even small worries from the hello on the phone to the frown in a video chat. The readily available technology is the “spoonful of sugar” that makes the distance between us “go down.” But still when I sit down for coffee in the middle of the morning now I miss my two daughters who are busy making a life for themselves over sea.

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