From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Modern Machines

I received three e-mails from my mother today. This is unusual because until today, my mother didn’t own a computer. She’s watched me work on my assorted computers, which occupy my office and my kids’ bedrooms. For us, computers are a way of life. We are the modern twenty-first century family.

The first e-mail from my mother said: Believe it or not—I’m on the line. It took a long time. Call you later. Mom.

I figured by “on the line” she meant “online” and laughed at her interpretation.

The second e-mail said: I’m just learning, don1t mind the mistakes. I bought a Dell like you suggested. Eventually I!ll know what I!m doing. gIVE mE A lITTLE tIME. Love you Mom. This was all written in the subject line of the e-mail. The body was empty.

I didn’t want to burst my mother’s bubble and tell her that she might never know what she’s doing on a computer. So I sent her a reply explaining that the apostrophe and quotation marks are no longer over the 1 and 8 like they used to be on her old Smith Corona manual typewriter. I explained where they were on a computer keyboard. It had taken my mom so long to overcome her fear of computers and actually buy one that I wanted to help ease her anxiety by keeping it simple. I explained in my reply how to write an e-mail and how to save interesting websites she might want to revisit. I sent her links to some of my favorite places and some of the work I’ve had published online. Then I wrote, “Just have fun with this new cyber world. Don’t worry about breaking anything or doing something wrong. You can’t break the Internet or your computer by clicking the wrong box. And if you mess something up, I can fix it for you!”

When I was in elementary school, my mother was one of the few moms who worked outside the home. In the late fifties and early sixties, other mothers stayed home with the kids; mine worked because she had no other choice. Some mothers made cookies. My mother typed my reports for me on crisp office paper, with carbon copies. In my case, the situation was ideal. The office where my mother worked was across the street from my school. She was often able to coordinate her lunch hour with mine, and I was none the worse for it. We’d visit a local coffee shop and eat grilled cheese sandwiches together. I’d have a chocolate egg cream; she’d have black coffee, no sugar.

I remember when I took typing in high school, a required course for all students going to college or secretarial school, and I finally made it to typing forty words per minute; my mother was typing sixty-five words or more. I tested her once for fun at eighty words per minute and no errors. She didn’t even break a sweat. She was an incredible typist. In those days, fixing errors required specialized typewriter erasers that tended to rip the paper if pressed too hard against the print; however, my mother was the master of her trade. She typed fast and rarely made an error that she couldn’t fix with ease.

The third e-mail my mother sent was a reply to the e-mail I had sent. It was also written all in the subject line, nothing in the body of the e-mail: Why did they move the apostrophe and quotes? There was nothing wrong with where they were. I’m going to write Dell a letter about it. Love Mom.

Today my mother took a big step. She is on the road to being computer literate. With as much tact as I could muster, I told my mother today where to find the apostrophe and the quotation marks, and she told me, in an e-mail, what I could do with them.

Felice Prager

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