Copyright 2017 – Katherine Lato
Janet didn’t even have time to remove her coat before her mother asked for help with her computer. “Can it wait for a minute or two?” Janet asked. “I’d like to talk about your birthday celebration.”
“It’s a quick question,” Mom said. “Here, I’ll take your coat. You sit down in front of the computer.”
Janet stood by the uncomfortable wooden chair. She spent half of each visit explaining how to do something on the computer. It was great that Mom was interested in the world, and her Facebook shares were often hilarious, but Janet spent too much of her workday hunched over a computer. She didn’t want to spend visits with Mom on tech support. “How about after we take a walk?”
“Oh, I wish you’d texted that you wanted to walk today,” Mom said. “I went on a two-mile walk before lunch. My knee is acting up a little, so I’d better rest it.”
Staying active was important to both her mother’s health and happiness, but if Janet had known that Mom didn’t want to walk, she would have tried harder to get out at lunchtime. With a sigh, Janet said, “How about we play cards?”
“After you help me on the computer.”
Articles claimed that roles were reversed as parents aged, but it sure wasn’t true for her mother. Her voice was just as authoritative as when Janet was a teenager and wanted to miss family dinner.
Because she didn’t want to spend the entire visit arguing, Janet sat in front of the computer. “Okay, what should I show you?”
“I want to join LinkedIn. I need help setting up the profile.”
Janet swiveled in her chair to face her white-haired mother of seventy-one. “Why do you want to join LinkedIn? Are you seeking a job?” Janet didn’t try to hide the disbelief in her tone. She didn’t mean to be rude, but Mom had retired at sixty-eight. She lived in an apartment catering to independent seniors. She was busy with activities as well as visiting family around the country. She didn’t need a job.
“Don’t be silly,” Mom said. “I’m not looking for a job. My friend Sally joined so she doesn’t bug her grandchildren by asking them over and over if they’re done with college. Before the holidays or a visit, she prepares a cheat-sheet for herself of what each child’s job title is and how long they’ve been at their company or position. She says it facilitates sharing the most interesting stories since she updates her own account every few months, listing jobs she’s had over the years. Says that makes the grandkids curious about her life. I’d like to do that.”
“That sounds amazing. It’s been a while since I created an account, so give me a few minutes to poke around the site.”
“All right. Do you want a cup of tea?”
“No, thanks,” Janet said. “But don’t go anywhere. I’ll need to ask you questions.”
“Do you want anything special for dinner tonight?”
“I can’t stay. Dan and I want to talk with Kristie about plans for the summer.”
“How is my lovely granddaughter?”
“Just like you and Dan.”
“Yeah.” Janet continued typing, putting in her mother’s zip code. “Do you know what you want as a job title?”
“I thought you wanted a real profile.”
“I do. Okay, make it rabble rouser. I like that better.”
Janet sighed, but typed in rabble rouser. There were a number of questions, but eventually they created an account and were filling in the details of her profile. “Mom, do you have a recent picture?”
“Can I use the picture from Facebook? I like how mysterious I look with the shawl from Morocco.”
“Something more professional would fit LinkedIn better. Do you have a suit?”
“There’s the one for Ida’s funeral.”
Ida was her mother’s oldest friend. Janet felt terrible that she had missed something so significant as Ida’s death. “I’m sorry. When did it happen?”
“I bought the suit ages ago.”
“I mean Ida’s death,” Janet said. “When did that happen?”
“She didn’t die. She wanted me to buy a dark suit a few years ago and when I protested that I wouldn’t wear something that hideous, she said I could wear it to her funeral. It’s one of our jokes. Now that she’s moved to Florida, I suppose even if I went to her funeral, the suit would be too warm. It’s wool. I knew it wasn’t a good idea, but you don’t argue with a good friend over trivial stuff. Should I get a selfie stick?”
The question was so unexpected that it took Janet a few seconds to respond. “I can take your picture in the suit if you want.”
“That’s nice of you, dear. But I should get my hair done as well.”
“Do you want to put in a temporary picture?” Janet asked. “While you wait for the one with the suit?”
“Let’s fill in your email so people can contact you.” She typed in her mother’s email, then said, “You can see who else you know.” Janet clicked to add connections. “LinkedIn will search through your email contacts for people that are already signed up.”
Mom peered over her shoulder. “It found Sally, but not Ida.”
“Ida probably doesn’t have an account. You can invite her to join. Should I do that?”
It took half an hour for Mom to be satisfied that she had invited everyone she wanted to.
“Now, can we play cards?” Janet asked.
“Just a minute. I got an email from Ida.”
Mom clicked on the email, then frowned. “She doesn’t know how to set up an account. Can you help her?”
“Mom, I can’t be tech support for all your friends.”
“Maybe I can help her,” Mom’s voice sounded doubtful. “You should make an account for yourself.”
“I have one,” Janet said. “And we are connected. So now you can brush up on my job information before we get together.” Then maybe Mom would remember that Janet was the head of IT, not that-department-with-a-weird-name.
Mom patted her hand. “You’re so funny. I’m always telling people how clever you are with computers. Since you’re so knowledgeable about this stuff, you should write down all the steps that we just did. That way Ida could follow them.”
Janet didn’t have time to write a how-to guide. Besides, LinkedIn was just Mom’s latest interest. It would be something else next week. Most of the time, Janet appreciated her mother’s enthusiasm, but not after a hard day at work when she wanted to curl up with a novel, or play a few hands of cards and unwind. “We can video-chat with Ida the next time I visit.”
“I don’t know,” Mom said. “Ida is pretty busy down in Florida. It would be better if you could write up some instructions.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” The half-promise was enough. They finally could play cards. As she laid down the cards, Janet felt the knots in her shoulders begin to loosen. She wished she could visit her mother without being on the computer. She liked playing cards and chatting, but didn’t have time for more than two quick games before she had to leave. Even so, she was late to dinner.
* * *
“Sorry,” she said as she sat at the table. “Mom had something she wanted help with on her computer. That took most of the visit.”
Dan set a plate of grilled fish with an appetizing aroma of fresh lemons and thyme on the table. “It’s nice of you to help her.”
“I didn’t have much choice.”
“Did you set Grandma up with a LinkedIn profile? She emailed me and asked if I had one.”
“Kristie, put your phone away at the table,” Janet said.
“I don’t have it out,” Kristie said.
Janet glanced at her daughter who raised her eyebrows. There was no sign of her cell phone.
“You seem tense, hon,” Dan said. “What’s up? Didn’t you have a good visit with your mother?”
“We spent most of the time getting her LinkedIn account and profile set up. Then she wanted me to help a friend of hers who lives in Florida. I really don’t want to be tech support for Mom’s friends.”
Kristie said, “Have you heard Tom Smith’s song, ‘Tech Support for Dad?’ It’s hilarious. I can play it now.” She held out her phone.
Janet should enforce the no phones at the dinner table rule, but she was curious. “Sure, but then put your phone down.”
The song had them all laughing as it went through all the ways that the singer had to help his father with an ancient computer. When it ended, they talked about how Grandma liked to learn new things.
“She wanted me to write a tutorial,” Janet said. “That way all her friends can use it to learn.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Dan said.
“But it will be something else next week. It’s always something new.”
“It’s because she doesn’t want to be left behind in the digital world,” Kristie said.
“It’s worse ever since she moved into the apartment.”
“That’s just coincidence,” Dan said. “The user interface has gotten easy to use. It’s not a surprise baby boomers are embracing technology. They’re retiring and have time to try new things, plus they want to stay in touch.”
“But it’s their kids who have to provide tech support,” Janet said. “Can you imagine how many people are answering the same questions for their parents? Maybe I will write that how-to guide. Not that I have time.”
“Let me check something,” Kristie said.
“No phones at dinner,” Janet said.
“Just a quick search.” Kristie typed on her phone. “I just searched for ‘baby boomers technology and found techboomers.com. It sounds like whoever created this site has a mother just like yours.”
“Impossible,” Janet said.
“Look for yourself.”
“After we finish dinner and clean up.”
“I’ll email you the link.”
“All right,” Janet said. “But then put your phone down.”
After the dishes were done, Janet picked up her novel. She was about to curl up on the sofa when Kristie said, “Aren’t you going to check the website? I think it’s what Grandma needs for her questions about the internet.”
“All right.” Janet went to the website and found a class on using LinkedIn, and one on Facebook. There was even one on Instagram. She hadn’t looked at Instagram in months. Half an hour later, she went back to the tech boomer site. There were a lot of classes. She read about how the website got started when Steve was looking for classes for his mother and other relatives. When he couldn’t find such a site, he created one. Since he had done the work, Janet didn’t have to.
She sent the link to her mother. Instead of going back to her novel, she walked to her daughter’s room. She wanted to thank her for her help, and see if Kristie had any other useful tips. About to knock, she hesitated. Maybe she should check out the website techboomers.com before she bothered her daughter. Although Janet was technically too young to be a baby boomer, the site looked useful.