Saturday. 6 a.m. I blinked awake. An email from my mother whooshed into my inbox and I opened it.
Message: "When you were home and you signed me up for Instagram, you only had 322 followers. Now you have 332. Where did all these new followers come from? Are they strangers? Do you know them? Does this mean they can see all your pictures? I thought you said it was for private viewing only."
I groaned and rolled over on my side, covering my head with the duvet and dropping my phone on the floor in the process.
Let me back up a bit.
Technology has connected us in ways we never thought possible. And as an expat, it's been a lifesaver. I can now talk to my dad on Sundays "across the dinner table" ... except, he's eating breakfast and I'm cooking dinner. I can email a photo of a dress I'm not sure of to my mom in the confines of a dressing room cubicle and then call her (for free) to ask for her opinion.
Then there was that time last summer when I sat sobbing in a restaurant as a lump in my throat prevented me from eating my "final" farewell dim sum lunch with my parents before they took me to the airport.
"I-I-I ... miss youuuuu," I hiccuped. My dad looked at me with a mixture of pity and disgust (he doesn't do well with crying). "Stop crying," he ordered. "Jeez. You kids have it easy. In my time, when your mom and I came to this country for college? Calls were so expensive! I called Yeh Yeh [my grandpa] once a month! Heck, now you have FaceTime, Skype, all this stuff."
He paused to wrinkle his brow at me. "Now stop crying. Your face looks like a mess." I laugh-cried even harder.
When I started writing this blog, I intended to use it to help me decide whether I wanted to live in the US or UK. I highlighted all the cultural differences I could think of, while sprinkling in my two cents on a show I'd been to or a restaurant I'd tried.
Unintentionally, it's also become a way for my
"You'll regret that," came a tweet from another Twitter user.
"Be careful what you wish for," advised another.
But a few days after Christmas, I took control of my parents' respective iPads and opened Instagram accounts for each of them.
"Look!" I said to my dad, who was peering curiously over my shoulder. "Now you can see all the pictures of my food, where I've been, and what I'm doing."
"Yuck!" he said, pointing to a black and white selfie. "Who's that?"
"What's wrong with your chin there? That dark mark? Is that a zit? I don't want to see that."
I sighed and slammed the cover of his iPad shut. "Just check it regularly," I instructed. "I update it often."
Apparently, I'm not the only one whose parents now use social media to keep up with their expat children. Runawaykiwi's mother follows her on Pinterest and Facebook (rumour has it, she even reads Angloyankophile - HI REBECCA'S MOM! YOUR DAUGHTER IS AWESOME!).
"I had to have a steak at Mrs. Turner's [a local restaurant] last night because I saw your steak on Instagram," my mom wrote in her email this morning. "It was mouth-watering. See what you did to me by signing me up on Instagram?"
Of course, it hasn't always been smooth sailing: after I initially set my mom up on Instagram, I went to take a shower, only to come out of the bathroom to see that she'd left a garbled, unintelligible comment (comp@@lte with @typ@s) under a photo I'd taken of the shoes she'd bought me, claiming that my photo had not done them justice. She then accosted me FOUR different times that evening (and the next day) to protest the photo, insisting I take another. "I'm so mad at you," she'd huff. "Take a better photo!"
Or, there was her insistence that another Instagram user was "copying me" with her food shots.
"No one's copying me, mom," I sighed. "Everyone takes their photos like that."
"Hmph," she said in the corner, poking away at the screen. "Yours are better. Your pictures are so ... so ... enticing. They really make me want to eat the dish." (We won't get into the email exchange we had where she compared a blogger/journalist's writing to mine as "the difference between cheap and expensive cashmere". Oh, moms. They always have our backs.)
All jokes aside, I'm really, really glad my parents are on Instagram now and that they can see what I'm up to. I think (and I hope) that it makes them feel better connected to me, especially on a daily basis, and that my photos give them a glimpse into what my life is like here in London - particularly when it feels (and is) so far away.
And I'm proud of them for adapting and embracing new technology (although, yesterday I had a conversation with my dad on FaceTime that went like this: "Hey Dad, have you seen my Instagram photos?" "No ..." "Have a look at them now." "How do I do that?" "Open the app." "Oh, hahaha! Dorothy is so cute! And what is the steak? What is the apple thing?" "Okay, right, now return to FaceTime, Dad." "How do I do that?" "Touch the green bar at the top." "I'm touching it, it isn't doing anything." "Just press it once." "I'm rubbing it! It's not doing anything!" And so on, and so forth).
I'm working on Twitter and Facebook (I'm just afraid my mom may inadvertently get herself involved in a Twitter maelstrom).
Are you friends with your parents on Facebook? Do they follow you on social media?