Since starting the website Postcards From Yo Momma, which publishes emails, IM conversations, and text messages between mothers and their adult children and putting together a book -- Love, Mom: Poignant, Goofy, Brilliant Messages from Home, which came out last week -- based on the site, my co-editor Jessica Grose and I have had a revealing look into the communication between mothers and their adult children.
Sometimes it's a little too revealing. For one thing, everyone's much more open about sex. "btw, in case youre wondering -- i heard back from the doctor. i don't have vd. i thought i should tell you," one daughter chatted to her mother. Or as this mom wrote to her daughter. "Sorry to hear about your recent bc issues. You know, your father and I used to consider 'that time of the month' as our 'free sex time of the month.' You know... more mess but no stress?"
Of course, the underlying message of much maternal communication hasn't changed, as one mom wrote to her daughter:
I bought some baby clothes for you today. I know you aren't pregnant, but I thought that maybe if I bought the clothes it would work in reverse...like I could will you to get knocked up. Are you knocked up? Tell that husband of yours to get busy. I want you two sexing it up like rabbits. Hear me...RABBITS.
PS: Your father is getting a vasectomy.
In the book, we separated the messages into 19 naturally occurring themes (sex being one of them, of course), including Blogs, IM Slang, Facebook, and the Mysteries of the Computer; Taxes, Cell Phone Bills, and Why Mom Won't Send the Fifth Copy of Your Birth Certificate; and Pets, Animals, and Their All-Too-Frequent Bowel Movements. But the messages are also easily grouped into mom-types.
There are the passive-aggressive moms: "I just wanted to tell you that I miss you. And I hope when you and Jeff decide to settle down that its here in Chicago. Especially when you have a baby. Not that I'm putting any pressure on you."
Aggressive-aggressive: "Subject: hi. I want grandchildren."
Matter-of-fact: "This is the best article I have seen on the risks associated with oral sex and how to reduce them. I had never heard of a dental dam before. Please do read this. Love, Mom"
Self-deprecating: "Freeeezing here... now I know why old people move to Florida! Give me a trailer, some plastic flamingoes, pedal-pushers, and some 'bodice-rippers' and I'm all set."
And of course, mothering: "Yes, I am a pest, but I just looked at Iowa weather and it will be 5 below Tuesday night. Hope you have a hat with ears. Love you, Mom."
Until I started working on the website and the book, I naively assumed that my mom was the only mom in the world to send these types of missives -- by turns matter-of-fact, self-deprecating, and passive-aggressive. There's also a certain randomness to many of the messages from moms:
How are you? How come we don't hear from you anymore? Are you still coming home for that appointment on Thursday? Please don't cancel it; it is too important. Also, you should not have "relations" ever before a PAP test. Did you know that? It can change the results. I'd make sure that I did not, for a couple of days before. Would you want me to try to schedule a dental cleaning, too? That IS M's day, and she might just have an opening. You have put that off much too long, too. Let me know.
I've decided that moms are able to pack so much into one email because they sit down at the computer as though they were making a phone call -- with a mental checklist of everything they want to bring up with their kids. But instead of a phone call where the child is responding to everything they say, over email, they're just kind of talking to themselves. (Oh, Mom...)
And indeed, it turns out that there really is what we like to call "universal momness" that unites so many moms not just around the country, but around the world. My own mother has told me that the site and the book have made her not only feel like she's part of a much larger community of moms who are all going through the same types of things with their adult children.
A few nights ago we had a party to celebrate the publication of our book. Dozens of moms who were in the book flew in from around the country and came with their kids who'd submitted their messages. One mom, who hadn't been to New York in 20 years because she's afraid of flying, took a 17-hour train from Wisconsin. Another mom told me that she was so thrilled to have met so many of the other moms in the book -- and that they had all started signing each others' books on the page where their messages were. The sight of all these moms getting so much gratification and validation from each other reaffirmed my faith in our project.
We still receive 20 to 30 emails a day from children submitting their parents' emails, and we select three each day to put on the website. The selection process for the book was even more stringent; we only published around 250 messages (most of which had never been on the site). But one mom I've been getting fewer emails from lately is my own mom. "I definitely email you less since you started the site," she told me recently. Even though the site has made her feel closer to this community of moms, I think she also became a little self-conscious about her communiqués -- which, after all, inspired the site to begin with. Instead, she's taking to calling me -- yes, on the phone -- more. Which, upon reflection, probably isn't a bad thing.
Doree Shafrir is the author, with Jessica Grose, of Love, Mom: Poignant, Goofy, Brilliant Messages from Home (Hyperion) and the creator of the website Postcards From Yo Momma. She is also a reporter at the New York Observer and a former editor at Gawker. Originally from Boston, she now lives in Brooklyn.