I should have known better. After all, I'm the middle-aged, one-of-these-days empty nester who put out a want ad for a nanny to help me with my technology. But like a toddler with no impulse control, I keep waddling toward the socket with my curious, sticky fingers. It's only Facebook, right? How dangerous can it be?
This is what happens when a helicoptering parent attempts to use tools beyond her means to stalk her college-aged child.
In a moment of misplaced confidence, my son had given me the username and password to his college e-mail account. He was eagerly awaiting the message that would confirm his dorm confirmation and the name of his roommate, a message that was scheduled to arrive when he would be on a hiking trip in the mountains, far from any Wi-Fi signal. Thinking he might have "primitive" cell phone service at the base, he asked me to check his account and call him that evening with the news.
Of course I was happy to comply, because this little assignment allowed me to continue with the façade that my first-born still needs his mother to navigate his way in the big, scary world. So I successfully logged on to his account (a feat in and of itself, considering my vast technological disabilities) and up popped his residence hall and roommate information.
Puffed up with self-confidence, I went straight to my search bar, typed in the roommate's name and clicked on the first Facebook link bestowed upon me by the fickle gods of Google.
I'll admit I was taken aback by the young man's profile picture; a confederate flag emblazoned with the words, "It's a Southern Thang, Yankees don't understand." Well, that's strange, I thought, noting his hometown in the deep, deep South. I wonder why he's chosen to pay out-of-state tuition in the bluest state in New England?
But my mild curiosity morphed into heart-pounding panic when I scrolled further down the page. His most recent post cautioned, "Warning: I'm the redneck your mother warned you about." Another post depicted a revolver and a bible, and informed his readers that these were "the only two things I need to know, and they don't teach them in school." Guns, dead deer and Obama slurs populated the rest of his status updates. A particularly menacing close-up photo of a gleaming bullet declared, "Hollow Points -- when you care enough to send the very best." Earlier that month he had posted a picture of a small black child standing in a dirt-floored tent with a quizzical expression on his face and the caption, "So you're telling me our village idiot became the President of the United States?"
The floor these two were assigned to was specially reserved for students with an interest in "Literature and Society," yet the only book listed under "Likes" on this maniac's page was The Cat in the Hat. I decided that fact alone warranted a call to the Residence Director.
I've worked in colleges and universities for years, so I know this sort of thing is frowned upon, especially before the beginning of a student's first semester. But this, I reasoned, was a matter of life and death. What would happen when this gun nut figures out he's living with a pacifist atheist who just learned how to download New Yorker podcasts of audio fiction? In my imaginary movie, the theme song from Deliverance plays in the background while a toothless hillbilly points the barrel of his sawed-off shotgun at my innocent son as he sleeps under his poster of quirky Zooey Deschanel.
This is one instance where the fact that I (like nearly 87 percent of other social media consumers) was lurking on Facebook at work is what ultimately saved me from making a total fool of myself. As I was searching the college website for the direct phone line to the Residence Director my computer pinged with a staff meeting reminder.
I attended the meeting in body only, as my mind was busy framing an open-and-shut case for a new roommate assignment. I knew I would be told that college was a unique opportunity to "embrace diversity," and "learn to live with others," -- advise I'd been preaching to my own kids and my own students for years. Advise that now sounded like dangerous platitudes.
One of my twenty-something colleagues interrupted my reverie and asked why I was so uncharacteristically quiet. I confessed that I had spent my morning not working on an agenda for our upcoming new student orientation, but sniffing out information about my son's college roommate. I told her about the guns and the bullets, the deer carcasses and the hate. By the time I told her about this kid's weird crush on Daisy from The Dukes of Hazzard my colleague had it all figured out.
"That's a show from like, the '80s, right?" she asked. "And this guy doesn't list a college even though that's what every single high school senior puts up on their Facebook page as soon as they figure out where they're going... ?"
I shrugged my shoulders and followed her back into my office where she commandeered my keyboard and a few clicks later took me to the page of my son's future roommate. He's from a suburb about thirty miles north of ours and his profile picture shows him standing next to his Dad in the stands at Fenway park.
My son had a good laugh at my old lady bumbling when I relayed the story to him that night. In a role reversal that I have no doubt will become increasingly common, he explained that you should never just click on the first Google link. I feigned offense at his condescending tone, but what was really bothering me was that I knew I had been outed. My nemesis proclaimed in his profile pic that Yankees don't understand, and he's absolutely right. How is my involuntary cringe at seeing his guns 'n bibles any different from his presumed derision of my peace signs and NPR?
When my son returned from his hiking trip I showed him the profile of his evil twin roommate.
"Dude," he said, shaking his head. "I don't think I could live with someone who listens to country music."