When my mom started following me on Twitter, I felt a bit like a teenager who couldn’t get any privacy. After I tweeted a friend to say that his brother was unusually handsome, she chimed in, writing, “Ooooo, he *is* cute.”
I deleted the tweet and kept it strictly professional after that.
But the change she made recently to her profile was even more jarring. She added one word, putting it right at the beginning of her self-description:
I knew that my Mom had gone to art school when she was young. I also knew that she’d dropped out. Eventually, she became a graphic designer. A single watercolor was all that remained of her life as a painter. It showed a woman with long, flowing hair standing in the rain, trying, unsuccessfully, to hold petals in the cupped palms of her hands. The picture hung in our study in a plain, silver frame.
I’d always admired the piece. But I’d viewed it as the youthful work of a dilettante, of someone who liked going to galleries and museums but who wasn’t a true artist.
She’d been on Twitter for over a year when she made the change to her profile. My first response to my mother’s update was guilt. What else had I missed about my mother?
I studied her tweets. Looking for a new camera, she said.
Was she into photography now, too?
And then another surprise:
I do love Savannah.
My whole childhood in Gainesville, Fla., I listened to her wax poetic about “the city”—her native New York. “I should have never left the city,” she said, as we puttered along in our battered, blue Ford Pinto. A Jew, she felt oppressed by the evangelical Christianity she sometimes encountered in the Deep South—people who urged her to convert, who told us we were going to hell because we hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as our personal lord and savior.
“Look at this place,” Mom would say. “There’s a church on every corner.”
She’d made me wear a chai pendant. The Hebrew word for life, my classmates had pointed at the necklace and teased me. It was strange, it was foreign. I wanted out but a scholarship to the local university kept me in the South and my college sweetheart anchored me. When our relationship failed in my late 20s, I went as far away as I could.
Sitting at my computer in Israel, I wondered when Mom had made her peace with everything, when she’d embraced the South enough to publicly express her adoration for Savannah—a place as Southern as collard greens.
I considered the emotional distance between us and wondered if we’d be closer if I didn’t live half way around the world.
I tried to remember the last time we’d asked each other questions that went beyond the superficial details of our lives.
There’d been hints that we didn’t know each other very well anymore. When Mom came to visit me in Israel in 2008, she brought me a pink sweater—a throwback to the days when I was a little ballerina who hung her pink toe shoes on the handle of the door that led to her pink bedroom.
Today, I am a woman who categorically rejects pink. I do not wear it. Under any circumstances.
This summer, when I visited the States, I made a guilty confession to my mom: Yes, I go out for a jog once in awhile, but I don’t enjoy it. My parents are avid runners and my father is a track and cross-country coach. Mother-daughter runs were the core of our relationship during my teenage years. She didn’t take the news well—she continued to protest, “But you told me once you wished you hadn’t quit the team …” she said, on Skype.
So I emailed my mom, asking her about the update to her Twitter profile and if she was doing photography. I worried that this admission of how little I knew about her life would hurt her feelings. But I asked myself what would trouble her more—that I didn’t know? Or that I didn’t ask?
I hit send.
Mom is usually a little slow to respond. But, this time, I got a reply the same day:
I’ve been feeling very frustrated creatively for quite some time, since I no longer do design for a living … I’ve been searching for a creative outlet for a few years. And I’ve been quite interested in rug hooking. It is a little expensive to start up. But, finally, I have all the major supplies I need.
So I started rug hooking. My own design.
I attend a class once a week. It’s mostly older women. I enjoy just sitting there hooking while listening to them chitchat.
This didn’t jibe with the image I had of my mom. She’d been a New Yorker—impatient, walk fast, talk fast. And she’d always turned her nose up at crafts. Who was this woman who sat, quietly, hooking rugs, listening to the ladies around her? I struggled to picture it.
As for the photography, she continued, I’ve been missing that as well …
It turns out that she’d always taken black and white stills. How can it be that I hadn’t noticed?
She went on, explaining that her new hobby had led her to some realizations of her own. Mom had had a strained relationship with her stepmother, who passed away recently. When she’d gone to New York to console my grandfather, guess what Mom noticed on their shelves? Books on rug hooking. They’d had more in common than they’d known.
You know, Mom added, when I was young, I kept these little notebooks. I wrote everything down. I wanted to be a writer, too. Like you.
Our pictures of each other need updating. But, I realize, we know each other’s core, some essence that stands still, unmoved by time. Yes, the adult me can’t stand pink. But I always wanted to be a writer. And that never changed.
I tapped out a quick email asking Mom, “What’s all this about loving Savannah? What about New York? Do you still want to move back to the city someday?”
She sent me a short answer: I do.