Saturday, March 13, 2010

Electronic Motherhood

Yesterday afternoon, I became a mother. It happened quite suddenly. I was browsing facebook, happily making snarky comments on people's news stories and supportive comments about people's cats' health problems, when an alert pops up telling me that Brittany Spears (my boyfriend's daughter) has made a "family request." I'd never seen a "family request" before, so I clicked right away with more than average curiosity. And here's what I saw:


I will admit my heart pounded a bit out of my chest. Here is a strange new circumstance: a facebook request suggests I am someone's mother, then gives me the options "confirm" and "ignore." The emotional implications of ignoring motherhood need not be mentioned; the emotional implications of confirming motherhood, however, are not to be taken lightly.

But then, this is facebook. I have dozens of "facebook friends," which is a category quite distinct from "friend." A "facebook friend" is someone that you may or may not have even met. You may or may not actually talk to this person via facebook. You might even find some few "facebook friends" kind of annoying, or even just republican, and so choose to silence them from your news feed. Aside from appearing on your list of friends, these "facebook friends" have no real presence to you at all.

"Facebook motherhood," though, feels like a less callous category. And while I don't want to get into the long and complex history between Brittany and me, needless to say it's long and complex. When Brittany asked me to be her facebook mom, it's probably the sweetest, most loving thing she's ever done towards me. (And when I accepted, that may have been the sweetest and most loving thing I've ever done towards her -- "long and complex" history, after all, is a term that applies just as well to the Israelis and Palestinians, China and Taiwan, Hutus and Tutsis, as it applies to us.)

And of course Brittany has had other moms. She has her real mother and her mother's long-time girlfriend, too, and they are much closer to her than I am. But I've always known that and never tried to "compete." Far from it. I'm not technically old enough for her to be my daughter, so I've always resented the parenting role a bit. I've been more comfortable thinking of Brittany as a cousin. But of course she's not. A cousin is an equal. She's my boyfriend's daughter. It's not the same thing.

So being a "facebook mom" is actually the best possible description of our relationship. We're not family, but we are family. We love each other, but there's this weird barrier. We know each other well, and maybe over time we'll get closer, because we'll share news stories and updates about our pets.

Driving up the highway last night, to visit with friends, I found myself reminded that earlier in the day I had become Brittany's fb mom. It made me feel a little different, I realized. I little more motherly. I guess I'm getting older. But there was also this neat little fact: I'm writing a book about an electronic daughter. And now I have one.

Cross-posted to Incertus

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