I’m over my mom’s behavior on Instagram.
A few months ago, while waiting for our entrées at a restaurant near her apartment, my mother and I set up her Instagram account on her iPhone. In the rush of the moment, the novelty of my own mother capturing and posting instances from her life was hilarious, even exciting. I asked myself a few amusing questions: How long would it take her to find and summon her Instavoice? Would she be funny? Would her images be poetic? How many likes would she get on average? More than me? No way. Could she handle that heavy weight of rejection and confusion that’s brought on when a photo is met with an underwhelming reaction by followers? Would she even use the app? She is good at texting, I thought. Not good for a mom, but for a person. I showed her the ropes, she followed me, I followed her, the roast chickens came, and that was that.
But to this day, my mother hasn’t posted one photo of her own. She simply uses the app as a way to comment on other people’s photos, other people’s choices, other people’s lives.
“Awww miss you peter”
This was the first comment. Harmless. It popped up under a photo I’d posted of my oldest friend, Peter. I thought it was nice of her to say hi to him in the comments section. They haven’t seen each other in a long time. But Pete doesn’t even have Instagram, so he probably never even saw her greeting. Too bad.
This was another comment, under a selfie I’d posted in which I wore a women’s fur coat while sporting an ironic turban for added drama. She was right. The moment captured was my attempt at being chic. She knew exactly what I was going for. She understood my photo’s concept, it’s inherent joke, because she knew me. Though essentially passive, there was something about this interaction between us that felt off.
Under a photo I took of a wall that kinda looked like a woman’s crotch. True, it could be considered erotic—the angles and shadows created a vaginal geometry—but the comment was broad, base, and frankly unnecessary.
“I remember that!”
Under a photo of me as a 4 year old. Yeah of course you remember that, Mom. I was four. You were there.
“How cute is he????!!!”
Under a photo of me, age 5, pouting flamboyantly. The digital equivalent of her grabbing my cheeks, squeezing them, and shaking. In public.
My mother’s comments aren’t unsettling in a “Mommmmmmmmm!!!!” kinda way, but more in a “Mom. Mom. Mom.” kinda way. You know? I’m not ashamed that she is in the same proverbial room as me and my friends, chattering away, saying how cute she thinks her youngest son was at 4. She’s not an embarrassing person. I like her a shit load. She understands me best and I understand her right back. We’re friends. I’m not embarrassed by her presence on Instagram or otherwise, but I am very confused by how it makes me feel. I wonder what this feeling is? I wonder if others share it? It’s an awkward blending of personas, a confrontation of two worlds.
When my mother’s voice becomes a digitized string of letters amongst a series of other inconsequential messages, her role in my life is brought into question. Where does she fit in? How does she fit in? When interacting with our family (or anyone who we’ve established lifelong relationships with before the advent of social media), are we interacting with the history that we’ve built with these people as well, or are we newer, cleaner, more deletable versions of ourselves? Is social media an element that must be added to a relationship with thought, care, and grace, like a new belief system or religion?
The things that happen on the internet are real. Large or small. Funny and not funny. An apology email or a fleeting comment under an Instagram photo, these interactions are very real, as is their domain. I get it. But why does my heart sink when my mother’s name pops up under a photo I’ve posted on Instagram? I would have no issue with her commenting on a physical print of a photo I’m showing her. None whatsoever.