Monday, September 3, 2012

Friending My Mother, and the Need-To-Know Basis: Tomatillo Stew

About a month ago, I got a facebook friend request from my mother.

I sat, staring at my screen in disbelief for a while, and then, I confess: I pretended that it never happened.  The notification is still sitting in limbo in the friend request tab, glaring at me accusingly every time I open that page, shaking its virtual finger at me, neither accepted nor ignored.  Because I simply didn't know what to do with it.

I've been on facebook since July 2005, a bit longer than most people my age.  I originally used it as a professional tool, for the purpose of hunting down students, because they weren't responding to email any more, and hadn't yet been sucked into their little text bubbles.  It worked remarkably well: my students both responded more promptly to my questions or requests to see them, and sought me out more often, saying that they found me more approachable because I had a facebook profile.  My policy was not to friend students unless they friended me first, using the tool primarily as a messaging device until they made the decision to use it to build a relationship.

A few years later, my high school and college friends found facebook, and my personal and professional lives collided online.  Suddenly I'd been tagged in pictures from the third grade.  Not long after that, my family started to find me on Facebook, and I could see who my brother had been out with, and where my father-in-law had taken his homemade rail bike.  Unlike some of my colleagues, I have been OK with this collision, because I felt like it represented a more complete picture of me to my students.  I've never posted anything particularly objectionable.  I don't really have anything to hide from one group or another.  There are no pictures of me with a red Solo cup in hand (mostly because those pictures don't exist).  I've never (as far as I can recall, anyway) used facebook to gossip or to say anything derogatory about other people.

Now.  My mother isn't exactly a Luddite, but she is a slow technology adopter, and not an avid user.  As of a week ago, she still receives and forwards chain mail with animated gifs.  Google isn't exactly a verb for her.  Even if I were to accept her friend request, it's unlikely she'd troll through my archives looking for dirt.  She may or may not look at the pictures I've posted, most of which are dated.  She certainly would not read my status updates with any regularity.  At least, I don't think she would ... though the fact that she only has 14 other friends might make me stand out.

So why am I so hesitant to friend her?
When I lived in West Hollywood, I was mugged at gunpoint late one night by a small group of teenagers while on my way to Starbucks for a cup of coffee.  I'm sure it was a small time gang dare, because they seemed nervous, and the "give us your money, bitch" that they whispered in my ear as I felt the cool barrel of the gun at my head inspired more indignance than fear.  I'd grabbed my purse back from them, told them to "hang on a minute," and gave them the $20 I had for groceries, taking my credit cards back and feeling pissed off because I was a poor graduate student.  They seemed satisfied, we parted ways, and I called the police to make my report.  I didn't call my parents to tell them until about a week later, because I didn't feel like they needed to know; they were 3000 miles away, and would have been upset about something they could do nothing about, something that was already over.  I didn't want to dwell on it.  When it finally did come up, I told my mother that the situation was information I shared on a "Need to Know Basis," and that at the time, she didn't need to know.  Though I didn't mean them hurtfully, I know that she has carried those words in her heart since then; it colors all of our interactions, all of our careful stepping around one another's lives.  As I've been thinking about the facebook problem, I've been wondering if I could draw parallels between my reaction to my mother about her friend request, and the fact that I didn't tell her about getting mugged.  Is this about trying to control what I think she Needs To Know? [updated: I am aware of, and use, various custom groups for making some posts more private.  For some reason, that doesn't affect the way I feel about this situation; I would feel uncomfortable accepting the friend request and then excluding her from my posts.]

The other night, I was talking with a friend whom, I was surprised to hear, was experiencing the same dilemma.  Only in her case, her mother was demanding that she friend her.  Unlike my mother's friend request, which was quietly brooding, only creating guilt because I was inviting it to make me feel guilty, her mother's friend request was like a Howler arriving at Hogwarts, screaming in real life, at the top of its lungs: "you'd better friend me or else."  Her mother was actively looking for pictures to which she didn't have access, feeling left out of an imagined circle of communication.  She threatened my friend with hurtful consequences if she continued to exclude her from her friend list.

I told my friend that this amounted to harrassment in my book.  That she shouldn't have to experience this.   That it was wrong of her mother to make such an unreasonable demand of her adult child who, in my opinion, should be allowed to decide whom to friend.

When we were talking about this, I compared my facebook account to a private room in my virtual house.  I may not have anything to hide in that room.  There are no sex toys, or hidden drugs, or anything that my mother should be worried about.  I bring anything that might be of interest to her directly to the recliner in my virtual living room, where I've invited her to sit.  In fact, she has more access to the things in the rest of my virtual house, where she gets to browse freely.  But if I found her in that one room snooping around, or felt like she demanded to have access to that room, I'd be upset.

The irony, of course, is that I find it perfectly acceptable for mothers of children going off to college to expect that their children friend them (which is a conversation I had with another friend just the day before).  I'm not sure if this is a generational division in my mind.  Do I find it acceptable because the younger generation has always lived with their parents looking over their virtual shoulders?  Or because these children are not yet old enough to be completely individuated?

Facebook friends are not really our friends.  It's a poorly-conceived term.  Some of them are friends, some are acquaintances, some are colleagues.  Some are people we probably don't care very much about at all, especially if we're not vigilant about purging our friend list.  And maybe that's just it: the people I don't care about at all are like people on the street who see my public self when I'm walking downtown with my children; what I post on facebook means nothing to them.  My real friends are the ones for whom my posts have meaning.  So perhaps if I considered my mother my friend, I would friend her ... or, ironically, if I didn't care about her at all, I wouldn't mind accepting her friend request?  What does this say about my attitude towards social media?

I'm stewing.  What would you do?

Tomatillo Stew
Here's something different we decided to do with our CSA tomatillos last week.  It requires a green sauce, but uses that green sauce in a slightly different way than usual.  It's easy to make vegetarian/vegan by using chayote squash as a substitute for the chicken.  Adapted from here.
1 1/2 lbs. tomatillos
2 T. canned chopped green chiles (mild)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 t. kosher salt
2 T. lime juice
pinch of sugar
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" cubes & patted dry OR 3/4 lb. chayote squashkosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
2 more cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 t. dried oregano1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside. Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and slice them in half. Place them cut-side down on a baking sheet about six inches from the broiler and roast for 5-7 minutes, until blackened in spots and cool enough to handle.

Add the tomatillos, any juice they released, chiles, garlic, salt, lime juice, and sugar in a blender and puree until well blended.

Heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet over medium high heat. Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken or squash and drop it in the hot skillet. Brown the cubes on each side (they don’t have to be cooked through); remove from the pan.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions. Cook until softened and the browned bits on the bottom of the pan have loosened.  Add the cumin and coriander and stir until fragrant. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more.

Once the garlic has become fragrant, add the browned chicken or squash back to the pan. Stir in the tomatillo sauce, stock and oregano. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered for 20 minutes, until the chicken or squash is cooked through. Add cilantro just before serving.
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  1. Oh, mothers. I can't even begin to think about articulating my relationship with mine. On the other hand, I will be trying my hand at this recipe. Or something close to it, as I find my cooking rarely follows instructions well. I do love me some tomatillos though!

  2. Oy. Let's just say I wish my mom wasn't on facebook, or my dad for that matter. I just, well, I don't know if your mom is like mine but NOT friending my mom would have been more drama than friending her has been, so I just post things and leave her out of them (custom posting) if I have to. Mostly I just don't post anything that I'm not ok with her consuming. I have private groups for that.

  3. My mom sent me a friend request. I ignored it. I have a rule - No "elders" (i.e. moms, mom-in-law, aunts, uncles, etc...). Like you, there's really nothing to worry about, I just share information with them differently than I do with my friends. I think she never really used her account, and she never said anything. Then again, communication is not my family's strong suit, so for all I know it's eating her up inside and she won't say anything. blech.

  4. My Mom's not on facebook and while my Dad is he hardly ever checks it. I actually wish they were both on and a bit more active so that we could keep in touch that way. There are other people though that I am facebook friends with and sometimes I wonder if they are regretting their decision to send me a friend request. People that might not get the way my close friends and I interact and people who I am friends with (but not really close friends with) who would only know from facebook that we have completely different world views.

    BTW - we are trying out your cinnamon bun recipe today - the dough is sitting in the sun right now. Can't wait to taste them.

  5. I accepted my mother's FB friend request, even though I had the same reaction you did. My sister's point - that I was friends with my aunt - meant that I couldn't exclude my mother. So I didn't.

    I'm mostly okay with it - she uses Facebook as a game, not really to make connections, though it does kind of ruin the times I want to call her with news, since she's already heard it on Facebook.

  6. I can't stop laughing at this: "Google isn't exactly a verb for her."

    I like your analogy of the private room in the house. But I don't have any insight into what you might do with her request.

    I am aware of a double standard I have with my children and their new iPods. I tell them I reserve the right to check their messages and activities, should I have reason to. I also expect that they leave MY phone alone and respect MY privacy because that's how you treat elders.

  7. Interesting. I had a minor panic attack when my parents first found my blog. I didn't have anything embarrassing on's just that it felt weird. As for Facebook, it's not really an issue for me. I've only posted status updates about 4 or 5 times in the 7 years that I've been a member, and I don't have any photos uploaded. But I do think that awkwardness can ensue when worlds collide.

  8. Honestly, my mom is on FB, and we are friends. She could care less about my life - all she wants to see are pictures of her grandkids. She told me everything else on my page is "noise" :)

  9. i've blocked my mother on facebook, which tells you more about my relationship (or lack thereof) with my mother than my feelings about facebook friendships. sigh


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