Tales of Mom


My mother is not a control freak.

She was perfectly happy with her five-button remote control: She could turn her TV on, move the volume up and down and change channels, one at a time. It did the job.

So when I presented her with a new one - with what must have been 118 buttons - she did that silent thing she does, that reaction that consists of really no reaction at all.

The new remote control came with her new DVD player, which I'd bought to replace her old VCR. But let's back up.

At the beginning of this year, my mother turned 80 and moved from her house into a retirement community. For the first few days - though she disguised it well - she felt like she was in prison, and wondered whether she had made a decision that was going to shut her off from the world.

It turned out to be the opposite - and, after six months, she's still seizing on opportunities to develop new friendships, pursue new interests and explore new horizons.

Like Netflix.

Her regular breakfast companion, a Netflix subscriber, had told her about it - movies delivered to your door, postage paid, all for a mere $9.99 a month.

She brought it up on my latest visit, and I encouraged her interest. One of our responsibilities, as offspring, is to keep our parents from falling too far behind the times. We do this, I'm pretty sure, with good hearts - to make their lives more enjoyable, or simpler, or maybe because we've run out of gift ideas.

Sure, sometimes they were passing fads that deserved to end up, as they generally did after one use, in the closet, but once in a while - as with her computer, her coffee maker, her microwave - they were devices that actually enhanced the quality of life.

We went online and I filled out the Netflix registration forms - she's never been much for the minutiae of life, never cared so much about how anything worked, only that it did. We chose a plan and picked out her first five movies before I remembered she didn't have a DVD player, only a VCR.

I returned a few days later with a combination DVD player/VCR (early Mother's Day present), hooked it up and registered her for Netflix, wishing her hours of happy viewing before I headed back home from North Carolina.

A few days later, by phone, she reported something was amiss. Capote had started out OK, then the sound went away. Friends and neighbors, one after the other, rejiggered the DVD player, but each time the result was the same. The sound would go out halfway through the movie.

Eventually, and I believe it was a joint effort involving all of her friends both inside the retirement community and out, it was figured out that the problem wasn't the player, but the DVD, which apparently had worn down.

She sent Capote back and awaited delivery of the second movie, Brokeback Mountain, which she was halfway through, though, at last report, the picture sometimes "went all jerky."

Maybe a tracking issue? I will check on my next visit.

For a long time, I thought that the older she got, the harder it was becoming to keep her from falling behind the times.

Mom: My computer is acting up when I go on the Internet.

Me: It sounds like you have a problem with your browser.

Mom: What's my browser?

Me: It is the mechanism that allows you to retrieve Web pages from the server.

Mom: Who's the server? Is my server the same as my provider? Aren't they the same thing? They sound like the same thing.

What I've never told her, though maybe she's figured it out, is that, in most cases, I am as clueless and impatient with technology as she is. I just pretend that I'm in a position to help her out.

Why? Maybe it's partly because I don't want to seem like I'm behind the times. More than that, though, it's because, for a long time, she was my provider.

And my server, too.


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