My parents’ blog, or, four years sitting in the virtual kitchen

About ten years ago, my parents got a computer. Dad was 87 and Mom was 81.  They weren’t really early adopters, except maybe among their age group.

The primary reason was my dad’s eyesight–he couldn’t drive safely at night to visit friends and play cards.  The computer allowed us to install card-game software.  The software created virtual partners for cribbage, pinochle, and euchre, as well as solitaire cards that never got sticky.

A few weeks later, my mother asked if they could get to the internet.  We got her an AOL account and bought two copies of a graphic-rich how-to book.  (That way, when she had a question, I’d use my copy and say, “Look on page 32.  I’ll walk you through the steps…”)

I printed the first email she sent, in May of 2000.  It read, in part:

I want to know what URL means.  I want to know if my address book has the e-mail addresses in it.  And how do I get it?

Those are great, goal-oriented questions.  And I had forgotten this from my dad, about a month later, until I found the copy this morning:

Hi David

Mom made me do it

This is the old fellow trying to compose a little note.

How am I doing?

Love Dad

For quite a while, they had fun with email (mostly receiving, since their typing skills weren’t the greatest). Over time, though, Mom and Dad had difficulties with the mechanics: they’d get attachments they couldn’t open, and their in-basket will fill up because they didn’t quite get the hang of filing.

Then I had an epiphany: I set up what I called the world’s smallest blog (audience: two).  Instead of writing letters or email, I started posting to the blog.  Instead of searching their in-basket, they’d click on the desktop shortcut I created.

With photos embedded in the posts, they didn’t have to open attachments.  The blog would automatically archive by month, and also by broad topic.  And my three children (who between them have more than half a dozen blogs) had author access, so they too could plop down at this digital kitchen table for a visit.

I mention this for a number of reasons.  First, Sunday was the blog’s fourth anniversary (official readership is down to just my mother).  Second, and not entirely by chance, Sunday also marked the blog’s one-thousandth post.

That’s right: for four years, my parents have had virtual guests about five posts a week.

By and large the posts on their blog are astonishingly mundane.  I write about a trip into Washington, or making chicken stew provençal, or (much less often) about a consulting project I’m working on.

Oh, and the weather.  My dad always wanted to know what our weather was like.

My kids tease me, but they know the real purpose: each post is a brief chat with my mother, often with pictures (she got a lot of pictures of last February’s snowpocalypse), letting her know what’s going on here.  They add their own comments, and a fair number of pictures of the great-grandchildren.

Another reason I mention this is that when I came up with the idea, I realized I’d broken through my own preconception of what a blog was.  Blogs are for the world at large?  Not necessarily.  They have your Big Thought of the Day?  Ehh, maybe not.  They’re all about ever-expanding readership?  It’s debatable.

What really happened is that I had a problem to solve–Mom and Dad’s challenges in working with email, and my own spotty record in sitting down to write them some email.  And by ignoring what I thought were conventions of the medium, I found a solution.

The only drawback?  My brother, who lives with my mother, urges me to post at least four times a week.  If I miss two days running, he says, my mother worries that there’s something wrong, either with her computer or with me.

I’m not sure which worries her more.

Screenshot from WordPress is mine; CC-licensed tea photo by adactio / Jeremy Keith.

4 thoughts on “My parents’ blog, or, four years sitting in the virtual kitchen

  1. When my first daughter was born, I was living in Central PA, and my wife’s parents were in Wisconsin with my folks residing in Georgia. I thought that this might be a good opportunity to set up a family blog, where I’d capture stories for a future time of what it was like for my daughter’s grandparents growing up.

    It didn’t take; it was probably too much of a leap to reflect on a regular basis. Building the habit, however mundane, ultimately would have been the better approach.

    A thousand posts is an impressive milestone. But has their typing improved?

  2. Aaron:

    No, they never really sent much email. I’d actually forgotten Dad had ever sent any till I pulled the copy out of a file I keep.

    In that sense, having email was all about potential: they could do it if they wanted, and they could get help doing it (from me or any of half-a-dozen local great-grandchildren). And their being online meant someone could help my mother order things online.

    My wife once ordered new dining room chairs for Mom that way, a thing she found delightfully improbable. She also liked embedded YouTube videos, another plus for using WordPress.

  3. Me and my son have a blog of two:

    I’ve set him up with a Tumblr (it could have been a Posterous too) and he uses the bookmarklet to record his four-year-old obsessions. He started off with Thomas, switched to bullet trains and now he, bizarrely, loves the Honda Civic.

    Anyway, this blog works as a bookmarking service/life record. (It’s also an amazing incentive for him to learn to spell search terms. He seems to find the interfaces on Google Chrome and YouTube ‘intuitive’ and rarely needs help.) You’re right, blogging platforms are far more flexible than many realise.

  4. Simon, you and Arthur have an electronic version of the big shoebox filled with nursery-school drawings, childhood treasures, and tired, over-folded, best-loved books.

    This is one reason I insist on having my own web server, rather than using a service like Blogger or I am hyper-paranoid about keeping the photos and other items that I post at my mom’s blog. At least those that are mine, personally. I archive them both in my blog archives and in a separate PC backup.

    I remember years ago a series of videotapes about big construction machines, the kind of thing kids Arthur’s age seem to go crazy for. It was a great idea, I thought: let them see what a front-end loader or a dump truck or a bulldozer were like, close up, operating, with no danger. Now, of course, there are so many other ways for a child to indulge his passions.

    As for the Honda Civic, my own is suffering from a distressing number of small ills, the sum of which may have a cumulative effect. Too bad I won’t have it long enough to sell it to you at a good price for your son.

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