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A Skype Mother

Thirty  some years ago when the US was still across the ocean, I left my parents in Israel and travelled with my husband to the US to attend graduate school. Living abroad at that time meant being disconnected from everything that was going on in Israel.   

 Every week I wrote long  letters to my parents  and reported all the details of our new life; they were filled with longing and love. The letters that my parents wrote back expressed similar sentiments, but they never questioned our decision to go away or doubted the merit of advancing our education abroad.

However, the idea that one should sacrifce being geographically close to family in order to advance a career or achieve a better life is not shared by everyone. When I wrote my PhD on the connection between life and literature in 1950s Britain, I was surprised to discover  a different reality in Family and Kinship in East London, a 1957 sociological study by Michael Young and Peter Willmott reporting on the life of working classes in Britain. Young and Wilmot  found that  being close to the mother was one of the most important considerations in finding housing, and that young people tended to stay within walking distance from their mothers.

Although I was very close to my  mother, staying nearby was never a a factor in my considerations of where to live.  I took for granted that in order to move ahead we needed to move away, and my parents agreed with me. Only later when I was already a mother myself, I would sit down to have a cup of coffee in the morning and think “What am I doing here? I could have had this cup of coffee with my mom”

We went back to Israel in 1994 and I had two good years to enjoy the company of my mother, but she died in 1996. To this day I regret all those years that I missed not being close to her.

Then, following our footsteps, in 2000 my 18-year-old daughter left Israel to study in Germany. At the time there was still very little internet connection, and Skype had not yet been invented. She had to wait a whole month for a phone, and I got a chance to experience what my mother must have felt: a nagging feeling of  worry and longing mixed together with happiness that my daughter was moving ahead with her life.

My two daughters are in the US now and we connect through email, Skype, Facebook and cellular phone. Thanks to video chat I can even see them when we talk.  Moreover, it seems that social network has trained young people in the art of documenting their life. They devote time to report what they do and attach appropriate photos.

People complain that the cheerful public persona reflected from Facebook, for example, is never the real person, but didn’t we write letters to our parents and report that all was well even when it wasn’t, as to not make them to worry?

Since to connect with my daughters we use all the technology available, we can detect even small worries from the hello on the phone to the frown in a video chat. The readily available technology is the “spoonful of sugar” that makes the distance between us “go down.” But still when I sit down for coffee in the middle of the morning now I miss my two daughters who are busy making a life for themselves over sea.



15 Comment count
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So true

Every word.



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Thank you dear Jane for your

Thank you dear Jane for your kind response. Orna 

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I wouldn't suggest for a moment that wider availability of a good education since WWII isn't in itself a good thing, but it has been a major factor in the break-up of old 'family-style' communities in Britain.

These communities were self-policing and socially self-regulating because everyone was known and feared for their reputation which was based on expectations of honest behaviour and good citizenship in the common interest. There was a genuine part to play.

The cities were about anonymity, forging a new identity according to the practices of the metropolitan jungle. They were places of adventure and also places of hiding. Novels like Room At The Top, and much of D H Lawrence's writing before that, illustrate the challenges and the tension caused when familiar people can no longer communicate with each other. Children who went off to universities in the fifties and sixties (then only the top 5% or so!) didn't return home after they graduated, but moved on, often abroad, and set the pattern for the times we live in.

I don't pretend to know what the answer is, but the cost in terms of social care, especially where the elderly are concerned, is approaching crisis proportions. As regards human welfare, and even economics, this experiment hasn't worked, nor has the nuclear family, a result of this upheaval.

As you point out, orna, this is where technology can come into its own. There's a lot to be grateful for now.

Thank you very much for this interesting post.

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Thank you dear Rosy for your

Thank you dear Rosy for your enlightning response. My impression, from everything that I read, is that middle class families are willing to pay the price of  not staying together in their community in order to insure a better life for their children.

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Thank you dear Rosy for your

Thank you dear Rosy for your enlightning response. My impression, from everything that I read, is that middle class families are willing to pay the price of  not staying together in their community in order to insure a better life for their children.

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Yes, I'm sure that's true, orna,

even among those not so privileged - except that in recent years the cost of higher education has become prohibitive to the less well-off.  Everyone has been conditioned to have these expectations of greener pastures. The outcome is that economic viability is impossible to sustain outside urban areas. Farming is in crisis. The severe weather of the last twelve months has been against us, too. We cannot begin to feed ourselves. Food prices have soared and food banks are being set up to help those on low income. (These are charity initiatives.) The population is beginning to appreciate the need to learn to grow its own food and there is a ballooning demand for everything associated with it. This necessity, in years to come, must enlist a change in our idea of community, so that those who are unable to fend for themselves are helped by those who can. A new idea of family, perhaps.

Like most mothers, I encouraged my son in his academic ambitions, though he had a good job before that. He has been able to fund himself through two degree courses and is now on a third, whilst still working. But he has come to realise that we are on the threshold of a lifestyle revolution which technology can help to facilitate and that the answer, for him at least, is somewhere on home soil, 'ploughing back'. In this turning full circle, the educated have a lot to offer. The question posed is: What will happen if money ceases to have value?


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Dear Rosy, Thank you for this

Dear Rosy,

Thank you for this very interesting response; I am glad that your son has made a life for himself in the UK. I pray that it will be the same with my daughters.

I read with my students an interesting article from Newsweek International that argues that brain  drain is actually a brain gain; ("Sending Workers Abroad Doesn't Mean Squandering Minds. for Many Countries, Diaspora Talent Is the Key to Success" by Mac Margolis). I find that it is especially relevant for a small country like Israel where many talented people have to move away since there is no room for everyone.

It is good talking to you, Orna



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A very interesting article,

A very interesting article, Orna, and one that echoes some of my recent thoughts.  Sadly, I am not a mother, so am ill-equipped to comment on that side of things.  What I am, is a daughter and I have recently been much re-evaluating the significance of distance in my relationship with my mother.  First of all, it's important to say that, all my life, my family has consisted of my grandmother, my mother, and me.  I first left home to go study abroad at nineteen, and that wasn't soon enough, as far as I was concerned.  I had the intention of never going back to my family.  Through no fault of any of us, although we adore one another, we just don't gel (perhaps an all-female household can be one sided).  My grandmother passed away, aged 100, just over a year ago, and that really brought it home to me that it's just my mother and me for each other.  Although my mother and I cannot be under the same roof for more than 24 hours before claws are unsheathed and Sartresque passive-aggressiveness is unleashed, I am now reluctant to live too far away from her.  I want to be at least in the same city (another reason I am glad to have moved back to London, from Norwich).  Suddenly, I feel protective of her and am aware that our time together is finite.  I also very much want to resolve some of our issues, while there is still time.  In other words, at the age of 48, I have decided to get to know my mother – not just as someone I am always loving and fighting – but as a person in her own right.

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Dear Katherine, I think that

Dear Katherine, I think that you are making a brave move, and one that you won't regret.  Although getting along may be challenging (as the Americans say) the remorse and the pain of not doing it could be much harder. And who knows?  my very opinionated father has really mellowed in his eighties and we became wonderful friends after my mother died . Lots of luck and lots of patience, in Hebrew by the way,  the words  patience and tolerance have the same root:-)

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"in Hebrew by the way,  the

"in Hebrew by the way,  the words  patience and tolerance have the same root:-)"  How fascinating.  I love learning this kind of thing.

I had the great privilege of being briefly acquainted with an elderly Jewish actor from New York, who invited me to lunch at the Players' Club.  A highly intelligent and wise man who, sadly, passed away a couple of years ago.  One of the many wonderful things he said to me really made an impression on me.  He said he'd been debating the term "tolerance" with the Rabbi at his temple, and didn't like the term, when applied to relations between different people and cultures.  "Tolerance" implies "putting up with something", he told me, adding that even steel would, therefore, reach its tolerance level.  "Acceptance", on the other hand, was the term – and concept – he preferred.  I can never hear the word "tolerance" now, without remembering this old gentleman.

But that's by the by...


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Interesting; in Hebrew the

Interesting; in Hebrew the root for being patient or tolerant is the same one as for the  verb "to suffer". Being patient or tolerant implies suffering. You are patient if you suffer without complaining, and you are tolerant if you agree to sufferthose who are different from you. Come to think of it, it looks like a Christian concept has sneaked up into the Hebrew language. 

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Latin patio – to suffer,

Latin patio – to suffer, endure.  Makes sense.

Have you read The Anti-Christ by Friedrich Nietzsche? I read it as a teenager, and it made a very strong impression on me.  If I remember correctly, Nietzsche makes a very interesting point about the Christian Church's emphasis on suffering.

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How interesting, no I didn't

How interesting, no I didn't know the Latin wordt, and now, like always, I regret that I don't know Latin.  I remember also reading Nietzsche as a teenager, but I don't remember much. Speaking about books that I read then and made a  strong impression I can think of Ayn Rand and Herman Hesse:-)

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Wonderful sharing Orna!  I

Wonderful sharing Orna!  I remember my days studying in California.  How I would go the extra mile just to check my mailbox for letters from home... 

And then my daughter sets off for college a year away from home.  This time, no more letters, but virtual time and space that connects.  Skype is amazing!  I can tell if she's eating well of if the place is a mess :-)

But despite technology that makes connecting so simple, I had difficult moments alone, thinking about and missing the presence of my daughter.

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Thank you for writing dear

Thank you for writing dear Rina, I agree, Skype makes the distance seems shorter:-$