Class of ’99 | Thanks to email, it’s never too late to have
“the talk.” Two nights before her wedding, a woman gets the following message from her mother:
“Honey, I just want to let you know that if you have any, you know, QUESTIONS, you can ask me anything. Your father isn’t the best lover in the world, so I also know a lot about toys. Let’s get dinner tonight.”
“What is it about mom emails?” muses Doree Shafrir C’99 G’04. As co-creator of PostcardsFromYoMomma.com, she has become an expert on the topic. The website and the book it inspired—Love, Mom: Poignant, Goofy, Brilliant Messages from Home (Hyperion)—feature some of the wackiest examples of motherly missives.
Consider the mother who delights in keeping her daughter up to date on slang expressions through instant messaging:
Mom: u ever heard of the phrase ‘boiled as an owl?’
Mom: … it’s slang for REAL drunk lol
Mom: i got boiled as an owl last night!
A lot of the emails and IMs “sound like a phone conversation—they’re sort of chatty and engaging,” says Shafrir, who studied history at Penn and edited 34th Street. She attributes some of the “unintentionally hilarious” messages to “moms trying to relate to kids on their level”—whether that means commenting on J. Lo’s assets or trying out the latest lingo.
Dads tend to be “more businesslike and formal,” Shafrir says. “If they send an email to their kids, it generally has a purpose: ‘When do I need to pick you up from the airport?’ and ‘How much money do you have in our bank account?’” (This hasn’t stopped Shafrir and her co-editor, Jessica Crose, from buying domain names that could be used for a paternal version in the future.)
With moms, the subjects can range from aromatherapy (for the pet cats, of course) to zoonosis (“What are you doing getting bitten by mosquitoes!! You will get MALARIA … Maybe you have got dengue fever even!”).
Shafrir, formerly an editor at Gawker.com and now an editor at the New York Observer, got the idea a year ago when her friend Crose passed along a funny email from her mother about an encounter with Ed Koch in the 1970s. “It sounded similar in tone and content to something my mom would say, so I sent her a couple of emails from my mom,” Shafrir recalls. “We had a good laugh and commiserated about the nature of mom emails.”
Then Shafrir got to thinking: What if they solicited a bunch of maternal messages from friends and put them up on a website? Crose was game and PostcardsfromYoMomma.com was soon launched. A month later they had a book deal.
As the website keeps drawing new visitors, the bar for outrageousness keeps getting raised. It helps that senders’ names are kept anonymous.
“It seems to me that people are much more open … and say things over email and Instant Messenger that they would definitely not say face-to-face and would probably not say over the phone,” Shafrir says.
Email is a good place, for example, to drop hints about wanting grandchildren.
“I bought some baby clothes for you today,” one mother writes. “I know you aren’t pregnant, but I thought that maybe if I bought the clothes it would work in reverse … like I could will you to get knocked up … Tell that husband of yours to get busy. I want you two sexing it up like rabbits.”
Shafrir says she’s been surprised at the amount of “sex talk” between mother and daughter. Take the email in which a mother warns her daughter not to forget to pack her birth control for a trip with her boyfriend, for example. (“I love you, but that’s how I got you.”)
At least moms can admit to needing a little help themselves—particularly when it comes to taking advantage of the new technology.
“I can’t make enough money to feed my Webkinz,” writes a mother who has assumed responsibility for a virtual pet and finds that “pudding” is the only food she can afford for it. “Please tap into my account and do something about it.”
While roughly 80 percent of the emails Shafrir and Crose have received are addressed to daughters, sons get some special attention as well. (“Michael, I think you do too many drugs and say too many disparaging things about women on your blog. Love, Mom.”)
Shafrir was nervous about showing her own mom the site because she had used some of her emails to get things started. But her mother took one look and started “laughing hysterically.” Shafrir did eventually have to ask her to stop forwarding her so many emails, however.
Though the tone of the book and the website is often teasing, Shafrir sympathizes with moms who might hesitate to pick up the phone but think nothing of clicking the send button. “It is tough to interact with your 20-year-old who one second is asking you to go away and another is asking you for money or to schedule their dental appointment.”
In addition to its entertainment value, Shafrir believes her site has provided a community for mothers, “who all have hopes and fears and concerns and joy over their [young adult] kids, and I think that’s been really comforting.”
And though she still gets a lot of email from her own mom, “she generally doesn’t go on and on anymore.”
Fortunately for the website, many mothers do.