She has gone to university and, desperate for crumbs about her life, I track her on social media her every move, her friends, even her tutors
I wake up, switch on my phone, gostraight to Snapchat and touch my daughters name. There on Snap Map, in a city 60 miles from mine, Isee where she is right now what road, what building. Even if she is still asleep and hasnt used her phone yet, Ican glean whether last night was a late one, where she was, what she did was shecramming or clubbing?
Next, I might open my weather app and see what it is like where she is. When I sit down to work, I now waste time on Twitter first: her college, her university library, her tutors all have accounts, so I check in, hoping for crumbs, for clues about her day. Then there is Instagram. If she hasnt posted anything new, I can always scan her old posts for new likes, then follow those links to the accounts of her new friends. I can read their banter, size them up. It is compulsive, relentless, draining and deeply dubious.
My 18-year-old daughter, Lucy, left home for university this autumn and Ihave become her stalker. I barely recognise myself. I have survived for years without social media. I am not onFacebook or Twitter, I dont blog, Ihave no online presence. This summer, though, when Lucy went InterRailing, my children signed me upto Instagram and Snapchat so that Icould follow hertravels. To my horror (and delight), I discovered I could click on Lucys name and see exactly where she was on a map of Europe which city, which street and, from that, which hostel, which club, which coffee house. I could Google the venue, visit the website, read reviews on TripAdvisor, imagine her there It was fascinating, if borderline unhinged. When she returned, I forgot all about it. Eight weeks later, she really left.
When Lucy lived at home, my parenting was pretty chilled. Although she regularly went out until the early hours, I dont recall waiting up or being unable to sleep while she was gone. Ididnt quiz her on her whereabouts or what she had been doing. There werent many rules that I recall.
What mattered was our connection. I knew her life. I could see Lucy was happy, or at least OK. Conversations happened naturally, over the kitchen table or up in her room (until she would say, in the nicest way possible: OK, Mum, can you go now?). I knew without registering what kind of thing she was eating, wearing, reading or watching on Netflix. Over the years, Id meet herfriends, learn bits and pieces, build a picture. Of course, there must have been plenty she kept private, but I was fine with that because I could see she was fine, too.
And then she was gone. I knew itwas coming, of course. There was plenty of time to prepare mentally, but I hadnt grasped how gone she would be. Her room is cold and still (and, for the first time, in perfect order). There is no one in her place at family meals it still feels wrong. When I work at home, I cant hear her jamming on the piano or pottering in the kitchen or procrastinating in her bedroom. When there is a key in the door, it is never hers.
She is away, building something new, of her own, and I dont want tobother her or bombard her with questions so into this void steps modern technology. When I left home for university 30 years ago, my parents would have loved to know the detail ofmy days. Instead, they made do with a Sunday night call to the payphone outside my flat. Now the avenues of information are endless.
Everything is out there. Each university, hall of residence, faculty, tutor, society and sports team can befound on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Daily menus are online. Barnights, club nights, comedy nights. Library induction days. Internship opportunities. Its all listed somewhere.
Each friend Lucy makes is instantly Google-able. Even my 84-year-old mother, on learning the name of a boy Lucy met in freshers week, managed to find him online, ascertain his A-level results, his love of theatre and the fact that his grandfather died in summer.
A friend whose daughter has also just started university sent me an email the other day headed: They can run but they cant hide. She had scanned the tweets of her daughters university Labour club and struck gold a photo of her girl sitting on a sofa at the first meeting. A dad I know told me that hissons university newspaper has become his paper of choice and that heis even reading books from his sons reading list, perhaps to live vicariously through him, perhaps just to feel somehow connected. (He also admits tracking his son on Snapchat, so he knows where he spent the night.)
Parenting expert Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer is horrified, but not surprised. Iremember, 25 years ago, seeing parents walking past the primary school at playtime, hovering at the railings to catch a glimpse of their children to see how they played and who with, she says. This is exactly the same.
She even admits to doing it a bit herself. My daughter is 30; shes not on Snapchat, but I can go on WhatsApp inthe morning and see whether she stayed up late and from that I have an idea if she was at home or at her boyfriends, she says. If shes on holiday, I can look on her Facebook page to see what pictures shehas uploaded, to see the places shes visiting, her drinking cocktails orwhatever. However, she doesnt approve of my 24/7 stalking.
Parents have access to so much information now, we have so many options, but they dont get rid of anxiety, they create more, she warns something I can verify, having lost hours discovering nothing of value and often only raising questions (Why is Lucy still up at 5.30am when she told me shes exhausted? And who is that odd young man liking her Instagram posts?) One thing is certain. It doesnt make me miss her any less.
Hartley-Brewer suggests, in this early period, speaking to Lucy more often on the phone the old-fashioned way (we have spoken only once so far as I dont want to hound her) and going cold turkey on everything else. When I went to university, I was delighted to be independent, says Hartley-Brewer. If Id thought my parents were trying to find out everything about me, Id have been horrified.
Lucy probably wouldnt be horrified maybe more amused and a little sad on my behalf. She is immersed in her own world now and Im in the old one, watching from afar, hoping for the odd glimpse. I know it is pointless. She has gone. Yes, she will be back but, for the first time, she has a chunk of life entirely to herself that is really none of my business. And that chunk will grow and grow.
In a few weeks, maybe a term, I will adjust to that and lose interest in her tutors tweets on the sonnet form. This stalking will be a distant memory and Iwill wonder how I ever found the time. I even plan to ask Lucy to block me from her Snap Map because I really dont want to know where she is all day.
Ill let go. Just not quite yet.
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