Hugging Mom Emoji: An Ongoing Mother-Daughter Lovefest Via Imagined Emojis
My mother has a flip phone. Some, like me, might say she’s caught in another time—say, the year 2000. I have a brand new, gold iPhone 6, but I can hang with the neo-analog. A few months ago, when my mother was visiting me in Brooklyn, I introduced her to emojis. She loved them so much that she considered upgrading to a smartphone for a moment—but just for a moment. We can’t exchange them, of course: In this modern era, different generations of technology come with their own languages; we create new iterations of communication so quickly that a years-old phone cannot talk to a new one dexterously, like someone speaking Japanese to an Italian. So instead we started making up our own emojis, which I call imojis, for “imagined emojis,” or, more specifically, momojis, for obvious reasons. Here are some of them:
From my mother:
“Little drawing of a sock” (accompanying “I found my socks!”):
The imoji that started it all. I can’t remember how or why this was important enough to send a text about; but, then again, these days just about anything is important enough to send via text.
From my mother:
“Little picture of a mom hugging and kissing her daughter”:
The genius thing about a describe-your-own-emoji, much like a choose-your-own-adventure, is that one can visualize such an emoji without having to use the same hackneyed picture over and over. Don’t get me wrong: I adore emojis, and the news that 250 more are to be released soon is some of the best news I’ve heard in a while. That said, there are only so many times that one can send the two girls in leotards holding hands emoji before it starts to lose its luster.
“Big grin on pretty woman’s face”:
This was in response to my mother’s long-standing variation on the ancient smiley face (the classic colon followed by a close-parenthesis), which is, simply, “smile.”
From my mother:
“Honorable mother smiles beneficently upon honorable daughter”:
This was in response to my “Big grin on pretty woman’s face” emoji. Another great thing about the tailor-made emoji is that the process allows for personality to shine through. While it is true that the way in which one chooses to use emojis shows character—am I sending obvious emojis all the time, such as smiley faces and hearts, or do I go the distance sometimes with, say, a saxophone or an pot of honey?—emojis are inherently prefab. The difference between my imoji and my mother’s response is plain, and that’s part of what makes these little technological gems so precious.
“A post office on fire, as in fiery hell”:
This pretty much speaks for itself. I was at the post office near my apartment in Brooklyn. It’s notorious for the length of its slow-moving lines. I had to wait, because I needed postage for a letter to London. Come to think of it, though, why isn’t there an picture of a post office on fire in the existing emoji lexicon? This seems important, and universal. Aren’t most post offices akin to insufferable infernos?
From my mother:
“Emoji of mom, hoping no lasting effects will accrue”:
Here is a little bit of a sad one. After my mother came for a visit, during which we marveled over the Brooklyn leaves red and orange and yellow in their mid-autumn coats, she sent a photo of the tree outside of her house in New Jersey accompanied by this text. It was a mostly lovely visit, with the exception of a difficult half hour in which we couldn’t decide whether to go to the Met or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and somehow this transposed and garbled to become a feeling of not being welcome in my home for my mother. I’m not sure how this happened, as is the case with every argument—the teacup isn’t washed or the window is carelessly left open and, without a roadmap back, two people start fighting about who is more to blame for an antediluvian injustice—but we were able to let it go quickly and enjoy the yellow-rumped warblers and the acme of leaves in full color. Later, once my mother had returned home, this sweet sentiment came through, on the wings of satellites.
From my mother:
“Emoji of a mom standing looking lovingly at her dear daughter from afar, eyes soft and arms slightly outstretched in a gentle, almost hugging shape”:
By far, this was the most elaborate momoji to date. No further elaboration necessary, but can’t you just see it so vividly?
“Emoji of a daughter throwing hands in the air excitedly and sticking tongue out to taste snow falling next to emoji of mother clapping hands and smiling wearing big blue down coat and large winter hat”:
In response to: “It’s snowing!” I mean, hey—why not?
From my mother:
“Hugging mom emoji”:
I think this is my favorite. Simple, direct, charming. And full of love.
“Daughter frolicking in the snow emoji”:
The New York tri-state area’s first real snowfall of the year provoked quite a flurry of momojis, ending with this one, sent from a cozy restaurant on Union Square while snow fell, soft and insistent, outside picture windows. I was not, in fact, frolicking—rather, I was eating burgers with three girlfriends—but I could not send four hamburger emojis, so I was forced to be creative instead.
Made up emojis—or, as my mother sometimes spells them, “emogis” (because, you know, she’s my mom. Also, she’s 60.)—are so much better than actual emojis. I love emojis, and I use them, sometimes a little too liberally, to express the gamut of emotion within a medium that is stark and bare-boned and often cryptic. I am grateful for emojis. But sometimes, when the right one doesn’t exist (I’m looking at you, Unicode Consortium—where’s the post office on fire emoji? The hugging mom emoji? The wolf emoji, the clam emoji, the motorcycle and bassinet and ice skate emoji?), imojis are germane in a way that lexical emojis are not.
After I wrote this essay, my mother and I exchanged a series of texts about the phenomenon of liking the way one looks in a photograph after the fact, but in the moment thinking one looks crazy/awful/like a dead rat. “Perhaps later we are released from whatever critical thoughts we had of ourselves at the time, because we have forgotten them,” my mother wrote. I agreed that that was part of it, but pointed out that later we still harbor critical thoughts of ourselves. A moment later, she responded by saying, “Yes, but now they are new critical thoughts, and the old ones have faded a bit to make room for the new!” And then, folded into the crevices of the text like chocolate chips into cake batter, a new momoji: “Mom smiles softly, and a bit wistfully, as she sits in her chair with her stripey nightgown on, thinking of so many examples of this.”
It hit me then that the best part of imojis is that they occasion an opportunity to describe our feelings and actions in real time—a new frontier in the cascade of fresh opportunities for communication as provided by the phenomenon of text messages in general and emojis in specific. Sometimes, to be sure, a smiley face with hearts for eyes or an umbrella with raindrops or a helicopter or bicycle or palm tree or alligator or Statue of Liberty is all that we need. But when emojis fail—when a lone mushroom or caterpillar or slice of cake is not sufficient, there are imojis. And they unleash a fount of expression that is often closed even in face-to-face dialogue, because imojis afford the opportunity to express real and deep emotion in nonthreatening and adorable way.
“Daughter sits pondering momojis and imojis and emojis and life at large at a desk in Brooklyn, thinking of her powerful and astonishing love for her mother while snow melts in New Jersey and already-melted snow evaporates in New York, as James Blake plays and wind blows and someone somewhere is having the best day of their life.” Daughter, out.
Bibi Deitz lives and writes in Brooklyn. Recent work has appeared in Bookforum, The Rumpus, Berfrois and BOMB, and is forthcoming from Marie Claire.