My brother just called me.  If you knew anything about my brother, or about my family dynamics in general, you would be very alarmed by this news.  Because my brother does not call me unless a) there’s an emergency or b) he wants something.  When my boyfriend answered the phone and I heard that my brother was calling, my first instinct was Oh My God! Mom’s in the hospital! But it turned out to be a different kind of bad news.  The REAL bad news was that my brother was trying to set up an email account and he wanted me to talk him through it over the phone.

I have been told on many occasions that I am a patient person.  I am patient with my friends and even (God help me) with my patrons.  I am a very good listener, and I give clear, well-thought-out advice.  I am good at explaining things in a way that is simple to understand.  I’ve had students (when I was a tutor / teaching assistant) and patrons (since I’ve become a librarian) compliment me on my superb communication skills.  But 90% of my patience flies out the window when it comes to explaining things to family members.  I think that some of it has to do with the emotional baggage involved.  When a stranger asks me how to perform a simple task I can do it in a calm and measured way.  But if I try to explain the same thing to a family member, it degenerates into this whole WHY DON’T YOU GET IT?  I JUST EXPLAINED IT TO YOU!  YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ANYTHING I SAY! YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEEN SO THICK-HEADED!  WHY DO I EVEN BOTHER??? kind of mentality.  But I also think that my family members must have some overwhelming mental blocks against things they are convinced they will never understand.  I have to go with that theory, because I can’t actually believe that these college-educated people are dumber than a bag of hammers.

My mother is a class-A technophobe, mathphobe, and probably a couple of other phobes I can’t think of right now.  When we were kids, she would tell us to put the batteries in our own toys because she “didn’t know how to do it.”  When I tried to explain how to add fractions to her she just tuned me out.   And every time she got a new piece of electronic equipment, from a DVD player to an alarm clock, she would refuse to read the directions.  Instead she would ask ME to read the directions and then TELL HER how it worked.

Naturally, there’s no computer in the house, so when my brother decided he just HAD to buy something that was exclusively offered on, he turned to me for advice.  Walking him through the steps he needed to take was not unlike explaining the concept of television to a medieval peasant.  Or the concept of a human being to an amoeba.  You get the idea — I had that whole “breaking the Prime Directive” vibe during the entire conversation.   To explain to someone how to get an email account for the very first time is difficult enough — much more so when the conversation is taking place over the phone, the person in question is at work, and there’s lots of noise in the background.

So after almost half an hour of conversation — more than we’ve talked over the last year combined — we sorted out most of the major obstacles.  Which of the email “security questions” he should choose and what his answer should be.  That when the form asked for “first name” it meant HIS first name.  That he needed a credit card instead of checks to pay for stuff he ordered online.  Whether or not he even HAD a credit card.

All in all, it was a productive (if exhausting) conversation.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to have a drink and go lie down for a while.