guess what. for the first time in years i did a little pastel of sasha @ her lamb. not great but not bad considering the difficulties i had finding my pastels and making do ,hard to see the details. i will try again. how about me

This e-mail is from my mom. It came through in 18-point type, her default setting because she has so much trouble with her eyes. She isn't much of a typist. She is 82. She might be 83. She can't remember. She'll have to ask my father if you really want to know. Details have never been her thing.

A whole new relationship has emerged between my mom and me ever since she got the computer, her first, earlier this year. She's now an e-mailing fiend. Her favorite thing to do is to send animated greeting cards. If she sees a good one that happens to be, say, a Father's Day card, she'll e-mail it to me anyway, and tell me to just ignore the greeting and watch the dancing duck.

"Cool!" I'll write to her. "Thanks!"

Then she'll call me and we'll discuss how cute the duck is. How amazing it is that she knows how to send an e-card. The minor technical difficulties conquered. I'll tell her how great she is. How proud I am of her. We'll hang up, and an hour later I'll get another card.

"Did you get that one?" she'll say, calling to verify.

"Mom, you don't have to call," I said once. "It kind of defeats the whole purpose of e-mail."

"But I'm excited!" she said. "Isn't this amazing? Can you believe how good I am at this crazy computer?"

This has been the classic mother/daughter role reversal. Nothing I ever accomplished was complete without my mom's approval. I suppose it's still that way, but now she needs me, too.

This morning she called to discuss her success at downloading a batch of photos of my kids that I sent her. She loved the one of Sasha feeding the baby lamb. She spoke of printing it, even forwarding it. Another challenge! She said the thing about the computer was that it got her living again. "I'm alive when I'm learning," she said. "And there's so much to learn about this dumb thing."

Summers when I was home from grad school we would talk like this, about living to learn. We were so busy. She was studying painting at a fancy fine arts college, and I was trying to write stories. I worked upstairs in the little yellow bedroom, and she painted down in her studio. We would meet at lunchtime for tuna and iced tea, and we would marvel at the similarities between a blank page and a blank canvas. When it came to the creative process, fear was fear, no matter the medium. We would suffer this fact together, cheer each other on. "Just go make a mess," one of us would say, before heading back to our separate rooms. Scribble anything. That was the way in.

That was a million years ago. My mom stopped painting when her legs and hips gave out on her, then her eyes. My sisters and brother and I nagged for years, and she made a few efforts. She'd painted portraits of all her grandchildren, and when my first daughter came along, Mom made sure to do a little picture, if only for the sake of tradition. But my youngest, Sasha, well, she came along so late, and my mom's health was too far gone.

"This photo makes me want to paint," she said this morning. That, in itself, was a breakthrough. She had long since put her art supplies in storage. But now she was living, really living, again. I suspected it was that, and not so much the photo, that was fueling her urge.

"So go paint," I said. She made her excuses. I told her I was going up to my office to crank out 1,000 words, and if I could do it, she could, too. "Go make a mess," I said.

The e-mail about the pastel came through at about 5.

I wrote back with a lot of exclamation points, telling her to scan the painting and send it to me. She called immediately. She said she didn't know how to scan a picture. I gave her a few tips.

So now, here's a new e-mail, with an attachment. I click and see my daughter, through my mother's eyes. I feel like dancing. I can't believe her crazy new computer brought her here, back to where she started, or at least where she belongs.

She calls. "How about me!" she says. She goes on about the difference between a JPEG and a TIFF format, and how she chose.

"Mom, the painting," I said. "You did a painting."

"Oh," she said. "It's not up to my standards. But I knew you'd like it."

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.