Wednesday, May 10, 2017

An Ode to Millennials

My first millennial party - A Harry Potter Halloween Spooktacular where nearly all of us arrived in costume. I was in heaven.

When Steven asked me to join his book club, I was wary. Although I admired him as a storyteller and thought he was hilarious, he was so much younger than me (14 years to be exact). What on earth would I have in common with him and other millennials?

But my gut told me to say yes, and if my 41 years on earth have taught me anything, it's to listen to my gut. My gut is freaking smart. I mean, really, I'm pretty sure my gut graduated from Harvard, but I haven't had a chance to ask her.

I liked the group tremendously. They weren't all millennials, but enough of them were, and I found that I enjoyed talking to them. About the book we read, sure. But also about life and politics and religion and All The Important Things.

This wasn't the first time this had happened. When Dave and I come home from dates, I often find myself engaged in a vibrant conversation with our babysitter (who's also become a dear friend), Grace, late into the night. I have a coworker whose teaching style is very much like mine and with whom I mourned Hillary Clinton's loss by trying to hide our tears from our students. But I figured those were flukes. Random younger people whom I admired.

But I think it's deeper than that. On some level, I think I just align, personality-wise, with millennials. Despite the age gap.

Take millennial feminists, for example. I want to write a love letter to millennial feminists. Their absolute comfort in their own skin. Their fearlessness and perseverance. Their solidarity. When you hang out with young feminists, you don't bad mouth other women. You don't ridicule another woman's outfit or talk about why she doesn't deserve her man or comment on how she really should wear spanx under that outfit. You don't put yourself down, hoping she'll correct you. No, "God I'm so fat right now" or "my hair is the worst." You don't apologize when someone else bumps into you. It's ridiculously refreshing. Granted, the women of my generation and older were conditioned to uphold the patriarchy by fearing each other, demeaning each other, drawing clear lines in the sand between each other. And while many women of my generation have unlearned such behaviors, millennial feminists seem to have known all along that sisterhood is crucial, and don't have to constantly fight urges to make catty comments about strangers' outfits.

Millennials have a reputation for being precious and fragile, needing others' support constantly. As a person who now has a number of millennial friends, I have no clue where this idea came from. First off, my younger friends work their butts off. Many of them work two or more jobs, despite their higher educations. (My fellow Gen X'ers and I were able to enter a very robust econony, in case we forgot). They are self-sufficient and independent. True, they party hard (much harder than I am able to at my advanced age), but they work hard beforehand. Some of them own their own homes (an accomplishment that I finally achieved five years ago - at age 36), and they are far more fiscally responsible than I was at their age (when I racked up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt and had to ask for help from my family and friends to bail myself out.)

They're known for being selfish and narcissistic. Huh. But most of my millennial friends work in professions that exist to serve others (teaching, social work, nursing, enabling people with disabilities to lead full lives). At a Derby party I recently attended at the home of millennials, 100% of the money we collected for the racing pot was donated to charity. Charity, I tell you! I threw many a Derby party in New York City and we never thought to donate any money to charity.

And, also, so what if they feel good about themselves? My generation was so filled with neuroses that we talk about how we can't stand to see a "videotape" of ourselves, constantly commenting on our ugliness. These guys snap a photo of themselves looking nice, maybe in front of a cool location or with a group of friends. THE HORROR!!!! They like how they look and want to capture that moment. I'm just now learning to like how I look. Meaning I have huge chunks of my life where I was barely in a picture. Is that really something to be proud of?

But their cores are softer, perhaps, than my generations. They are more in touch with their emotions and seem to be able to access their empathy more often. They value lifestyles and cultures that are different than their own, and they practice self-care (which sometimes means avoiding triggering concepts or articles). They are open to new people, even an old lady who wants to crash their party, and don't constantly seem to be searching for what makes me different than them.

Plus, and maybe this is more a comment on me, I just have SO MUCH FUN with millennials. Karaoke? Costumes? Board games? Dancing? I've never stopped loving these activities, and when I hang out with young folks, I don't have to work to talk people into doing them with me. I don't want to grow up.

Am I being a bit hyperbolic, a bit one sided? Yes, and I'm sorry. Gen X was pretty badass, too. I remember doing this unit on Gen X in my sociology class in college, studying movies and pop culture and countless texts about our tendency to slack off, our lack of any kind of work ethic, our meager ties with our parents. At the time, I was angry that older folks thought of us as so useless. We had a lot to offer.

Yes, we girls hid our bodies under thick flannel shirts and the boys grew their hair out long. Screw your gender norms! We grew up in homes with higher divorce rates than any generation before, so yeah, our idea of family was a bit skewed. Maybe that's why so many of us waited to have kids until we were older, and why so many of use became such involved parents. And while we may have appeared like slackers, all of my friends and I got jobs out of college and worked very diligently. And now look at us! We're all the responsible, hard-working grownups the boomers feared we'd never be.

Maybe older folks have always and will always be wary of younger folks. Maybe it will always seem to us like they have it easier, that they mess up more, than their values are all wrong, simply because they do not mirror our own.

But I see the Millennial Generation as being, in some ways at least, more centered and healthy than my own. I'll always love friends my own age (and older), but these young guys make me so happy.

Now, excuse me while we take selfies and discuss God in a totally non-judgmental and inclusive way!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Hold onto 9 as long as you can.

If Stella’s current age were an inanimate object, I’d grasp onto it so tightly my fingers would bleed.

She’s 9. Because of her height and early development (thanks maternal genes), she looks older. But she is 9, and it is wonderful.

She’s almost my height and her feet are nearly the same size as mine, meaning that she often borrows my socks. She can read a book in a day and discusses complex ideas like racism and religion and gender norms with me as we lie together in her bed. Her favorite food is sushi and she’s quite good at baking. She writes in her journal, writes poetry, writes graphic novels. She looks after her little brother and can open up the bottle of allergies pills so she can take one each night.

But she’s also such a little girl. When we go to restaurants, the host eyes her and asks if she needs a kids menu. Her response is always, “Yay! They have kids menus here, Mommy!” She likes to curl up in my lap and have me tell her stories. She puts together outfits that are quirky and adorable and obviously free of any worry that someone might judge her. And although her reading level is close to that of a 9th grader’s (ahem, humblebrag, ahem), she loves to sit next to her brother as I read them both Dr. Suess.

She got a Build-a-Bear Workshop gift certificate for her birthday and was elated. I took her, and she was jumping up and down with excitement as we entered. She chose a purple, green, and pink cat with a strawberry scent, a cat sound in the paw, a pink and purple dress, and pink and purple bows. She named her Candy, and slaved over all the details on Candy’s birth certificate. She held her tight as we walked out to get some frozen yogurt.

Suddenly, a cloud crossed over her face. “Mommy, I’m worried.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Do you think Johanna will be sad?” (Johanna was a first Build-a-Bear: a frill-free, basic model.)

“Why would she be sad?”

“She might be jealous that Candy has a strawberry scent and a cat sound. I feel bad for her.” She looked like she might cry.

“Yes, but she’s special because she’s your first. Maybe it would help if Candy could share some of the bows in the 4-pack she got?”

And her face reversed, lighting up like the Eastern sky.

She still thinks I’m cool. She decorates her walls with her own drawings and must sleep with a “lovey.” She doesn’t like scary movies and still watches little kid cartoons. She carries a cat backpack and a cat lunchbox and her favorite outfit is a cat dress with cat leggings. If she’s in a particularly sassy mood, she’ll pair it with a cat ear headband.

I teach adolescents. I know what lies ahead. She’ll always love me and she’ll always be my little girl, but there will come a time when I do something that deeply embarrasses her. She’ll feel smarter than me, exasperated by how little I know about anything. She’ll be worried about what the other kids think about her, will choose her clothes more carefully, will gravitate toward shows and books with more angsty themes. She won’t be an actual little girl.

Many people reassure me that our bond can, in fact, endure throughout her adolescence. There are some kids that resist some of the darker corners of the preteen and teen years, kids that still hug their mothers in public and don’t roll their eyes so frequently that we fear they’ll be stuck that way.

Still, I know I better cherish this time like crazy. I will snuggle up with her in bed tonight. We’ll discuss Trump’s immigration policy while we brush Candy’s strawberry-scented fur. And I’ll try for the millionth time to freeze time.