It is the duty of the young to confound the old.
Last night my grandson told me that he is now a vegetarian. Apparently I am the last one of his family and friends to know this. That makes sense in that he is a teenager and he lives with me, so of course I would be the last to hear.
When my sons were growing up, I went through culture shock with them. Not vegetarianism, but other things, like music. After breaking me in easy with MC Hammer and Green Day, they got serious. My older son brought home rap music with more f-words than a high school locker room, and my younger son brought home metal music with singers who sounded like they had gargled sand. Taking my aversion to both these genres as their guide, they dived into the deep ends of their preferred musical styles.
My older son eventually wrote and recorded some of his rap poetry. Lately he says he’s been listening to classical music. I didn’t see that coming.
My younger son at fourteen took up guitar, and in a few years he was playing like a whiz, including something called “shredding.” He now plays guitar, tours, and records with a metal band, the Devils of Loudon. He also has become a yoga teacher, and I didn’t see that coming, either.
Then there were the video games. My boys were proficient and badgered me to buy every new game, which they would play obsessively until they beat it.
They say that mothers understand the meaning of their babies’ cries, whether they are of hunger or tiredness. I learned to recognize the distinctive howl of a child who had lost in a video game.
I tried to hold the line on the gory games and the ones with terrible values, but somehow the boys worked around that prohibition and were soon gleefully committing digital mayhem. They borrowed games from friends, or swapped things I wanted them to keep, like clothes, games, or CDs I’d bought them, for the games which I did not want them to have. It was a hard time, for me at least.
Rick and I were old folksingers and songwriters, and we expected our children to rebel by becoming accountants or Republicans or something. But, no. Their rebellion took the shape of things which we could not have imagined. They forged their separate identities by embracing and living their Millennial lives, part of a culture of which we old hippies were spectators, not participants.
It was a big change for us to be passé. We were part of the generation that dismayed our parents by growing our hair long, wearing funny clothes, using drugs, and listening to and playing our generation’s music.
Oh, that music.
Many of us did not wish to march off to war, and that was a huge cultural divide. We were raised to salute the flag and fight for our country when called. In that spirit, Rick, an Army brat, went to Vietnam. His experience left him scarred for life, but he did his duty. Then he came home, let his hair grow, wore funny clothes, used drugs, and listened to and played music.
Then we, the rebels, had children, and they rebelled against us.
Now my grandchild is embracing and living his post-Millennial life, with computers and smart phones and new values of openness to different lifestyles, changes I never imagined I’d see in my lifetime.
It’s all part of the natural process of growing up, becoming independent and creating a unique life. I did it, my children did it, now my grandchild is doing it.
His generation is so far away from my growing up days, and also far away from his parents’ growing up days. I feel like I’m getting a double whammy of the generational culture divide. Sometimes it makes me feel downright old and irrelevant. The trouble is that the old gray mare IS what she used to be.
So how are we oldsters relevant? What do we have to offer? Why, our wisdom, experience, and love. We watch another generation of children inventing their lives, and we think, “Oh, babies, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
There may come a time when these pioneers, these explorers of the human experience, will be glad for our sympathy and our hard-won realization that often the best thing we can do is say nothing, and listen.
Maybe. Or not. Who knows?