• Jody Kussin

In Times Like These #8 3-22-2020

Who’s rockin this crisis? Well, if you ask me, it’s the millennials. They seem to be the generation who has the best grasp on it. Maybe it’s because they are the ones who mastered the ‘find balance, work remotely, eat avocado on toast and pay lots of money for it with pride’ or maybe it’s because they are better wired to roll with bumps in the road, having come of age basically when the economy tanked in 2008 and they graduated college and there were no jobs.

I’m not the first to write about the generation gap differential response to this pandemic, but I will add my two cents. Human beings. Highly interesting. And lots of time to observe and study and contemplate ourselves in these times. 30+ years as a licensed clinical psychologist and I understand people much less than I did when I started out over 35 years ago! I was so much wiser than (or so I believed…)

So – turns out – (and yes, I am generalizing, not using a control group, and basically not consulting science, so, read with caution) that some of our elders are laissez faire. My 100-year old Uncle Marty, in Arizona, is busy baking bread and mailing it to family members around the country, bless his heart. My 90-year old Auntie Esther IS staying home, but that is only because her son, a science writer with 40-years’ experience covering infectious diseases, threatened her and made her stop attending her multiple mahjong games. My 85-year old father finally stopped going to his 120 people ‘older/seniors’ bridge game where they shared cards AND snacks, but only because the church shut them down last Friday. In his current state of driving my mother nuts, he is filling his time with at home exercise (three hours daily), tinkering on house projects (two hours daily), and going from supermarket to supermarket (mainly, I believe, as something to do, not because they are out of supplies and are in need of more paper towel.) I applaud their sense of denial. I do; however, I wonder and worry that if this was Europe in the 1940s, these would be the folk to stay put, saying ‘this will blow over, no need to move to America.’ But, what do I know? My inspirational relatives all have longevity on their side, so maybe the fact that they do NOT have extra cortisol free flowing through their veins and pumping them up with anxiety/adrenaline like the rest of us works as a protective factor. Maybe it always has and that’s their collective secret. They lived through worse but sweated it out less. (Think, raising kids without seatbelts and drinking and smoking while pregnant and having a ‘devil may care attitude.’)

Then comes my group, the ‘boomers.’ We were born between 1946-1964. We are a mixed group, often of privilege. Some currently identify themselves as ‘essential’ workers but it’s kinda questionable. I’m sure it’s well-intentioned but…really – all you billiard and liquor store owners in your 50s and 60s. Are you SURE!? How do you define ‘essential?’ At some point law enforcement will step in, but this generation is smart, and 67% of us went to law school, so, good luck to our local sweet 19-year old police in convincing us we are to stay put.

There are some of us boomers, on the other hand, who are freaking out and building a panic room and feeling bad we did not do so when our old neighbors moved to Topanga years ago to be off the grid. We have been prepared for disasters for years, having lived through many California earthquakes, 9/11, and some hurricanes. My lite assessment shows there are more boomers in light denial than in easy panic and probably most are in the middle. Most of us are hearing daily admonishments from our millennial kids, yelling at us via google hangout, WhatsApp, and Facebook video chat messenger. (Note, they do not appreciate that we’ve learned how to put the teddy bear ears on our faces during their lecture talks with us.)

Bottom line - we are not sure – there are mixed messages. Stay home, but the stores will open early for us to shop so, can we go to the market? (Probably not.) What about walking our dogs – who are like our grandkids/grand pups basically –do we need to walk in the middle of the street or on the bike path or on the sidewalk or just host front yard doggy playdates with owners outside the fence and many dogs running around inside the front yard? (In our family the person with the busies social life is rescue dog Ginger - am spending lots of time managing her social life and she appears highly appreciative!)

Also, some of us (not me) have our empty nests all of a sudden full up –which to be sure is a mixed blessing. The last time there were this many size 12 sneakers lying around was when the kids were all in high school and frankly, it’s as annoying now as it was then. But on a plus side, our kids can cook. AND go marketing for us. And they also are VERY funny and also, they know all kinds of games to play. Those hours and hours of Monopoly and gin rummy and bop it and Apples to Apples with which we raised them paid off because our kids now come armed with games called Settlers of Catan, and Code Names and even PANDEMIC. Our kids are also handy because they are bilingual in technology, so when we need to use zoom or you tube or watch something stream live on Facebook, they have our back. (And often, our passwords. Do not over think that!)

Then come the Gen X group of parents …born 1965-1979. These parents have it pretty tough as many of them are living with multiple school age children, while in some cases also caring for their aging parents, and often, they are also working from home. This is a very challenging set of circumstances! I say hats off to them. They are taking things seriously but most seriously is how to juggle work from home demands with how to entertain and educate children demands with how to convince boomer parents to not wait in line at Costco. This is a generation most in need of respite, or at minimum, grub hub and post mates remaining functional regarding delivery times and services.

Next is the BIGGEST group in our country – and so far, as I already mentioned, looking like the group best handling this historic time. First, they already know how to remote for work. They have already created online and virtual huge communities and circles of friends. They know how to buy food that gets delivered to their houses and they have not step foot into a mall since their mom made them go buy a suit for their bar mitzvah. They got this. They know their amazon prime fed ex people better than they know their local clergy. These peeps are known as the millennials, and there are literally hundreds of thousands of them across the country. They are admonishing their older relatives to stay in the house. They are organizing happy hours in large park settings where they mark off six feet demarcations for humans and do not share the wine bottles, just the info regarding which wine goes best with the dinner they smoked earlier in the day. They are taking this time to work on home improvement projects and already have painted two rooms and a bathroom, ordered everything there is from The Container Store, and begun work on next year’s virtual holiday cards. They are truly heroes. They also are millennial-splaining the new world order to their boomer parents, who are both rolling their eyes at them and kind of listening. Last but not least are the Gen Z kids, born 1995-2012. This age group appear to be a little less engaged with the whole phenomenon, worrying still about AP tests (cancelled or not?) and college acceptances (how to choose if you cannot visit?) and college finals on line and social life situations that continue whether or not school meets in person, on line, or not at all. These guys have the intense self-focus all teens/young adults should have, and kudos to them. They rely on parents to handle the ‘deets.’ They can be helpful at home, especially with pre-arranged facetime with grandparents, but mostly, they are about them. As well they should be. Hats off. Let’s not force feed them our anxiety.

(Finally, a brief note on our babies - there are known as the ALPHA GENERATION – born 2013-2025….and they are our future. Some are literally infants and the oldest are only six or seven years. We are protecting them as best we can and putting lots of hope on them to really change the trajectory of the world. They are our grandchildren, greatgrandchildren, and parents of our great great grandchildren. We do well to protect them and play nice games and have story time and singing time and walks with them. They love water play and bubbles and baths in the sink or tub or shower. They are entitled to be clueless about this part of the world and we’d do well to keep them from the free-floating panic as long as possible.)

Final thought - do you remember that John Denver song from the 1970s? “It is here we must begin to seek the wisdom of the children.” It’s called Rhymes and Reasons. Whichever age group to which you belong, perhaps consider seeking the wisdom on the younger generation this time around.

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