We find them uptight and overly worried about the tiny details of their small everyday lives. They worked so hard for it all, the promises they were given. Through the 1980’s when they sailed past the gas-rationing times of the ’70s. Buying up lake houses and boats and Ford’s or GM’s or Chrysler’s latest models. On the employee discount plan, of course.
They worked so hard for it all. For us. They sent us to college, hoping that we’d be able to do something more interesting than manually inspect a plastic, injection-molded bumper for 10 or 12 hours a day. They did it all for themselves, but they also did it for us.
We did our times as desk jockeys in the ’90s. Ran up our credit cards. Paid our rent. Bought a shit-ton of CDs and DVDs. And years later, when the money drained out of this web like quicksand, we were left with dubious college degrees, memories of corporate suites and bonus plans, and way too many boxes of stuff that makes our friends not want to help us move. We rent a U-Haul truck and bribe them with beer and pizza. Our older relatives who still keep paper address books scratch out or erase, and write in our updated addresses again and again. Some still use Wite-Out. The build-up from four moves in five years layers up like bad coats of paint.
We find them uptight and too worried. We love them but they make us nuts.
They find us self-centered and cynical. Failures for not carrying on their ways. For not staying in the towns where we were raised, for not having kids early. For not making the grandchildren that were going to be the comfort of their older ages. At least, not early enough. For not making enough money to justify our college educations, or at least to pay for those frighteningly large student loan debts.
But what they don’t want to admit is that the rules of the games have changed. Almost entirely. A college education does not guarantee a great career, or even steady work. Having children does not provide automatic happiness. And following the rules and traditions of your elders can bring as much worry and misery as carving your own path can bring freedom and possibilities. For what? We’re still looking.
There’s a price for this freedom. At its best we like to walk stoned through our days, not worrying about much of anything. Or, at least feeling half-stoned. Not seeking to numb the pain, but believing that there is not really any pain at all. Their generation said it their own way, but through those middle-aged decades they seem to have lost sight of it. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. But that line needs interpretation. Is this a plus, or a minus? Looking ahead with excitement, for what might be next to come? Or hunkering down in scared defense, of what you’ve already gained?
They are angry, but they won’t say it like that. They are angry that no one told them that the success and prosperity they devoted their lives to would feed and clothe them, and give them a nest in their later years. But in other ways, they’d be as restless and hungry as we are.