hildren realize they’ve turned into their parents for all sorts of reasons and at all sorts of times. Why car scenes are my family’s common denominator I’ll never know.
I still remember my aunt’s hands firmly gripping the steering wheel. I remember that the look on her face and the way she positioned her thumbs was identical to how my grandmother drove. Once, I was in the car with my mother as the setting sun blinded her. She complained that car sun visors were useless and seeing properly during sunset was impossible. After a beat, she paused. Her mother had always complained about that same thing and in the same way, which at the time drove her crazy.
I’ve written before about how we become our parents, and how the passage is as inevitable as growing up. But I never really thought about the moment itself, when you realize you’ve been handed the baton. And I never would have guessed my “baton” moment would result from a pandemic.
Yet here we are.
Before my very eyes, the relationship between “older” millennials (by now we’re all well into our twenties) and their baby boomer parents is shifting, and the virus is the cause.
In speaking to friends about how they should behave during this emergency (and it is an emergency in California), my voice is more assertive, more direct, as if I’m been charged with setting a serious tone. I’ve told many friends who don’t live in Los Angeles and were considering leaving the city to go home that they should look at the bigger picture. We’ve often ended up talking about the responsible thing to do, since (in the absence of widespread testing) we might be healthy carriers of the virus and because of that unknowingly infect our older relatives. Some went, some didn’t, accepting they’d be lonely.
But my mentality and theirs had clearly undergone a shift. The only real question anyone put to themselves was, “How do I protect my family?”
That, to me, represents the quintessence of responsible adulthood.
For the first time, how my friends have weighed the idea of whether to go or to stay put has seemed to align with how I believe my parents would have behaved in the same kind of situation. They would have had this chat behind closed doors once we kids were tucked in.
All sorts of big questions are now very much in the foreground. For example: How do we, the younger ones, make responsible choices despite a lingering desire to set responsibility aside and just do what we want? How do we take the action that must be taken, some of it less than enjoyable?
My friends are now calling me to find out if all is well. They’re also calling their parents. It’s a fascinating change to watch, and to me the shift is two-fold.
The shift is two-fold and has a lot to do with 21st-century communication.
Children are the ones now taking the initiative as watchers and caretakers of a sort. They’re the ones witnessing events as they occur and evolve. Plugged into to the world, aware of developing situations and tracking them, they’re suddenly the ones in the best position to report back to their elders.
The closest comparison I can come up with are the events of 9/11, when I was very young. I vaguely recall those around sifting through all the new information as it came in. It feels as though the virus crisis has handed my generation the keys to the office. We’re the ones now listening, probing, sifting
That certainly doesn’t mean we’re in charge, or that all millennials behave the same way. No doubt pig-headed students who flooded Florida beaches on spring break weren’t doing much sifting, let alone thinking about the bigger picture.
Plenty of young people are either underestimating or ignoring the threat (but that can be said for adults also).
Still, I sense a huge change.
Some friends have had to sit their parents down to explain the hazards of the virus and the importance of staying home. Not all parents might do as they’re told, but the fact that it’s their kids making the case says a lot.
All this might admittedly be short-lived. Once quarantines are lifted, all may return to the kid-parent roles they knew before all this started. But I doubt it.
Something’s up. There’s a new firmness, a strength, and with it a new way of seeing parental relationships.
The baton may not yet have been fully handed over, but I think many in my generation have their palms wide open. They know the next leg will be theirs to run.