Recently, one of my best friends from college had a baby, so: Congratulations, Cam & Sarah! I can’t wait to tell little Jack about how I was the first person who ever got his daddy drunk.
A week later, my awesome little niece Elodie celebrated her first birthday, so: Happy Birthday, Critter! In a few years, I’ll tell you all about how your mommy and daddy took me to a Drag Show at the Gay ‘90s and got me drunk.
Driving up to Wisconsin last weekend, I suddenly realized: Oh my gosh, Elodie and Jack could go to college together! N. wasn’t impressed. By now she’s more than used to me announcing mundane facts in revelatory tones. Yep, she said, they sure could.
Okay, I said, I understand that what I’m saying isn’t actually that interesting on the surface. Two babies could grow up to go to college together? Well, who couldn’t? Anyone can go to college anytime in their adulthood, so technically, Elodie and Jack could also go to college with me, if for some reason I feel the need to go back to college sometime in the mid 2020s.
The point is – Elodie and Jack, ages one year and one week, respectively – belong to the same world. And we, their parents and the friends and siblings of their parents, do not.
Each generation grows up in its own world. My generation, born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is maybe the tail end of Gen X, maybe the MTV generation, or possibly the beginning of Gen Y. We used to be cool. Time magazine put us on the cover. Corporate America targeted us as their ideal market. No matter. In the eyes of Elodie and Jack, we’ll be as uncool and uninteresting as the fogey Baby Boomers were to us. It’s humbling, really, knowing that no matter what you do, there is one little person on the planet who will never think you’re cool.
We had four generations at Elodie’s party. Maybe four and a half, depending on how you count them. Elodie, in the baby generation; her parents and aunts, born in the 70s and 80s; her grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles, born in the 40s, 50s, and 60s; and her great-grandmother and great-great-aunt, born in the 20s. Over brunch, E’s great-uncle and I laughed at great-grandma’s stories about her childhood and her father’s childhood, in which Halloween was “more tricks than treats!” She told us that she’d gotten in trouble with the police one Halloween when they found her soaping her father’s store-front windows. Her punishment? Cleaning the windows. This was probably in the early 1930s. Her father – Elodie’s great-great-great grandfather – had played a prank where he and a friend dropped an effigy from the roof of the theatre and let it swing as the audience was leaving a spooky show. “Some of the ladies were fainting from shock!” This must have been around the turn of the century; his pranks led to his enrollment in a military academy.
Everyone at the table – everyone over the age of 18, at least – laughed at these old stories. Partially because they don’t match up with our sedate imaginings of the olden times, and partially because Helene, in her 80s, was so funny in the telling. It’s hard to imagine a time when Helene was the baby generation. It’s equally hard to imagine a time when Elodie’s parents and I will be the great-grandparent generation.
Elodie and Jack will grow up in a world where we, their parents and aunts and parents’ friends, will always be adults. Maybe they’ll realize, in the mid 2020s, that their parents are people. Maybe in the late 2020s they’ll realize that their parents weren’t all that different, in their youth, than they are.
Maybe they’ll start drawing parallels between their own lives and the lives of their parents. Maybe… and this is a big maybe… they’ll even decide, retroactively, that we were cool too, in our late 20s and early 30s. Maybe they’ll even think that we all could have been friends, if we had been born in the same world.
But probably not.