From Generation to Generation: All We Need Is Love

Sometimes I wonder if my niece, Laura, and I would be so close if her dad (my brother) hadn’t died from a rare blood disorder when she was in high school. A death in the family sometimes dissolves even the most loving bonds. But when my brother died, I think we all got closer. Still, I adored Laura from the moment she was born. I was in college in New York City; my brother and sister-in-law lived about a mile downtown, a short bus ride away. I shared an apartment with four other young women, and we had one phone. (Yeah, those days.) When it rang at 2 .m., all my roommates could guess: the baby had been born. The next afternoon after classes, I took the bus across town to Mt. Sinai Hospital and saw what I then considered the most beautiful baby ever born. (Since then, my own two kids and Laura’s two have competed for the title.)

As Laura grew, I adored her even more. Remember those times when you were a teen and you just couldn’t talk to your mother? Laura was lucky to have me and another aunt, my sister-in-law’s sister Heidi, close by. Then, some time after she finished college and settled in Boston, we became friends. It helped that my kids adored her. My daughter in particular has become particularly close with her. In fact, Laura promised she’d have a baby if Ariel chose a college near Boston. Sure enough, baby Ben arrived a few days before Ariel’s freshman orientation. Someday Ben will tell stories about how he spent many days of his babyhood in a sorority house (being totally doted on by a bunch of wonderful young women). Harper arrived in time for Ariel’s senior year.

So this is how we have it now: a mishmash of generations who love and adore each other. I know Ariel tells Laura stuff she won’t tell me — back atcha Ariel, if you don’t think I talk to Laura about you! Oh, also add into this my sister-in-law, Zelda, who is, well, a sister and a friend.

As I mentioned in a previous post, over February vacation, Laura and the kids came into the city for a day of fun with me, Ariel and Zelda. We began at Dylan’s Candy Bar, had lunch at Alice’s Tea Cup and then went on the the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harper had enough after about two or three mummy cases. At first she was a little spooked — she is only 4 1/2. But after a while she informed us that there was nothing to be frightened of: after all, mummies are only dead people wrapped in tissue paper. (Love the tissue paper idea — I guess that’s what it looked like to her.) 7 1/2-year-old Ben loved the medieval armor exhibit. I mean, take a little boy and show him some interesting looking swords, and he’s in heaven.

Ben wanted to see the musical instruments and ancient coins, but Harper had had it, and we headed out to the park next to the museum where we all sort of pooped out on the bench and talked a while about what was going on in everyone’s life. Then, too soon, it was time for them to catch a cab back to the train.

I think about everything that went into making this such a special day: I live in New York City, where there’s always something fun to do. Laura lives in Boston, not too far away. Zelda lives in Lancaster, PA, also not too far. Ariel is in the city. We all had a day off.

But more than that there’s this funny generational thing that makes Laura my niece and one of my best friends — and Ariel and Laura first cousins and best friends. Ben and Harper worship Ariel, and I can see the day when Harper and Ben are there to babysit Ariel’s kids. There we were, over 60 years separating the youngest from the oldest of us, with so much in common, so much to share.

And there’s a lesson here: These days with all the articles about how Baby Boomers are selfish and not planning on leaving their kids an inheritance (um, first let us get over the college payments and plan our retirements; then we’ll think inheritance), when I look around, I see different generations working, playing and getting to know each other. Some people like to make theories about colliding generations. I’ve been shrugging them off as trouble makers. When I was small, there were always moms we wanted to hang out with and friends of our moms who were so interesting to listen to that we’d hang out with them.

With all this talk of Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists (or whatever we call the generation of those born before 1946), we’re all just people. As divided as this country is politically, I find that when we don’t talk politics, we have a lot in common. So that’s what I think we should concentrate on — building community and relationships, in our neighborhoods and so on. These days we have online communities. Are you reading this? Well, welcome my friend. Leave me a comment, and I’ll reply.

As usual, I’ll leave you with some things to think about — and comment on.

  • What are the best ways for building communities that include several generations?
  • What are your inter-generational stories and memories?
  • Hop/skip generations used to be so common in the days of large families, when uncles and aunts would sometimes be younger than their nieces and nephews. Is there anything like that now?

And that neighbor of yours, the kid who’s driving you crazy with his skateboard, the old lady with her cats — take a moment out of your day and start a conversation. It’s a beginning.

You Can Call Us Old, But We Are Not Selfish

The first mention of the article came to me by way of Twilert–my morning hashtag delivery service–via some young guy named Charz Kelso. (Coming attraction: I’ll talk about Twilert on my next post about Baby Boomers and Twitter.) True, we can all use 30-year-old pictures of ourselves as Twitter avatars (translation: pictures), so maybe Charz Kelso isn’t a Gen Yer angry at his parents. But this was his tweet:First off, I don’t get the idea of someone mad about not getting his inheritance. A woman I know once complained bitterly while her parents’ estate was being settled that she wanted her money. “Her money,” I thought. “It’s your parents’ money. They worked for it. They had the right to do with it whatever they want.” So I object to that kind of spoiled kid attitude, whether the person is six or sixty-six. An inheritance, should one be so lucky, is a gift, not something you are owed.

Anyway, next I clicked on the link in his tweet, which brought me to Time.com’s “Moneyland”: http://ti.me/oiPZF0. This article cited a study by U.S. Trust (a retirement investment company) that concluded that “a surprisingly low 49% of millionaire boomer parents said that leaving money to their kids was a priority.” They also referred to the Baby Boomer reputation for selfishness–something I hadn’t heard before and would much dispute. (The so-called “me” generation was around before Boomers had come of age.) I tried to check out the study itself, but the U.S. Trust page didn’t have a link. So I went to the original article in the L.A. Times. (http://lat.ms/oUvor4) The only information I got there was that U.S. Trust surveyed some millionaire boomers. But how many they surveyed, how they picked their sample, and so on I couldn’t ascertain. So I called a friend who manages money for millionaires. He was circumspect, of course. That’s his professional stance. But mostly he was “huh?” His logic? The multi-multi millionaires have more than they can possibly spend in their lifetimes, and their plans often include trusts for children and grandchildren.

The L.A. Times article also quotes Ken Dychtwald, a former economics guru who somehow manages to still be a quotable person, even though the recession flushed his “age-wave” theory down the tubes:

“Many boomers already are giving the equivalent of an inheritance, except they’re doling out the cash while they’re still alive, said Ken Dychtwald, chief executive of research firm Age Wave. They’re supporting elderly parents, adult children or other family members who are suffering professional or financial woes. ‘How can you say no when a child asks ask for a down payment for a house or money to remodel their house to have a bedroom for a second child?’ Dychtwald said. ‘A lot of boomers are finding that family members are taking cash advances on those inheritances right now.’”

In other words, come inheritance time, what with all we’ve spent sending out kids to college, helping them buy homes, getting our parents the best medical care, well, there just might not be that much money left. Let’s forget about the multi-millionaires. There aren’t that many of them anyway, and really, whether the Hiltons are putting away money for Paris or the Kardashians for their famous kids, I don’t give a hoot.

Let’s talk instead about the upper middle class or regular old middle class baby boomers whose 401ks and other retirement investments kind of shrunk during the recession. We aren’t nearly as rich as we thought we were. We also can expect to live well into our 80′s. It might be really hard if we want or need to retire to live just off principal so that there will be a chunk of money available (when we die) to our heirs. The continued resistance, indeed vilification, of a sensible medical system where people could get good care for relatively little money–the kind of system in place in Canada, Israel and many Western countries–makes more plausible the possibility that we shall have to finance our own care should we get hit with an illness in our older years.

I might have ignored this tweet, except that Creating Results (http://creatingresults.com), a PR company that focuses on BabyBoomers and seniors and that usually tweets important information about this enormous cohort of our population, picked up the same quote as Charz Kelso, and tweeted this:

To which I replied, “no way, silly study,” or somesuch. They came back with this (and by the way, I’m @wordwhacker on Twitter, for those of you who don’t know):

And that’s the point. For most of us, decisions about inheritance might be moot. We are not selfish. Far from it. So many of us are right now helping out unemployed recent college/professional school graduates. How could we possibly do otherwise? They’re our kids. Or we might be paying medical bills for the elderly and infirm. But how could we do otherwise? They’re our parents. Personally, I am grateful for how comfortable my husband and I are. And if we somehow amass a nice chunk of cash before we die, I’ll be really happy for my kids to have it. I’m glad I’m not so rich that I’m too busy spending everything I’ve got so that there will be nothing left for my children and (I hope) grandchildren when I leave this earth.

One more thing: Charz Kelso’s tweet reminded me of other ones that come through on my #babyboomer Twilert feed or comments I read online–young people all lathered up into a fury by right wing Republicans and Tea Party-ers because they say we’re taking their money when we get Social Security and Medicare Baby Boomers. I’m not going to argue that there aren’t problems with the way Social Security is set up now because there does seem to be a tipping point a couple decades from now when the system could go broke. Nonetheless, it’s not “their” money we’re getting. It’s money that has been taken from our paychecks every day of our working lives. It belongs to us. It is not a gift. It has been an investment.

Some things to consider:

  • Clue your kids in about your finances. No, not when they’re in their teens, but if they’re adults, they should know where your money is invested and how you foresee financing the rest of your lives.
  • Talk to them about what they’ll inherit. Look, we’re getting on to 60, and people die. Adult kids should have some idea how to access your assets. At some point, you should also have the “Suzie gets grandma’s china” discussion. Find out what is important to them and write it down. Your lawyer can keep a copy.
  • Speaking of lawyers, have a will and a living will. Even if you don’t have that much money, it’s important that you leave clear instructions about what you want to happen when you die. Do you want your kids to sell your house and split the proceeds, or are you hoping one of them buys out the others? Be clear. Also, make it known what you want to happen to you–do you want “heroic measures,” i.e. feeding tubes, if you’re in a coma an not expected to revive? Do you want to be buried or cremated?

Finally, a shout out to Charz Kelso (who seems maybe to live in Singapore): That was a really well done tweet. For those of you interested in what makes a good tweet, note that he has all the elements: A new and interesting idea; a hashtag (#inheritance) under which this tweet will be filed and seen; a link to an article; wit.

As always, you can leave your comments here on the blog. You can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/Linda.Bernstein or facebook.com/LindaBernsteinPhD. On Twitter I’m @wordwhacker. Do you think Baby Boomers are selfish? Let me know.

 

Social Media, Here We Come, or A Baby Boomer’s First Ten Days on Twitter

I can’t claim I was dragged kicking and screaming into this Twitter thing. I paid tuition for Sree Sreenivasan’s Social Media course at the Columbia Journalism School . I took the subway uptown. I sat down in a class. Actually, first I had a meeting re reunion business at Barnard and then dashed across Broadway at 116th Street, raced down the steps toward the Columbia library (noting that the lawn is draped in white—seeding?), and hung a sharp right into the Journalism building, where I had not been since . . . . since a long time ago.

My high regard for Sree Sreenivasan dates back to my years (again a long time ago) at Sesame Street Parents when he wrote some family tech columns for the magazine. This was before he had a family, but he certainly had tech. It was also before Twitter, before Facebook, before broadband, and though I’ve always had this techie rep (I like to fiddle with things, a trait I inherited from my father, who was a chemist and educator, and also a licensed plumber and electrician), I didn’t know much about the Internet back then. Still, I was easily identified the geek who would edit the tech column.

But I am that much older now, and I worry about whether being part of Generation B-Squared means that I should throw my hands up in the air over social media and disappear from the blogosphere. Will I get it? I mean in social media terms. Many techies (information providers?) adamantly argue that people are now getting their news through social media, and it’s great because your news is tailored through your social network filters to your interests. (See, in particular, “How News Consumption is Shifting to the Personalized Social News Stream” on Mashable: http://on.mash.to/g1zmKZ.) Frankly, I find this a little horrifying. Sure, journalists I’m following on Twitter post links to news media articles. But how much weight I give the information in these links depends on the source of the information—and the reputation of the journalist. Yes to The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, NPR, PSBNewshour. No to @Marcisgod, whom I would trust to direct me to a pair of blue suede Tods, if I so desired, but who I’m not sure knows that there was a recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I’m going to bump up against the NYT’s paywall (except my husband has his “education subscription”) because I probably read 20 online articles a day. True, I used the word “online” in the previous sentence, but I fear I’m too old fashioned. I’m a baby boomer. The oldest in my demographic cohort are turning 65 this year. (The youngest don’t even have wrinkles. We’re a large group, and all that will be in my book.)

Then again, I took to Facebook like a—oh, throw in any cliché there, and it’s true. I pay more attention to FB than my Gen Y kids. With their 1000 or so friends—everyone with whom they went to elementary, middle school, high school, college, worked, or got drunk in a bar—they have already outgrown it, sort of. I, on the other hand, really use it. Socially. (And not for self-branding, as Sree advocates.) I know or have at least met all of my friends (except for Cindy Stivers, who seemed to have appeared on my friend list one day). Aside from face-to-face time with friends, most of my communication has become electronic. My friend Maki lives three buildings down from mine. I could probably go up to my roof and jump into her backyard, a place I love to sit and schmooze and drink wine. Telephone communication is now limited to, “You home? I’m passing your door.” But there’s lots of FB back and forth.

FB is amazing in a lot of ways. A significant book person I know posted a picture of a door with a patch of gold leaf applied. “There must be a story in this,” he commented. And then his writer friends started posting three- or four-line stories. Some were really good.

Of course there are the pictures. I get to see my great-nieces and nephew. My best friend’s great-niece. My daughter’s dog. My friend’s kitchen renovation. Another friend’s new iPhone app. I post shots of what I see during my runs in the park. I also documented recent renovations at the country house. I get to be a wiseguy. My friends get to be wiseasses. We’re all wiseacres.

This is possible because my FB is shut pretty tight. All my settings are for friends only. I do not show up in a Google search. I also have no qualms about un-friending people who get sucked into the FB spam-scans. Over the past couple of weeks I have unfriended about 40 people who still are wondering what some woman found in her Happy Meal or think that if they open up their address books, they’ll get a free iPad, or one that costs $14.99 at any rate. I’ll be happy to be their FB friends again—in fact I look forward to it. But first I have to know that they’re not so gullible. (I sent email messages to people I unfriended explaining my actions.)

All of this indicates that so far this baby boomer finds Facebook much more comfortable than Twitter. On Facebook you can see someone’s profile. It’s a much more hamische (“homey” in Yiddish) place as far as I can tell.

Still, I’ve been using Twitter for only 10 days. I have tweeted only 49 times. Yesterday I read that Judy Woodruff tweeted only three times in 2009, so I guess I’m on the right track at least.

I’m also trying to follow Sree’s suggestions for what makes a good tweet: is it helpful, useful, relevant, timely, actionable, and so forth. So far I’m being mostly me. Someone I’m “following” asked, “How influential are you on twitter?” Look, I’m not even influential in my own kitchen. So much for that.

But I’m keeping it up because: Power to the Baby Boomers! Right on! We are the largest demographic and even though I know many people my age who have trouble with email and no interest, they say, in Facebook, can you imagine the influence about 72 million Baby Boomers would wield if we took all the social media invented by Gen Y (mostly) and made it our own? That’s my intention. Social Media, I’m going to own you.

Sree says one should always sign off with her twitter handle: I’m @wordwhacker. Sree is @Sree (of course) and if you’re interested in social media at all, I suggest you follow his SreeTips page on FB. It’s also a great place if you know young people (your kids, their friends) looking for journalism or social media jobs.

Finally, @Sree, Sesame Street Parents never paid you for one of your columns. I called you a lot, left sweet messages, cajoling messages. I think this was before email. (Notice how quickly I’ve adapted to the new AP Style Sheet and removed the hyphen! I am so, so adaptable despite needing a colorist to maintain my real-looking blondish frizzy curls.) Too bad, @Sree; the magazine died a decade ago—but the money may have covered one or two orthodontist bills for your adorable twins.

So, as you comment, think about what you believe might be the obstacles slipping between Generation B-Squared and new media. I’d love to know you thoughts, reactions, bright ideas. They’ll all go in my book. Promise.

Linda (@wordwhacker)