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.

 

Charlene Spierer (and My Kids) on My Mind

Until last weekend, I don’t think I had spent a total of 60 minutes of my life thinking about Amy Winehouse. I liked her music OK, but I found her brand of uglifying herself and her life unappealing. When, immediately after her death was announced, her parents and handlers said they didn’t see it coming (an opinion that they amended in subsequent days), my thought was only that how didn’t they see the train sliding off the rails. YouTube videos of some of her final concerts (Amy Winehouse’s Onstage Meltdown‬‏ – YouTube http://bit.ly/oTQiZt) show an out-of-it performer stumble onstage and even drag a backup singer to take over the vocals. She became more famous for her mishaps than her music.

Then I started thinking about her parents. Her father has stepped forward to announce that he will start a foundation in her name for people with addictions. (His assessment of the British National Health’s facilities for treatment is likely incorrect, however. The National Treatment Agency disputed Mitch Winehouse’s claim that there is a two-year waiting list. They say 94% of people who request treatment receive it within three weeks.) In some way this gesture must be therapeutic for him. But there’s still the undeniable fact that his daughter is dead, forever and ever.

I’m not sure at all how parents deal with seeing their adult children self-destruct. Even many of us with absolutely normal kids spend a lot of time agonizing over their happiness. My friends and readers have been aware that my main focus this week (besides the debt ceiling) has been my kids, their significant others, and the bar exam. They have been studying all summer, and on Tuesday they got up very early and sat down to six hours of testing. They completed another six-hour round today. Tomorrow my son and his girlfriend take the New Jersey Bar (which I maintain must have questions about the Jersey Shore, Pineys, and the New Jersey Devil). Yes, my children have done things that are dangerous (most of which I probably don’t know about), and they have at times given me due cause for worry. But they are alive, in Brooklyn, and I think that they’ll get over the hurdles of finding jobs and places to live. They are alive. They drive me crazy. They are alive and functioning.

I also spent time this weekend thinking about Charlene Spierer, the mother of the missing 20-year-old from Indiana University, a woman I knew when the family lived nearby and our daughters were besties in elementary school. As the search for Lauren has passed out of the news cycle, Charlene and Robert remain in Bloomington, waiting for answers. All the volunteers and the press have noted their graciousness, a perfect word to describe their composure during this trying time, their generosity to the community, their earnest wish—belief, rather—that someone who knows something will step forward.

Charlene wrote an open letter on their blog (http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com) six days ago describing what it is like to wake each morning hoping that today is the day they “find” her. How they in their hearts are defining “find” I cannot know. I can feel their pain, though, their anxiety. I think about how they “don’t know” and I get a headache, a heartache. I joke about a nightmare I had of being in the Apple Store and of the geniuses not being able to fix “it” (unspecified in the dream). It was a dream about my anxiety about my kids, though, and when I awoke, I felt I had a nightmare. Charlene, Robert, their lovely daughter Rebecca, their nieces Emily and Ariel, all the family, are in a living nightmare.

When she was 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, the years she was so close to Rebecca, my daughter used to say, “isn’t Charlene the nicest person you know?” Yes, the answer is yes.

Our kids do dangerous things. We worry. But some people have a lot more to worry about than others. Terrible things happen; some of them can be prevented, some of them can’t. Our job as parents is to be there for our kids, even when they’re adults. I called my son tonight and said, “It’s your cheerleader. I’m carrying pom-poms, making a pyramid. You go!” I called my daughter and said, “Wow. It’s over. What are you doing to celebrate?”

I plead with the parents of Lauren’s friends: Talk to your kids. Support them as they come forward and do the right thing. Think about Charlene’s nightmare. Your kids will be fine. They are alive.

The picture of Lauren is blurry because it was taken with a surveillance camera and is the last known image of her.

I know I always end with bullet points, but only two tonight:

  • Even something small could be big. The telephone number for the Bloomington Police Department is 812-339-4477. “America’s Most Wanted” is also taking calls: 800-Crime-TV (800-274-6388). For more information, check the website http://findlauren.com.
  • We are also facing a financial crisis in this country. Call your congress people. We live in a democracy; what we say counts. If you need your congress person’s telephone, check http://house.gov  and http://senate.gov. You can also find many of them on Facebook—like their pages to leave comments. Or if you’re on Twitter, tweet at them.

As always, I love your comments, even ones from nuclear physicists. You can find me on Facebook at either www.facebook.com/Linda.Bernstein or www.facebook.com/LindaBernsteinPhD. My Twitter handle is @wordwhacker, and on Google+ I’m gplus.to/lindabernstein.

Not Quite In-Laws

I love Yiddish and wish I had actually paid attention when my father tried to teach me to read it. The language is vivid, flexible, and has kinds of words not found in many languages, such as a distinct term to denote the familial relationship between a man and his mother-in-law. I don’t know that one. In fact, when it comes to in-laws, I’m reduced to one word: machatonim—the meshpuchah (family) into which your child marries.

Technically, I needn’t be thinking about this yet. Neither my son nor my daughter is engaged. It’s not something I’m waiting for with baited breath, either. I really like the current boyfriend and girlfriend and if engagements occur, I’ll be happy. Meanwhile, though . . . well, it will happen when it happens.

(One thing that might be delaying the engagement thing: right now, my kids and their significant others are unemployed lawyers, but that’s another column. In the meantime, check out this from The New York Times: http://nyti.ms/oM4yVi about the law school racket, how the schools churn out more and more lawyers in the face of fewer and fewer jobs while the presidents and faculties get rich)

But during the past two-and-a-half years, as both became romantically attached, they developed strong relationships with other families. At first, I did not like this. I still sometimes feel a little piqued or put upon when my son or daughter chooses to spend time with the boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s family when I really want them to be home with us. I admit to the itsy bitsy part of me that wishes they were still little and totally dependent on us for everything, when we were their world. (Well, I got that over with. By the time I finished typing that sentence, I went back to loving that they’re independent and interesting young adults.)

Of course, I kind of knew this would happen. But I also sort figured my daughter would marry her brother’s first friend (son of good friends of ours—didn’t happen). I also wanted my children to have much better relationships with their in-laws than I had with mine. My in-law problem had much to do with geography—they lived in Florida and came to New York City three times from the day I married their son until they died. My husband and I, later with the kids,  went to Florida for at least a week a year, but we never grew close.

My parents and my in-laws were a bad match, too. Not that they actively disliked each other. They just had nothing in common. Maybe they’d call each other on holidays, but that was it.

So, I am pleasantly surprised that my children picked partners with really nice families with good values. In the realm of coincidences possible in this life, my daughter fell in love with a young man from the small town nearest to our country house. So we started seeing his parents socially every now and then—movies, informal dinners. Now it’s more often. Yesterday afternoon I found myself in town in the hardware store, frustrated that I couldn’t find a crock just right for making cucumber half sour pickles like the ones my grandmother made. It occurred to me that I was a 1 minute drive from Dave’s folks. So I picked up my iPhone and spent the next two hours sitting on the front porch of a Victorian era farmhouse. Nice. My son’s girlfriend’s mom and I have been exchanging emails as the kids study for the bar exam. Her dad is on Facebook, and sometimes I see him there. Nice. My son’s girlfriend’s family go to the shore for a vacation each year; my son is joining them. Nice. My daughter’s boyfriend’s family goes to a lake in Maine, and she’ll be part of that group. Nice.

There’s no name for this expansion of family pre-marriage. We have new friends, not necessarily besties, but people we like. Our kids have other adults with whom they interact, about whom they care. I suppose there would have been a word in Yiddish, should the language have evolved in that direction. (The only people who actively and daily use language, aside from some cultural enthusiasts, are certain sects of Orthodox Jews who do not, I imagine, have these kinds of relationships since their kids get married. Early.) Me, the word person—I’m willing to just enjoy the feeling.

Here is a t-shirt I hope I’ll be wearing one day:

  • Follow your kids’ lead. My kids weren’t the type to “bring home” just anyone. When they were ready, we were happy to meet the person. I’ve always tried not to pressure or nag, though, I must say, I haven’t always succeeded. So I say, “follow your kids’ lead” in the spirit of “take this good advice I’ve heard from others,” not, “oh, follow my example.”
  • Try not to mention ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. We’ve been pretty good about that, though sometimes it’s hard not to mention them especially when they play a role in a funny story. My rule here is that you get to tell the story, but you don’t emphasize the ex.
  • Don’t call a current boyfriend or girlfriend by an ex’s name. I mention this because I’ve done it. My son dated a girl named Megan in high school, and I sometimes call the dog Megan. I don’t get it.
  • Be there for your kid, even when the significant other is in the right. A corollary to this is that even after a break-up, don’t overly malign the ex because they might get back together. A former boss whose kids were a bit older than my gave me this advice: her daughter unengaged and re-engaged about three times before that relationship finally bit the dust.

As always, I invite your comments and would love to hear your almost-in-law stories.

Life Guidance for Gen Y

It’s a good thing I checked my Twitter feed yesterday morning before I put up a different version of this blog post because there was a tweet from Jenny Blake, author of Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want (Running Press, 2011), saying she just quit her job at Google. Yes, that’s right. She quit her job at Google, where since 2006 she has been Career Development Program Manager and internal coach. Yes, that Google. The one with gourmet food, a gym, nap rooms; the one that fosters “white space”—that is, time for employees to think about things besides their current project; a top ranking employer-of-choice for college grads (see http://aol.it/iqwdto. Note: AOL classifies this article under “Weird News.” Oh, OK, AOL. You the boss.) Judging by the book, and yesterday’s blog, http://bit.ly/iZZkKd, she did the right thing. For her. And that’s what ultimately important.

If either of my kids ever quit a six-figure job with an amazing employer, you can bet that I’d morph straightaway into Jewish Mother Mode (JMM). I can see the texts I’d be pounding out on my phone, the IMs I’d be sending, and I can hear the silence with which they’d be met. Yup, my kids know how to tune out the nag. But being that I’m not Jenny’s mother, I can be a bit more objective. Jenny’s book, speaking tour, and blog have become her consuming passion, and she’s a big on living your passion.

Life After College, in fact, steers Gen Y to career paths and life journeys that will make them happy, and not—IMPORTANT—necessarily rich. It’s a big debate these days, whether colleges (and advisors and parents) should be steering young people to the careers that will put them on the path to an assured income. Going for the bucks is OK for some. Indeed, for many 20-somethings I speak with $$$$$ and lots of it is their goal in life. They focus early on in college and as soon as they graduate (or finish a professional program) they pounce. Satisfaction with self? Sure, they measure that in dollars.

But for all the others out there, the ones who graduate and ask, “now what?” the questions Jenny poses and the marvelous exercises she includes seem to me great tools for directing choices. I like how Jenny invites people to write in her book, kind of like Dr. Seuss’s My Book About Me (which my daughter owned and revised many times). This really is a “workbook.” Jenny uses icons to demarcate various sections: two pens for the “coaching sessions,” a diver for “deep dives,” i.e. more in-depth examinations random topics, such as clean sinks.  The “Two Cents From Twitter” pages (headed with a red version of the blue Twitter bird) come off as a bit of a gimmick, but crowd-sourcing is a big thing now, and James Suroweicki has certainly convinced me about the wisdom of crowds. So maybe she’s right to include snippets of ideas gleaned from her audience. I also wasn’t crazy about the inspirational quotes, but that’s me. I’m not an inspiration quote person. (I can tell from my Twitter feed that I’m in the minority.)

I would give Jenny’s book to any Gen Yer, perhaps as a companion to What Color Is Your Parachute (Ten Speed Press, in its umpteenth edition, and now a great reference for kinds of careers). Jenny is practical, upbeat and full of belief in herself, an attitude that becomes quite contagious, and I would recommend that my fellow baby boomers make sure their kids have copies. Read it yourself first, though, because many pages could turn into “conversation starters.” And read it for yourself too. Yes, Jenny is our kids’ peer. She is nevertheless a born life coach whose advice cum way-of-thinking suits any age group. We could all pause to take our “quality of life” temperatures (see pp. 234-35) or fill in the blanks about our “ideal day” (pp. 241-243). You might have to purchase two copies.

Yeah, that’s one thing I love about Jenny’s book. It works better on paper. Sure, you could complete the exercises on an iPad ebook, but typing ebook notes is still a cumbersome task. With a book like this, “easy” is an important quality. This book reminded me that some things are best in older formats. Like us, our kids’ parents.

  • Life-coaching vs. psychotherapy: I wouldn’t recommend coaching over, say, seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist if one is truly depressed or stressed. But for those crossroads we reach, whether at age 22 or 59 . . .? Life-coaching definitely has its appeal. It’s short, direct, proactive.
  • Life-coaching vs. psychotherapy, redux: To my mind, a lot of life coaches are bullshit artists who prey on the insecure and needy. So are a lot of psychotherapists. Still I trust psychotherapists who have had years of verifiable and quantifiable training over coaches, who generally go through some kind of training program that lacks an overarching authority to set standards.
  • Life-coaching vs. psychotherapy, one more observation: It isn’t either/or.
  • Finding help for your kids: Let them lead you to what they need. You probably have better connections for doctors and even life coaches than they do, so have some contacts ready in case they ask.
  • Finding help for your kids redux: Jenny’s book costs $14.86 on BarnesandNoble.com. That’s a small investment for a tool that might help your Gen Yer discover his or her mooring.

So good luck to Jenny, who’s already something of a rock star. If you’re looking for an inspirational speaker for an event, you can contact her on her blog: LifeAfterCollege.org. Clicking on the book cover will take you to BarnesandNoble.com.

As always, please leave comments. I prefer them on the blog, but, as always, I like your communications on Facebook and Twitter and by email.

This is Jenny Blake