Welcome to the New Generation
It’s Shabbos afternoon. It’s that blissful moment when the meal’s been cleared away, when the baby and the husband have gone in for a nap, and when the bigger kids have found the neighbors to play with outside.
It’s that perfect opportunity to grab a magazine and curl up on the couch, where I’ll read and doze, doze and read, and get in all of three pages before the baby’s up and ready to play.
But just as I’m putting the broom away and making my way to the living room, my six-year-old pokes his head through the front door.
“Ma!” he shrieks, not realizing I’m standing right there. “Can my friend come play inside?”
I peek out the window.
The sun is shining.
It’s unseasonably warm.
My house is soo neat and soo quiet.
Couldn’t they play outside for a little bit longer?
But he bats his adorable eyelashes at me and my binah yiseira goes out the window.
“Okay,” I concede. “But don’t be wild, please.” (Were more useless words ever spoken?)
The door swings open, and Ezriel and his buddy march in, two red-cheeked cuties with trouble in their eyes.
For a second, I will myself to relax. How much of a mess can two boys make?
But the door continues to swing open, and now a stampede of neighborhood boys troop in behind Ezriel. (Aha. Apparently, when Ezriel said “friend” he meant it in its plural form.)
I know these boys by name, but they aren’t frequent visitors. They are a little older than Ezriel, and they don’t usually give him the time of day. This Shabbos, it seems, they’re friends. This might be interesting…
If the new chevra notices me, they show no signs of it. They march right toward my kitchen and make a beeline to the nosh drawer, where they promptly help themselves to some bags of chips.
I am befuddled.
Aren’t they going to ask first?
And how do they know where the nosh drawer is?
Before I can process what’s happening, one boy is opening the fridge for a drink and the next boy is rummaging through the freezer for a popsicle.
Baffled, I look at my hands.
Good. They’re still there. Guess I haven’t become invisible – just irrelevant.
But not for long.
To Ezriel’s horror, I clear my throat loudly and ask for everyone to be quiet (all my years of teaching are worth something).
Next, I encourage the boys to sit (calmly!) around the table and to keep their hands to themselves.
When I have their attention (ish), I make it clear that in the future, everyone needs to ask before he takes something from the nosh drawer or the fridge or the freezer, and no, they can’t each have a full bottle of soda from the pantry, even though they’ve already claimed ownership of the Pepsis.
They gawk at me like I’m speaking Chinese, and my speech doesn’t earn me (or Ezriel) any points for popularity. The boys are gone before I can blink, leaving my kitchen littered with empty chip bags and a carpet of crushed chips.
But the mess isn’t the upsetting part. The upsetting part is the look of devastation in Ezriel’s eyes.
“Ma! You made them leave! Now they’re never gonna want to come back!”
(I resist the urge to reply, “Would that be such a terrible thing?”)
Ezriel runs after them, offering some explanations for his mother’s bizarre behavior, and I’m left alone with my broom and a million pressing questions:
Does Ezriel act this way in other people’s houses?
Does Ezriel help himself to snack without asking and “forget” to clean up afterward?
Do I owe an apology to every one of my neighbors?
And, oh. One more important question: Do kids have some kind of nosh detector? How did they know where the nosh drawer is?
But the answers to those questions will have to wait because Ezriel had fled. In the meantime, there is still some time for me to make my way over to the couch and find that magazine that’s been screaming my name.
Of course, just as I hit the couch, the front door opens again.
I brace for the return of the rascals (maybe they realized they left a few chip bags untouched?), but this time, it’s my eleven-year-old daughter and her chevra. Of course, the gals make a beeline to the couch I was planning to call home for the next few hours.
“Hi, Ma!” my daughter chirps as she flounces down next to me. Her friends flounce down too. One of them picks up my magazine and thumbs though it. The other one reaches for my popcorn.
I gape at them.
What is going on here?
When I was my daughter’s age, I wanted nothing to do with my mother if I had friends around.
When my friends came over, I’d herd them through the door as fast I could and find the corner of my house as far away from my parents as possible. We had important stuff to schmooze about (what – I have no clue), and we didn’t want any adult ears around.
This was no offense to my mother (honestly, I think she was thrilled!). That scene was replicated at every one of my friends’ houses too. Back in the day, mothers and the daughters were perfectly content to hang out in their own spheres.
In this generation though, the spheres have collided.
Now, my daughter and her friends are sitting down on the couch with me. They’re schmoozing with me. They have opinions on what I’m reading. They’re eating my popcorn!
Don’t get me wrong. The girls are adorable, and I’m enjoying their company, but I came to the couch for some – how do I phrase this gently – alone time, and that’s not what I’m getting.
I try to be polite (and subtle).
“Do you girls want to play a board game?”
“A card game?”
They’d rather just stare at me. They think I’m the entertainment.
“I love your robe, Mrs. Berkovic,” one girl says sweetly. “Where did you buy it?”
That’s when I realize these girls, as adorable as they are, are not that dissimilar from the horde of boys who just ransacked my kitchen.
The kids today are just different.
There’s a comfort level they exhibit when they’re around adults that is unfamiliar to me. That is discomfiting for me. That doesn’t feel quite right.
So, what do I do?
It’s too easy just to complain, “It was not like this when we were growing up!”
Times change, cultures change, norms change. It doesn’t help anyone if I’m the crabby old lady, wagging my finger at the younger generation, a group of well-meaning kids who have no real sense that they’re doing anything wrong.
At the same time, I’m old school. I still think some boundaries are appropriate. That some red lines of respect are not intended to be crossed.
But maybe that’s why parenting is so hard. We need to recognize how the world has changed, but also somehow hold on to our values that are unchanging. We need to adjust where our kids need us to be flexible, but we need to stay firm where we cannot budge.
It’s as challenging as finding time to read a magazine on the couch (without someone taking our popcorn!), but it doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying!
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