I read this piece at “Letters From Livingston,” a fundraiser for LACASA (Livingston County’s domestic violence shelter https://lacasacenter.org) in June 2019.
An Evening with The Millennials
I walked into the bar and thank god I did, interrupting what had to be a stimulating conversation amongst a group of NYC millennials about – dentistry.
Prior to that, they had apparently been discussing potatoes.
I was a little intimidated when my oldest millennial (I have two, bless my heart) announced there would be dinner with the gang while I was in New York recently – he and his partner and 7 of their closest friends. Then he sent me screenshots of their replies, all of which were a version of “I can’t wait to meet your mom!” or in classic millennial-speak - “Vonn: The Prequel”.
You know, no pressure.
In addition to having my very own millennials, I knew all the usual stuff about them. Time Magazine called them the “Me Me Me generation” in 2013 and noted that they were lazy, entitled, and living at home. Years of being handed participation trophies trained them to expect raises and promotions for simply existing. We – the parents – raised them with a focus on developing self-esteem as a character trait, rather than the natural result of success and failure experiences and so now we have 20-somethings who crumble when they discover the rest of the world doesn’t think they’re special.
My kid did not turn out especially shallow, and none of these kids were living at home, so I was optimistic about the upcoming encounter. Still. Even the Time Magazine article could only manage to conclude that “They're earnest and optimistic. They are pragmatic idealists, tinkerers more than dreamers, life hackers. They want constant approval--they post photos from the dressing room as they try on clothes” I paused when I read that last one, because, I do that. What’s wrong with that?
Now I was even more worried. How much earnestness was I going to have to deal with? I mean, I was on vacation for god’s sake.
After I interrupted the dentistry conversation – and got an eye-roll from the kid when I asked for a wine other than the happy hour swill they were all drinking - the conversation moved at a rapid pace. They wanted to know what I had been doing in the city and chimed in with commentary including concern that my lunch at the Church of Heavenly Rest may have, in fact, actually been a soup kitchen. (I had a smoked salmon brioche with arugula, so if it was, it was a pretty high-end one).
From there we explored the pros and cons of arugula (it can be too pointy), hair styles and color (which can lead to anxiety), multitasking (some of them are “one thing at a time” people), astrology (Pisces! You get along with everyone!), the upcoming gay pride parades (Pride and the Queer Liberation March, which is pushing back against corporate “pink-washing”), Vonn’s bird shirt (a favorite of his clients), matcha (I was firm in my opinion that there is no reason to inflict that on anyone) and then moved on to TV shows (they watch Real Housewives – god knows which one, RuPaul, Game of Thrones, Fleabag, Killing Eve, Black Mirror, Queer Eye and Chernobyl)
I have zero input here. The last thing I binge-watched was the Great British Baking Show and I even did that wrong, starting with the latest season, then the previous one, then going back to season one and working forward. Both my children were appalled.
As Vonn announced to the group – “She doesn’t watch TV she reads BOOKS” – there was a moment of silence, the kind that comes from a polite group of youngsters who haven’t had too much to drink yet and are considering the proper etiquette for navigating this unexpected turn of events. A couple of them offer up that they read books, but the majority of the group does not.
I smothered the intellectual snob/mom response - “What do you MEAN you don’t read books” which would have been expressed in a mild screech, with an undercurrent of “this is what’s wrong with the world today” and a dash of “get off my lawn.”
But it’s not that they don’t read. The conversation often referenced news sites, podcasts, online magazines. If you consider books as vehicles for information, critical thinking, entertainment and escape – it’s all there in a different format. They are a lively well-informed bunch and if the discussion never went deep, hey it was a Friday and there were 10 of us and we had wine. And who doesn’t need to know that you can close your hand around an egg and squeeze and it won’t break?
At dinner, I impressed the crowd by offering to buy the first two bottles of wine, and not picking the least expensive bottles on the list. I handed Vonn a retirement investment newsletter from his dad, which - rather than starting a round of good-natured teasing - launched a much more serious discussion about retirement accounts, savings and debt.
I was sitting at a table with a bunch of young adults who had a combined student debt load of $100K – this after being out of school and working for 4 or 5 years. No one has their own apartment and most shared with at least 2 other people. They all had savings, but probably not enough to cover their rent for a month – which is a minimum of $1000 per person, probably more. And you thought Livingston County was bad.
None of them sounded entitled. They certainly weren’t lazy. A little resentful at all the adulting required in life? Sure – but you know...anyone else? Raise your hands now. You know you are.
They are worried about climate change, national politics and the lack of civility, retirement savings, and the struggle to pay for health insurance. They know what good wine tastes like now, but maybe can’t afford it.
And they thought I was a cool mom. They even had a group chat about it, which I suppose is a millennial thing and trust me, I am flattered as hell to be the subject of a millennial group chat about my perceived coolness. I won’t bore you all with the comments here, but among my favorites: she was dressed like an architect, her opinions on matcha, staging an article to force us to tell her why she’s cool, she threw shade on our boring dentistry conversation, her face when she tried the house wine at Smithfields, her involvement in local politics aka walking the walk.
In case you were concerned that there is NOTHING in the millennial stereotype that rings true - the top comment, mentioned at least 3 or 4 times, was my “dope scarf.”*
Which I am wearing all the time now. With new sense of confidence.
* The dope scarf, in action: