Thursday, June 16, 2011

Caryl writes: Odyssey II

Photo by Allegra Ben-Amotz
I’m still exhausted from throwing my child’s birthday party at our loft last Sunday. Twenty-kids running around the house, balloons galore, yummy eats and fruit drinks. The piece-de-resistance was a delicious mocha-chip, mint-chip ice cream cake from Sundaes and Cones. The cake was decorated with a little chocolate dog kicking up dirt while looking for a baseball in the grass. Surrounded by all her friends and older sister, my little baby girl was turning . . .are you ready. . . ? 24!!!! The last time I served ice cream cake was decades ago and the kids weren’t drinking proseco and passion fruit juice with it. 

Much has been written about this millennial generation and their long slow entry into adulthood. And my daughters and her friends are no different. They are beautifully educated but questionably prepared for the 21st century. They are trying on jobs when they can get one (my daughter has two part-time gigs); otherwise, they are waitressing, bartending, volunteering and going back to school (Annie’s planning to go to grad school this fall). Their lives are filled with heartbreaking break-ups (that too) and cautious dating. Nobody’s really thinking about marriage or kids and, definitely not buying a house. Yes, some are renting their first apartments or sharing with strangers from Craigslist, and several have moved back with their parents (mine never left). For these twenty-somethings, theirs is not the decade of the 20s that we recall.

“There used to be four common life phases: childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age,” wrote
David Brooks in a memorable New York Times op ed column in October, 2007.“Now there are at least six: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement and old age. “ I agree that there are new stages, at a minimum six, but I take issue with the fifth or at least the label Brooks has given it. Oh yes, we, first-wave baby boomers are active alright but few of us are retiring. Not in this economy, anyway. Not to mention that we are too competitive to entirely leave the game. And have too much to still offer. No one I know is going willing to the sidelines.

I’d prefer to call the fifth life stage Odyssey II. We too are wandering through the new millennium test-driving a variety of new ways to live. The landscape keeps changing, often and radically. The future feels uncertain at best, frightening at worst: a dying planet, a growing national debt and a sputtering economy unwilling to jump start.

Brooks continues: “Yet with a little imagination it’s possible even for baby boomers to understand what it’s like to be in the middle of the odyssey years. It’s possible to see that this period of improvisation is a sensible response to modern conditions.” Just like our emerging adult children, in our second lives—Odyssey 2.0-- we need not only improvisation, but also imagination and innovation. And while we are on an alliterative streak, there’s another “I-word” we need—one the twenty-somethings don’t have and, as a result, their path is steeper and more prone to stumbles. It’s our secret weapon on the road to our next life stage. And that is (drum roll, please): Intelligence. I am talking about the intelligence that comes only from life experience. The intelligence that springs from having lived one life successfully already.

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