I hope I’ve made it clear that I spend a good part of my life — at least half an hour a day — trying not to be a hopeless old fogey.
I force myself to try social media like Twitter and Pinterest. I attempt to wear fashion of roughly the same decade I live in, give or take a few years. (Read about my deeply upsetting experience when a young friend told me he was going to a Dress Like the Nineties costume party; I still have no idea what nineties clothes look like, even though I spent a good 10 years in that decade and, as far as I recall, wore clothes just about every day.)
I also try to be open to new ideas and new foods that aren’t vegetables of suspicious origin or animal innards.
Finally, I spend a lot of time sticking up for the younger generation, since it includes our two grown children and their equally wonderful friends, and also because it’s so boring and predictable to complain about younger people. I like to think I can come up with fresh and innovative ways to complain — or why else would I have a blog?
Well, that’s the dream. But sometimes, I still find myself careening into fogeydom, and what can I do but embrace it? (Have you noticed — you’re supposed to embrace everything noxious these days? Embrace cancer, sorrow, your own worst flaws, personal disaster, creationism, droughts, heat waves, Republicans. After all that mandatory hugging, you will then probably require a shower, a stiff drink and total isolation, after which you will doubtless be ready to embrace the European debt crisis.)
Anyway, I found both my husband and myself embracing our fogeydom recently at a nice little French restaurant where we were attempting to have a quiet dinner. Fat chance (which is not exactly foie gras in French, but maybe it should be). The table next to us was composed of a couple about our age, a younger couple and a mildly obnoxious child who sat on the floor playing with a doll.
Just as my husband and I were toasting each other, the brouhaha began. Birthday cake! Birthday song! Pandemonium at the next table! Camera flashes!
“It’s the kid’s birthday,” my husband grumbled.
The kid looked up from the floor, then she went back to playing with her doll. She was about three, we figured.
Three! Too young for a birthday gathering at a nice French restaurant, my husband and I agreed. By then, we were going blind from all the blazing camera flashes, deaf from all the loud exhortations. Hayley! Look at Nana! Hayley!
He and I started recalling all the cut-rate birthday parties we’d given our own children. The Darwinian skating rinks, the hellish pizza emporiums, the brutal backyard water ballon fights. And look how well our kids had turned out! They hadn’t committed any major felonies, as far as we knew, or joined any neo-Nazi groups.
“Remember when we discovered the kids-eat-free clause at Souper Salad?” I asked my husband.
He nodded nostalgically. We’d taken our kids there all the time. We’d even joked about gathering up a passel of kids for a birthday party there. Two adults, a drooling mob of hungry children — but hey, kids eat free!
Little Hayley sat on the floor, playing with her doll while we reminisced and the bulbs flashed and the birthday party adults continued to plead with the birthday girl to please please please look up and smile. And cake, Hayley! Don’t you want some of your own birthday cake?
Hayley ignored them. She stayed on the floor, getting grubbier by the minute, narrowly avoiding collisions with passing waiters.
I found some solace in that, in her silent resistance. Some continuity in the world of child-rearing. You think you’re molding your children? It’s a sweet notion and all that. But let’s be honest: They’re molding you, too. And you, the parent, don’t have as much power as you think you have. Sometimes, you just have to give in and enjoy the ride.
Hayley’s parents and grandparents would have indigestion, a billion unfocused photos and a triple-digit bill to remember Little Hayley’s third birthday. And the birthday girl herself? A grimy doll, some bread crumbs on the floor, and almost getting stepped on by somebody named Jean-Pierre. Oh, but quel fun! La vie est belle!
I would have happily explained that to Hayley’s eager family. But nobody likes an Old Fogey.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)