I recently read Sally Koslow’s new book, Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest. In it, Koslow chronicles, from a baby boomer perspective, all that is weird about what she calls “adultescents.” These are generally defined as people ages 22-35. Much of the laments will be familiar: people flit from job to job. They flit from grad school to work and to general odysseys. They aren’t particularly interested in settling down or getting married, and if they are, they can’t find partners who are similarly inclined. Young women in this group will age out of their fertility window before they actually consider themselves adults! Then there’s the cliche of the 20-something college grad moving back home, an un- or under-employed man-child in his boxers drinking your beer. To Koslow, this was no cliche. It was life when her son Jed moved back in and eventually had to be pushed hard to take a job he’d been offered and move out, rather than subsisting on unemployment checks (fun money when mom and dad pay the bills).
Parts of the book were quite funny: “Recently, when a new friend of one of my sons realized that Rob [her husband] and I were both the original, still-married parents of our child, he looked so gobsmacked I felt as if I’d stumbled out of a diorama at the Museum of Natural History,” Koslow writes. Some parts are poignant. How, for instance, does one deal with the partner of a co-habitating child? Koslow becomes increasingly attached to “delightful women who could be deleted from our life in the time it takes for them to call Moishe’s Movers.”
My biggest beef with this very readable book, though, is that I’m a member of this demographic she writes about — and I had trouble finding myself anywhere in this puzzling lament. Here’s something I don’t worry about: my biological clock. Having cranked out three children by age 32, I don’t hear its loud ticking at night. Perhaps its loud ticking is muffled by the more urgent howling of a 2-year-old who just fell out of bed. In a development related to those three children, I got married at 25. I’ve been plugging along in the same field for a decade. I work for myself, which perhaps seems a bit like an inability to settle down, but I view it as strategic. I control my time and (to a degree) my income. The free agent life is the way the economy is going. Other than that, I am a responsible, settled, tax-paying, married homeowner. I am 33 going on 80. My parents are the ones who lived in the pup tent in Europe for a while — not me.
Which brings us to a larger question: Can generations really be defined by certain characteristics? I am sure since we lived in caves old people have been complaining about young people. But real differences in generations can only happen if the world is changing in such a rapid fashion that change is noticeable in 20-30 years. That’s only been true for the last 100-200 years at most. Take the issue of making plans. I could see that young people don’t put as much of a premium on making plans, because they don’t need to. You can always call people while you’re out and arrange to meet them. But I’ve had a cell phone for a decade and I still like making plans. Plans make me happy! I tend to gravitate toward other people who like plans, no matter what age they are. Perhaps certain characteristics are more pronounced in certain generations. But human nature doesn’t change that much. Someday, modern adultescents will grow up to write ebooks about the crazy ways of kids these days — these days defined as, oh, 2035. You can bank on that.