Millennials Should Know Their Place
Commentator: It was always parties where I stuck out, but that time specifically, it was around Easter. There were hollowed-out eggs stuffed with confetti, and the extended family had their kids running around, trying to crack the eggs on my boyfriend's head.
My boyfriend, who is now my husband, was one of the older — but not Old Old — cousins, and he brought me to the party to introduce me. The super-young cousins scattered around the yard were timid with me; there was the obvious distance due to language and age.
Now 10 years on, I've been to a few of their quinceañeras, one with an excruciating trip through Mexico where I needed to pee on the side of the road every half hour, because that trip I was not just the foreign interloper, but the pregnant, married one. I had shifted into another stage of life, just as they did upon becoming 15.
This year we went to visit his family the weekend after Thanksgiving. It happened to be the birthday of the next layer of family, a 3-year-old who took a fancy to my 9-year-old. At one point she urgently told me that cumplañero — the birthday boy — just kept wanting her to come back to the bouncy castle. Before she fully finished, he had run back to grab her hand and pull her back to play. She was no longer the toddler but the very patient older cousin.
I ended up at the table with the aunts of my mother-in-law, all around their 50s and 60s. The table next to me was filled with the young, hip 20-year-olds. The ones with their shoulders draped by their boyfriends' arms were the ones who had confetti in their Easter dresses just a blink ago.
I had missed the boat for the cool kids' table.
But I was happy with my beer and snacks, letting the flow of the conversation happen around me and jumping in with the conjugation disaster that is my Spanish. They plopped the 95-year-old matriarch of the family next to me, who perked up only to chat after my son squirted soda in his eye.
We had the same conversation that we've had before: she tells me how many kids she's had — 14 — and asks me repeatedly who I'm married to and whose son that was. "Her daughter's son," I said, one of many, many grandchildren. This time she also asked if my son was mine. "Yes, and that girl," I pointed at my daughter who was back in the bouncy castle, "is mine as well."
“Your family too," I said. She smiled. How many siblings did I have? "None," I told her. "Mala suerte," I said, bad luck. She laughed.
I knew my place at the table. I was there to be a placeholder in time, a comfort to the very young and the very old. It feels like an apt description of the millennial's time, but I don't think there is enough acknowledgment of the power at this moment that we haven't claimed yet. We've slowly stalked through the colorful fields of our youth, and it's time for the harvest, not only to comfort those around us but to guide the conversation.
The oldest of us millennials are 40. There are those of us, of course, hardening into ideologies or finding comfort in strictly defining the world around us. Still, many more are asking if there is room for flexibility that can hold space for the gray moments.
Gray clouds seem to roll in on the horizon as we age, when we realize the nuance in almost every situation is how the world is painted. For us growing through our stages, it felt like everyone was spoiling for a fight to turn gray back to black or white. Our country was fallible against terror. Our banks were greedy. Our unity turned out to be insincere.
There are still moments of color, sometimes only found in small strokes. While millennials are fumbling to draw a new future with a larger palette of colors, we are watching those in power try to drag us back into a time where things are black and white, when really, they never were, and age should have taught them about the gray hovering around the vibrant moments of life. If they didn't learn that, then it's time for millennials to take the brush and paint nuance back into the world.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.