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Karin Kasdin

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In Defense of Grandparents Who Came Before Us

Posted: 05/03/2012 2:30 pm

It was utterly predictable and only a matter of time before Goldie Hawn appeared in photo and print (in this very news outlet among numerous others) as the poster girl for today's generation of grandmothers. My generation, the baby-boomer kids, have always thought we are the hippest, coolest, savviest, most attractive group of go-getters to ever grace the earth. We are the rock and rollers, the anti-establishment peace-loving, world-changing, ageless beauties that have spit-shined the image of grandparents for the 21st century.

I am no Sasquatch, but neither do I resemble the luminous Ms. Hawn. I didn't measure up to her perky adorableness when she was go-go dancing on Laugh-in, and I am similarly bereft of her physical attributes almost 40 years later. If I could somehow manage to stuff myself into a Goldie-size pair of jeans, I'm pretty sure I'd need the Jaws of Life to peel me out of them. Goldie Hawn is a fluke of nature, which is why she has the celebrity of Goldie Hawn. Sophia Loren, the aurora borealis of our parents' time, was not the standard to which the vast populace of twentieth century grandmothers would dare hold themselves. Why should Goldie be ours?

I've read several books on the subject of grandparenting lately, and all of them begin with the proclamation that we baby boomers are raising a new bar for grandparents. We are young and vital. We are professionally active and financially secure. (I'm not kidding. I read that.) We have smooth skin and fit bodies. We are awesome!

Okay, I'll buy it. We are awesome. What I cannot buy, however, is the assertion that we are exponentially more awesome than generations of grandparents who preceded us. The author of the latest book I read practically swoons over the fact that ten thousand of us claim to have attended a protest or rally in the last year. According to the same author, there are 70 million grandparents residing in the U.S.. I did the math (in my head with my grandparent's brain) and discovered that 69,990,000 of us did not attend a protest or rally last year.

With zero statistics to back me up, I am nevertheless going to venture a guess that tens of thousands of grandparents marched during the civil rights movement or went on strike en masse to organize labor into unions. Grandmothers were suffragettes. Grandfathers died in battle.

Recent blogs and magazine articles extolling the new breed of grandmothers would have us believe that our own grandmothers lived their lives in floral housedresses and orthopedic shoes, put their teeth in a glass on the nightstand before bed each night and kept their hearts open and their mouths shut. Those seemingly ubiquitous housedresses were indeed horrible, but they weren't any worse than some of the tight, unflattering sweat suits I saw grandmothers parade around in last month in Disney World.

We suffer from an unprecedented obesity epidemic in this country, and the young are not the only people chowing down on Big Macs.

A few factoids:

Betty Freidan was a grandmother of nine when she did most of her campaigning for women's equality.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a grandmother of four when she became a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly where she oversaw the drafting and unanimous passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Grandma Moses, the renowned American folk artist, was in her seventies and a grandmother of nine when she made her first tentative brushstroke.

And, just to include a beauty, Elizabeth Taylor was a grandmother of 10 and a great-grandmother of four when she did her most serious campaigning and delivered some of her most influential speeches in the fight against AIDS.

Close to my heart, my mother, who just turned 80, is about to begin a new job.

We are online! We are wired! We email! We Skype! We Facebook! Our finesse with technology is often cited as the single factor that makes us the hippest generation of grandparents to ever live. I don't know. My Grandpa Louie watched the automobile take over the world. As a child he couldn't have dreamed of the ease he later experienced in getting from one place to another. He learned to drive a car and use a telephone and work a cash register. If the personal computer had been invented while he was alive, I'm sure he would have become proficient. Each generation of grandparents seems to adapt to the technology available at the time.

Years ago, when told she didn't look 40, Gloria Steinem famously replied, "This is what 40 looks like." Today, I am what a grandmother looks like. And so is Goldie Hawn. And Sarah Palin and Whoopi Goldberg and Susan Lucci and my hairdresser, Kim, and Nita, my dental hygienist. We're greeting this next stage of life with excitement and just a hint of trepidation. Wouldn't it be a relief to not have to be the coolest grandparents who ever lived? Wouldn't it be wonderful to just be us?

 
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