My grandson, Aiden, is one of the Millennials, just turning nineteen today. He is perched on the arm of a chair in the front room, his long legs reaching halfway across the carpet, blond hair punked in a short cut, a shadow of a beard on his chin. He takes his eyes away from his iphone momentarily, and asks me,
“Gramma, what do you think is going to happen?”
“About what?” I ask.
“About what’s going on now, across America, across the world.”
I feel a little twinge in my chest, something that always happens when I know I have to dig deep and find a difficult truth that needs to be spoken. Here is my grandson, who I have watched grow and turn into a beautiful young man, with his whole life ahead of him, having worries no young person should have. We grandparents, like their parents, always want to say to the young people in our lives, “You are safe”.
This, I know, has led to the ugly descriptions of Millennials, deemed to be over-protected, weak, selfish, undisciplined, oblivious, lazy, thin-skinned, spoiled, and most offensive of all, “fragile snowflakes”. I choke with frustration and anger when I find these words online and in the media. My eyes sting with tears of injustice and rage.
We might think they are self-absorbed, having trivial conversations with their friends, exchanging snapchat jokes and images, taking selfies, but they are actually doing something else:
Today, only two weeks into America’s confusing presidency, they are as anxious as we are. Because their phones are constantly with them, they check for news obsessively, aware of every political twist and turn. There is no escape.
But I can’t go there now—Aiden is looking at me expectantly, his eyes full of concern.
I swallow, and try to give him a few wise words, something to reassure him. In a moment of inspiration, I recall an article by Michelle Maltais in the LA Times, and paraphrase:
“We are Canadians,” I tell him. “And Canada is a democracy. We believe democracy is the best and finest form of government, but because everyone can participate, it gets messy, it’s not perfect.
America is a democracy too, usually civil and fair, but over the past few months, something changed. A veil was pulled away, and what we saw underneath were some human values that are normally hidden, but apparently always there—misogeney, xenophobia and racial hatred.”
I pause, as Aiden quickly googles misogeney and xenophobia.
“And somehow,” I continue, “A candidate for president, who has many undesirable characteristics, like vulgarity and bullying behavior. seemed to come out of nowhere and caught people unawares. He was clever, and used the media and people’s worst tendencies to get elected. So we are stuck with this for the next four years, living next to this monster.”
“But listen,” I tell him, “It doesn’t have to stay that way. It can change, and it will. But for now, this is what you need to know:
1. In America, as in Canada, everyone over eighteen gets a vote, it’s their voice, their chance to speak up. but if their choice didn’t win, they have to honor the results of the election. There is always a peaceful transfer of power. So no matter who becomes president, and no matter how much some citizens don’t like them, they must respect the office of the presidency.
2. Americans have always shown they respect this transfer of power. Even when most of the people seem to believe in things they can’t stand, they try to remember that half of the country feels the other way, and they try to respect that.
3. Most Americans know they can’t just quit and go on with their lives when it gets hard. They have a responsibility to participate. They have to check in and watch how the new government they hate governs their country. They have to stand together and work to make things better for all of them.”
“All of those protests, then, you think they are working?” Aiden asks.
“That brings me to my last point,” I say, “And this is the most important thing they have to do:
4. They have to stay in the know, and they have to speak up. They need to say what they believe out loud, and they have to take those beliefs out in the media and in the street so everyone can hear them and join in.
Because this is what Canada and America are—democracies. And democracies like ours are fluid, always changing and adapting and trying to be better. ”
I take a breath, and watch Aiden take this in.
“I know you admired President Obama. when he was in office,” I say, “Remember what he said on the morning after the election: The sun will rise in the morning. And I like to think, just as he was getting ready to leave, that he added, ‘Now it’s morning in America.'”
“Cool,” Aiden says, as he reaches out and taps my shoulder. Then he gives me that smile that has melted my heart for nineteen years, and walks away.