Years ago, I developed this theory about first and second generation weirdos, loosely based on the concept of first and second generation immigrant families. (Generally speaking, first generation immigrants are the ones who leave their homeland for the new country, while their children are sometimes the second generation.)
But in my mind, there’s another second generation: the children of offbeat families. Our parents ventured from a different kind of other place: rejecting their mainstream American homeland for nontraditional lifestyles.
Some of us offbeat second-genners are now having our own children, spawning a third generation…
Many first generation offbeat types emerge from the cultural confines of the American suburbs, and can be more vocal about their otherness. They’ve broken out the repressive culture in which they were raised, and as any paradigm-breaker can tell you, it’s a loud and difficult process. Whether you’re new to a country or lifestyle, there are some bumps on the road. But like most immigrants, the transition and hard work is done for the good of future generations.
Like many second generations, the children of offbeat parents take their folks’ hard-earned perspectives for granted, and feel less of a need to parade their ideologies as visually or vocally. Oh, of course I’ve always had a choice between leg hair or no leg hair. Oh, of course whole grains are better for you. Oh, of course women and men are equal. Jeez, Mom. THEN what?
Realistically, second generations are by their very nature somewhat thankless and privileged. We didn’t know how hard it was in the “old country” (in my case, mainstream midcentury America), where women were expected to grow up, tease their hair, pop out babies and fetch hubby’s slippers. We never experienced the horrors of being forced into polyester clothes or traditional careers. We’ve grown up with the worldview that the environment is important, natural foods are better, women are equal, and men can cry. Yawn. What’s next?
Also, like many second generation immigrants, we can be impatient toward our first generation peers. I’ve been known to roll my eyes just a little when friends who used to drive SUVs suddenly experience a spiritual awakening and start espousing the power of spirulina. I say silly things, “Yeah, yeah, yeah — you sound like my Dad. But your kids will be awesome!”
And of course the pendulum swings: as a second generation teenager, all I wanted was to get as far away as possible from my parents’ ideologies and log cabin. I was a conservative teen who didn’t smoke, drink, or do drugs (“Ew, pot? Pot is for old people!”). My first real boyfriend drove a pick-up, wore a baseball cap, and lived in a house with white carpets and a hot tub. He was conservative, suburban, and unbelievably fascinating. While my bedroom was a refurbished school bus parked outside the log house my parents built, my boyfriend slept under vertical blinds with a sliding glass door and a patio outside. Sooo cool!
I had several years of these rebellious mainstream studies. During college, I bought a car on credit (an absolute crime when your father’s job involves promoting public transit), moved to California, and got a job at a law firm. (I would eventually learn that one of the lawyers I worked for defended corporations against environmental groups. That may have been the pendulum swinging its farthest.)
After a few years, however, my upbringing got the better of me. The ’90s saw me trade in my conservative boyfriend for a vegan raised by lesbian college professors. I quit my job at the law firm and became a writer. With a few exceptions including agnosticism, leg waxing, and urban living, my pendulum has swung back to my parent’s side of the clock case.
My adulthood has been spent realizing that I actually agree with many of my parents’ ideals. This is in stark contrast to many of my first generation friends who realize in adulthood just how much they disagree with many of their parents’ ideas.
Naturally, when discussing a second generation, it’s impossible not to think of the inevitable third generation. My childhood was full of mocking my parents and adoring my grandparents. My paternal grandmother would let me watch all the TV I wanted — which stood out in stark contrast to my parents, who oh-so tyrannically tried to limit me to only an hour a day. (My parents won out on that front: I don’t even own a television, now.)
My maternal grandmother would sneak over bags of candy which I hid under my bed and rationed to myself like a junkie. While my mother made me yogurt from scratch in the kitchen, I would be up in my bedroom tweaking out on refined sugar courtesy of my Grandma/Drug Courier.
Eventually, either as I grew up or as my parents’ ideals saturated my young, impressionable mind and took it over like a fungus, my grandparents lost some of their appeal. When my grandmother referred to her neighbors as “those loud coloreds downstairs,” I knew for sure: I was quite like my parents, but I also definitely wasn’t like my grandparents either.
As for the third offbeat generation, who can tell now which way they will turn. Will our kid rebel by going wickedly conservative, or wildly radical? I can totally see this conversation playing out in 15 years or so: “Mama, Grandma told me cool stories about her wiccan rituals. Why don’t WE ever do pagan rituals? I hate you! I’m staying with Grandma for the weekend.”
And to that I’ll probably say, “Fine, you go burn incense with Grandma. Just don’t try sneaking any of that fucking spirulina back into the city with you!”
Which offbeat generation are you?