I’m getting older, and I am beginning to lose my friends. No, they are not dying as I might have predicted a decade or two ago. Rather they are falling to another consequence of advancing years: grandparenthood.
My friends are becoming grandparents, and their time to grab a drink after work or go out to dinner on a weekend is now limited by the need to be with the grandkids.
And my contemporaries are leaping at the chance to spend time with these little tykes. It’s a new era. My parents — and possibly yours — liked their grandchildren well enough but didn’t go out of their way to provide free babysitting services. My parents in fact may have chosen to move to sunny Arizona in part to put the burden on their children to bring the grandkids to them instead of vice versa.
The new grandparents I know are eager to travel in pursuit of these inter-generational relationships. They are thrilled to spend time with the grandkids, and the grandkids are eager to spend time with them. My generation proudly shares the nicknames bestowed upon them by the kids: Grandpop-pop-pop. Nana nana baba. Mi-mom. Ya-ya. Noni and Popi.
I wonder if this is another manifestation of the baby boomer generation. We baby boomers are used to dominating society at whatever stage of life we are in. As college kids we fueled the student power movement of the 1960s and early ‘70s. Now, approaching retirement age, we seem to be rallying around the cribs of all those precious little darlings.
Precious may be an apt description. We boomers are the bulge in the population curve — lots of us now doting over a relatively small number of little ones. One demographic analysis noted that, “as boomers entered adulthood in the 1970s, they remained disproportionately focused on themselves.” Why should that change now?
We’re grandparents, so deal with it.
But so far I have missed out on all this geriatric joy. A consummate baby boomer, playing the disaffected youth card through the 18-year run of that boomer phase, I didn’t come to marriage and fatherhood until late in life (42 and 44 respectively). My kids are only in their early 20s — in no position to make me grandpop-pop-pop.
So I have had to stand on the sidelines of grandparent hood. Until now. Something has changed, and I can play the grandparent role if I want to. Princeton University’s alumni classes are making themselves available as a grandparent class to the incoming class 50 years behind them. A few years ago the Class of 1966 became the grandparent class to the Class of 2016. This year the incoming freshman class, the Class of 2019, asked my Class of 1969 to play the grandparent role. We accepted and agreed to advise and mentor any of the freshmen who were interested. The relationship began with a pizza party last week at one of the undergraduate eating clubs. Half a dozen people from 1969 showed up to meet with several dozen members of 2019.
It’s my turn to brag a bit about the grandkids.
There are about 1,300 of them, who were admitted from a pool of around 27,000 applicants. My impression is that the current class is far more diverse than my class. When I arrived on campus in the fall of 1965, I came from a family of seven in upstate New York, headed by parents whose most advanced degrees were from high school. I felt like a newly minted minority in a sea of wealthy private school kids.
To put a finer point on it, scholarship students in those days were expected to take out loans or engage in campus employment to make ends meet. I pinched pennies in every way. The prep school kids had Blakely, a private service, pick up their dirty laundry and return it with button down shirts freshly pressed. I hauled a bag of clothes up to the coin-operated laundromat on Witherspoon Street.
Nearly 60 percent of this year’s freshmen come from a public high school; less than 10 percent are from independent boarding schools (what we used to consider “preppies”). There were a dozen black students in our class (literally) — about 1.5 percent.
Today’s incoming class includes the following components, by percentage: Asian American, 22; international, 14; Hispanic/Latino, 11; African American, 7; multiracial (non-Hispanic), 4; and American Indian, less than 1. If grandpop-pop’s arithmetic is correct, old fashioned American white kids represent less than 45 percent of the class total.
I won’t bore you with the academic credentials of the grandkids’ class. But I will say a few words about one kid — probably not atypical — from Scranton, Pennsylvania, an hour’s drive from where I grew up. His parents are high school graduates, his high school does not normally send kids to the Ivy League. He ran some track in high school, played some piano (including a few appearances at Carnegie Hall), and is now enthusiastically engaged in student life. During the intersession he commuted to New York to intern in the campaign headquarters of Hillary Clinton — a gig arranged by one of my classmates.
The Scranton kid, like the others at the pizza party, seems to have an inordinate amount of poise compared to our freshman year group.
A day or two after the event I get an E-mail from another member of the class, asking if I can meet to discuss opportunities in journalism. I pause. I am getting ready to go off on a vacation. I am “just saying no” to every new invitation to some non-essential activity. But this is a grandkid. Sure, I respond, what time is best for you?