Usually I feel as though I’m still mostly with it, even though I’m fifty-three. And I typically feel the same way about my husband Richard, who’s three years older than me. But then some aspect of pop culture we know nothing about will come up in conversation, and we are revealed as the pathetically out-of-it fools we became sometime after turning—twenty? Thirty?
Recently Richard came home after teaching French to high school sophomores. He’d had them listen to an excerpt from Bizet’s Carmen, and class discussion then drifted toward more contemporary music. “Hey, beloved,” he said to me. “Have you heard of a singer—I’m not sure of her name. It’s Molly something. Molly—Virus. Yeah. Have you heard of a singer named Molly Virus? My students were shocked that I hadn’t heard of her.”
I frowned. “Molly Virus? No. I—know nothing about her.” And then, very faintly, a synapse crackled, and a neuron pulsed in the direction of an unused pathway. “Oh, wait a minute!” I said. “You must mean—Miley Cyrus!”
“Ah,” said Richard gamely. “And who is she? Has she done anything notable?”
And several things came to mind: The Disney Chanel. The MTV Video Music Awards. Twerking. And also that time a couple of years ago when Richard asked me if Angelina Jolie had found anyone yet and whether she had kids. And then that within the first month of meeting me in 1999, Richard told me he wanted Act II of the de Sabata Tosca played at his funeral. You know—that 1953 recording with Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, and Tito Gobbi.
All forty-plus minutes of Act II.
At his funeral.
While mourners, no doubt, sneak looks at Miley Cyrus on their smartphones.
So I replied, “Miley Cyrus? Uh—no. She hasn’t done anything—too—amazing.”
And I was probably right.
But I felt about eighty-nine years old.
It doesn’t help my sense of staying relevant that most of the things I loved as a child and teenager are scorned by my ten-year-old twin sons. I’ve tried to trot out the Little House books at bedtime, only to be met by looks of horror. Last summer I took advantage of a few long car rides with the boys to read aloud about half of The Secret Garden.
“Put down your devices,” I said on one such day, with hundreds of miles left until our destination. My husband, attempting to distance himself from the coming atrocity, tightened his grip on the steering wheel and stared grimly ahead.
A stunned silence issued from the backseat. Then the troops rallied.
“Mom!” exclaimed Henry. “I swear! I can listen and play games at the same time.”
“So can I!” protested Philip.
“Put down your devices,” I repeated, sounding like those cops in YouTube videos who robotically issue instructions while arresting an innocent person. “Turn them off. Pass them to the front seat.”
A Kindle and a Nintendo 3DS were quietly handed over.
And then I opened my worn copy of The Secret Garden. “Chapter Five,” I read aloud. “A Cry in the Corridor. At first each day which passed by for Mary Lennox was exactly like the others.” I heard sighs emanating from the rear, and I thought, “Ah, yes—this is how literature teaches empathy.”
But summer’s long car rides are in the past for now. These winter days are dark and filled with children hunched over screens of all sorts. Richard himself huddles over his cell phone for half an hour before bedtime, listening to arias. Meanwhile, People magazine arrives every week in our mailbox, and more frequently than ever, I have no idea who the people are in the photographs.
To the children, the future. To the parents, the past. May we find a way to meet and connect somewhere in the middle.
Photo by Stewart Butterfield