Jordan: I’m going to start this podcast the way I’ve wanted to for a while. Hi mom.
Lynn: Hi Jordan.
Jordan: This is my mom. Her name is Lynn Heath. She is 65 years old.
Lynn: Yep. Exactly 65.
Jordan: She has been a teacher for decades. She retired last year. She is in the at risk group.
Lynn: Just barely, just barely.
Jordan: For COVID-19 and she’s doing better now, but she’s not been great at listening to instructions. What are you planning to do tomorrow?
Lynn: Well, my plan was I was going out to, um, Dundee and do a firing, doing a pottery firing.
Jordan: Okay. That’s like the opposite of self isolation.
Lynn: Not really. And see, this is what I want to speak to– you think we’re not being responsible, but we actually are. So we’re getting in the car, your dad and me, and we’ve already been together. We’re driving straight out. We’ve got gas already. We don’t stop anywhere. There’s only us. We load the kiln, we leave and we come home. So we don’t see anybody except the two of us.
Jordan: Okay, but you were upstairs playing with a two and a half year old kid.
Lynn: That’s true. But, again, my point about that is I have been with that two and a half year old kid every single day for the last two months.
Jordan: That’s true. Okay. Why don’t you tell me, cause I’ve been bugging you about this for quite a while. You’re probably getting annoyed. So have my brothers. How do you feel about that when we’re nagging you instead of, you know…?
Lynn: Us nagging you? Yes. Well, it’s a really good point and I think first of all, what you need to realize is we are very vigilant, right? We are being very careful. We are practicing physical distancing, not social distancing, as they say, all the time. But what this comes down to when you guys are always telling us how we should be doing it is, it feels like ageism and ageism is alive and well. And before COVID-19 ageism was alive and well. And it’s this generalized belief that people 65 and over are incompetent, and quite frankly, a little stupid. Right? And then you all of a sudden get this virus that hits 65 year olds. And again, that exacerbates it, it makes it much worse. So, and we are also pretty use to telling you what to do. Not having you tell us what to do.
Jordan: But I mean, this is coming from like a place of love. I don’t think you’re stupid. I don’t think you’re, you’re old and doddering or anything. It’s just like, the government says, health officials say, this is bad for your age group in particular. The government says, don’t go out, and I say, I can have your groceries delivered, and you say, no, we want to go out because we want to just do something.
Lynn: That’s not actually what we say at all. We say we want to go out because we need to get certain things that we really need. And you don’t know what it is that we really need. And yes, we did go out and do groceries today, but we went at seven o’clock at Loblaws after they’ve disinfected. We kept six feet from everybody. We ran like crazy. We got our stuff and got home. So you’ve got to see that kind of power reversal is very challenging. Right?
Lynn: When you start, cause we tell you what to do and we’re very good at telling you what to do. But to speak to what you just said, we recognize– there’s the other issue is gratitude. We totally realize that you guys are doing this out of love. And that’s very, very touching. However
Lynn: It comes across at times as though you think we’re stupid. And that didn’t go down well.
Jordan: Well, I don’t think you’re stupid and before we end this because otherwise you’re just going to end up mad at me, talk to me about, cause you said something to me back the last, I don’t know, five times ago that I was nagging you about how, like this was a quality of life issue, if this is going to go on for months and months.
Lynn: Yes. And I think. I mean, again, I’ve been talking to my sisters who are all over 65 and what we all say is, as long as we are allowed to go out, it’s the concept of being shut in our houses that is really horrifying. So as long as we are allowed to walk, keeping six feet, except from the loved ones. Then we can deal with it. But we don’t have that much longer to live and we can’t live in in misery. So there is a quality of life. But again, we totally recognize we don’t want to endanger anybody else, and we don’t want to endanger ourselves.
Jordan: Last question. If I told you that you could live for five or 10 years guaranteed and not get sick, but you couldn’t go upstairs and play with Maggie, what would you choose?
Lynn: Well, I’d probably go upstairs and play with Maggie cause I wouldn’t believe you. The bottom line.
Jordan: And there you go. My mom live from my basement studio. And before we get to today’s guest, who will tell us how to talk to your Boomer parents, hello Claire.
Jordan: Can you quickly update us as you do now every day, as of 6:00 PM on Monday, March 23rd what’s happening in Canada?
Claire: Well, this summer’s Olympics might end up being postponed. On Sunday night. Canada said its athletes would not compete unless the Olympics were postponed. And now we’ve heard from a member of the international Olympic committee who says that that will likely happen. So they would be postponed until next year. We’re starting to hear a different tone from politicians in this country, including Justin Trudeau. He spoke more bluntly about people disobeying orders to self isolate.
News Clip: We’ve all seen the pictures online of people who seem to think they’re invincible. Well, you’re not. Enough is enough. Go home and stay home. This is what we all need to be doing, and we’re going to make sure this happens, whether by educating people more on the risks or by enforcing the rules if that’s needed. Nothing that could help is off the table.
Claire: Ontario and Quebec have now both ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses in those provinces to slow the spread of COVID-19. Here’s Ontario premier, Doug Ford.
News Clip: This was a very, very tough decision. But it is the right decision. This is not the time for half measures. This decision was not made lightly and the gravity of this order does not escape me. But as I’ve said from day one, we will, and we must take all steps necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Claire: As of Monday evening, Canada has 2049 cases of covert 19 with 24 deaths.
Jordan: The conversation you heard between me and my mother is a little easier than it was a week ago. There wasn’t as much laughter then. I wanted them inside. As far as I was concerned. I wanted them inside permanently. And obviously they weren’t having it. We’ve kind of come to a truce. I’d still prefer they didn’t take trips, but I’m not alone in having rebellious parents. It is absolutely a power dynamic that has flipped for hundreds of thousands of middle aged people. Our guest today started writing about his parents and talked to his friends about it and they talk to their friends. And this is how we know that the Boomers do not want to be coddled, or at least some of them don’t. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Michael Schulman is a staff writer with the New Yorker, and. He’s in New York, but right now we both have the same problem. Hi, Michael.
Jordan: My question for you is, are your parents listening to you right now?
Michael: I think so, but they’ve also started, uh, keeping secrets I would say. The other day I was talking to my dad and he let it slip that he went into the office to make some photocopies, and when I caught him in the middle of a sentence where he let this slip, both of them hit their hands on the FaceTime call and started giggling like, like teenagers who’d been caught smoking pot. So I’m their new mom.
Jordan: How did this happen? Like the same role reversal is going on for me. Just so you know, I interviewed my mom briefly about this and she told me that I’m not going to tell her what to do, essentially. She’s being careful, but she’s also going to live. And she’s not going out to any place crazy. But she’s also not going to stay inside and she’s not going to stay away from her very cute granddaughter.
Michael: Oh, she should. She should. Do you want me to talk to her?
Jordan: I know.
Michael: I’ll get on the phone. I’ll talk to her if you want.
Jordan: I might take you up on that, but no, really? How did, like, it feels like the rules have just reversed over this.
Michael: Yeah. So I’ll tell you how. This happened with me. So about a, a week and a half ago now, so it was the night that president Trump gave his Oval Office address. I called my parents, I live in downtown Manhattan, they’re uptown. And, I just wanted to check in with them to see how they were doing. And they answered the phone and my mom said, Oh yeah, we’re just in the cab, in a cab on the way home from dinner with friends at the polo bar. And I was just like, You’re what? You were where? And this was, um, had been going on for a couple of days because my mother had a cold, she works at a school and I had told her a couple of days earlier than that, don’t go to school. No one wants to see a sick person at school. She said, Oh, you know, it’s fine. Just a cold. I don’t have any of the Corona virus symptoms. I’ve had this cold for awhile. You know? Meanwhile, they, they were planning to go to Florida later this month. They were, my, my father was still going to work. So the night that I spoke to them and they were in the cab coming from dinner, I got into bed around 12:30 at night and then I just sprang up, rushed to my laptop and wrote them, this email that was titled, it was titled precautions, and I just said, I don’t think the two of you are taking this seriously enough. You need to stop going out to restaurants. You need to stop going to work. This is real. You know, and then we were texting about it the next day. My mom said, Thanks mom. And so I realized that there was this kind of generational role reversal where I was parenting my parents and kind of telling them what to do. And this was a new feeling for me. And then I started talking to friends who are also in their mid- late thirties like I am, who had been having this similar experience. And then I posted this on Twitter about a week ago saying, is anyone else having this problem with, you know, Baby Boomer parents who aren’t taking this as seriously as their kids, even though they’re in the higher risk demographic. And they just want to keep going out to dinner and doing what they’re doing. And you know, I can expect this tweet to go– I’m trying to avoid the word, the V word– but it did. And I just got. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of responses from people who are having the exact same problem, where they were, as one person said that they were rage-crying into the phone, telling their parents, you know, no, you can’t go on that trip to Florida. You can’t go on your wine tasting trip. Don’t go on your cruise. A lot of people were going on cruises. And, you know, it just struck me that. This is a, this is a normal part of the life cycle where the, you know, your parents get older and you sort of, the adult children have to take on more responsibility for them. But in this case, it had just been catalyzed, or sped up, in this very dramatic way for what seemed like a lot of people.
Jordan: Where do you think the mentality comes from? And I’m not speaking for all Baby Boomers in one go or anything, but the mentality behind some of the stories we’ve heard? You know, again, I mentioned my parents are taking it more seriously now. But my mom also works in schools and she was planning to go into schools right up until she couldn’t, and you know, a few weeks ago, she was gonna go swimming at the public pool. And she wasn’t worried about that at all. And I’m not judging them. I’m just asking, you know, if you heard, or you understand anything from hearing all these stories about, you know, what kind of state of mind is at work?
Michael: Well, yeah. I want to reiterate something you said, which is that it’s, I’m not saying at all that this is all Baby Boomers. I’m not even saying it’s. The majority of Baby Boomers, you know, I really don’t know. But it is a phenomenon. And also of course, a lot of young people have been ignoring directives too.
And we’ve seen all these stories of, you know, 20 somethings going on spring breaks, crowding at beaches, going to bars, in a way that makes more logical sense, even though they should really should not be doing that, and they should be told not to be doing that. You know, because 20 somethings feel immortal, you know, they’re supposed to. And they’ve also heard that they are at less risk. So, you know, sure. It makes sense that you would see that behavior, even though it’s a real health hazard. What I found so fascinating was that people in their late sixties and into their seventies, and many stories I’ve heard, even to their eighties, people who are really, really at risk, have been so, I would say, reckless and determined to just live their lives and do what they were going to do and brush it off, and that it’s their children who are, you know, warning them, or in some cases, scolding them. You know, as to the reasons, I’ve heard, some really interesting theories. You know, what my mother’s told me is that, you know, we’ve been through a lot, you know, we lived through, you know, the Cold War and the Duck and Cover exercises in elementary school and the AIDS crisis, 9/11. I mean, my answer to that was, yeah, a lot of people didn’t survive those things. You know, millions of people have died from all those things put together. But, you know, I do think that part of it is that, to speak very broadly of the Baby Boomer generation, you know, they really came into their own as teenagers. And, you know, when we think about the revolutions of the 60s and the 70s, it was so much about youth and rebelliousness. And I just don’t think a lot of people that age identify as old people. And so they hear these warnings about, you know, the coronavirus is especially harmful and dangerous for older people– and they just, I think there are probably people out there who just haven’t come to terms with the fact that that includes them. And you know, there are all these kind of incidental phenomena that I pointed out in my New Yorker piece, like Baby Boomers not wanting to be called grandma or grandpa, or not wanting to be called senior citizens. They’re statistically retiring later than previous generations. They’re not embracing, you know, old age. Not that anyone really would or should. But I think that this crisis has really forced people to reconcile with the fact that, yes, I’m in my seventies now. You know, I’m vulnerable to this.
Jordan: Have you found, or have you heard from anyone who talked to you for this story, any kind of conversation starters or, or conversation tactics that can work with people whose parents are maybe not listening to them? And Lord knows I didn’t listen to my parents when I should have. So I get it. But, do you have any strategies?
Michael: I mean, partly I wrote the article that I did for the New Yorker so that people could see that they weren’t alone. And so many of the responses I’ve gotten are from people who are around my age who have said, Oh my gosh, this describes me perfectly. You know, have you been listening into my family phone calls? So, yeah. Really, my message is, first of all, to people who are children of baby boomers, you know, if you’re feeling frustrated about this, you’re not the only one. My article was in a bit of a tongue in cheek way about being in this position where I was scolding my own parents and feeling like I was parenting them. But I do think that probably a better way to handle it is just to reinforce how much you love your parents and care about them and want them to take precautions and keep themselves healthy. You know, I think sending people articles about, you know, what to do, how to stay safe, how to social distance, how to wash your hands, I think that’s probably a good start.
Jordan: One thing that I’ve heard from a couple of senior citizens who don’t want to be called that, is that if we’re doing this now, and this might go on for months and months, and we don’t know when it’s gonna end, that at some point it becomes kind of a quality of life issue. And you know, if you’re on the higher end of the senior citizen bracket and you don’t know how much time you have left, would you rather spend it stuck inside or at least living?
Michael: You know, it’s funny because some of the responses that I’ve gotten from people who are in their 70s or even in their eighties, are, you know, I want to live. You know, I know that my time is finite. I want to go out and live my life. Which, you know, is everyone’s right. But I do think part of it is, you know, reinforcing the fact that that is hazardous to other people. And that, you know, if you’re in your seventies you probably have a lot of friends who are in their seventies. Some of them may have underlying conditions. You know, my parents’ best friends live in their building and one of them is a diabetic. And you know, they were talking about maybe getting together instead of just talking on the phone all the time, you know, going on a walk in Central Park and trying to keep their distance from each other physically. And I was like, okay. Just think about it this way, mom, if you went to your school last week and you picked it up, but you’re asymptomatic, you hang out with Ellen and Barry, Barry picks it up from you is diabetic, and you know, in two weeks he’s in the ICU. And, the funny thing about that is this guy, Barry, I’m talking about, I actually quoted his son in my article complaining about his parents won’t listen to me, and saying, my dad is a 71 year old diabetic and he keeps going to the office. And then I spoke to Barry and he said, you know, I don’t want to think of myself as a 71 year old diabetic. That’s quite a harsh description. And I was like, yeah, but you are. And, you know, the Coronavirus doesn’t care that you don’t like thinking of yourself that way.
Jordan: Is this a situation maybe, where age discrimination kind of becomes necessary. You know, one of the things I’ve seen is churches, not holding services. And obviously that is a great way to keep people who are older in their homes. But is this a situation where discriminating based on age might be helpful?
Michael: I think that should really come from government policy. I mean, I think across the board, this kind of policy shouldn’t be left up to individual institutions or restaurants or stores or whatever. You know, I really think that we need guidance from our actual leaders on what to do. But, you know, I think places like nursing homes are starting to act very strictly about visitor access. You know, I do think it’s important to step up and try to protect people. I mean, what I can tell you is that the kind of stuff I have been talking about is really more about people’s self-motivated behaviour. And I think for all of us over the last week and a half or so, it feels like a lot of people are individually coming to that realization, that switch, where you, where you think, Oh, it’s not a big deal. People are maybe overreacting. I can still go to this restaurant because no one else is there. And then at a certain point, your brain just switches and you think, okay, this is actually not worth the risk. I’m not going to go out. I’m not gonna, you know, I’m not going to keep living life as usual. And you know, I think it may be true that there’s a lag for certain groups of people in when that switch happens mentally.
Jordan: Have you noticed it getting any better over the last few days since you wrote your piece? Again, I mentioned, I’ve noticed my parents doing more, if not necessarily enough to protect themselves.
Michael: Absolutely. I think there has been a huge shift. You know, I, I wrote the piece last Sunday. It went up on Tuesday. Even by then I think my parents were starting to get the idea. I think a lot of other people have since then. And look, you know, again, this is not about all Baby Boomers, or it’s not about blaming people or you know, or saying there’s something wrong with, you know, a certain group of people. It’s just a phenomenon that I noticed anecdotally and then it grew and grew and grew, to the point where I felt like, okay, this is actually a conversation that a lot of people are having between generations. And it’s happening to me. It’s happening to my friends. It’s happening to strangers on the internet who are telling me that this is happening. And, you know, we are all in this together. And even if some of these conversations are tense, even if they are, you know, fights, even if they involve tears and screaming, that’s because people care about each other. And for a lot of people who are, say in their 30s or 40s, the people they most have to worry about are their parents because they have heard that, you know, the older you are, the more susceptible you are. And so you, of course, you immediately think about the people who are in your life who are over 65 and maybe that’s your parents. And so you, you really want them to take care of themselves, and it’s frustrating when you know, when you are suddenly the more conscientious ones and your parents are not. I think that’s a new experience for some people.
Jordan: Well, it all comes from a place of love. So I guess that’s the happy ending to this story. Michael, I hope you and your folks are okay in New York City and stay safe and thanks for talking to us.
Michael: Thanks. And let me know if you need me to call your mom. I will be on the phone in a second. She’s got to stay at home.
Jordan: I will tell her that this afternoon when she tries to come over and we’ll see how much luck I have.
Michael: All right. Well, good luck to you.
Jordan: Take care. Michael Schulman is a staff writer at The New Yorker. And that was The Big Story, for more from us as we cover COVID-19, you can go to thebigstorypodcast.ca or you can find us on Twitter as always at @thebigstoryFPN. Let us know if there’s something you’re not seeing in your news feed, but you need to know. And if you like what you’ve been hearing so far, please let us know and leave us a review wherever possible on your favourite podcast application. I will leave you today with audio from one of our listeners who found some new companionship during hard times. Remember, you can send us your audio too. We’ll be playing one every day at the end of the show. You can record it on your phone and send it to email@example.com or you can link up with us on Twitter cause we’re always there. We never stopped scrolling. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
TJ: Hi, my name is TJ. I’m from Windsor, Ontario. And while COVID-19 was ramping up over the past couple of weeks, me and my wife had been staying home. Still working, but just staying home and dealing with the passing of our dog who unfortunately had cancer at a young age. She passed before the weekend. But to keep us busy and fill the dog shaped hole in our hearts while we’re staying safe and staying home and socially distancing ourselves, we got a new puppy, a rescue puppy. His name’s Dax, and he’s a sweet, beautiful angel, and we hope everyone out there is staying safe and helping each other out when they can. Take care.
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