Fire Woman

I suppose I knew the sheer magnitude would begin to become a bit overwhelming as the date grew closer, but it was not until this week that I recognized I was being crushed by it, whether I wanted to acknowledge it or not.

My Facebook timeline looks something like this:

  • Fire, photo
  • Fire, book
  • Fire, magazine article
  • Fire, newspaper article
  • Fire, painting
  • Fire
  • FIre
  • FIRe
  • FIRE
  • ON FIRE
  • FUCKING ON FIRE INFERNO FLAMES BURNING DISASTER

This week it finally broke me. I saw yet another in a long string of fire-related content and thought: “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Yes, those exact words, as I often use fairly salty language in my head which fortunately doesn’t always make it to my lips.

I don’t want to make it sound like anyone is at fault, as I know the “anniversary” of the fire is a significant date in many ways; but the truth is that it seems like a mountain that threatens to fall on top of me, the instability likely of my own making as opposed to any fault in the mountain.

Someone asked if I would be watching the impending television coverage, and all I could say is that I didn’t think so; after all, I was here on May 3 and have been here every day since re-entry, with few exceptions. It’s kind of the same response as when someone asked me if I took any photos or videos during the evacuation and I said no – why would I need photos or videos to remember something I lived through and would likely see when I closed my eyes for decades to come?

And someone asked why I have not published a book, a one-year retrospective; and while a book is in the works, all I could respond is that the story is far, far from over. While others tell the tale of the fire, I want to tell the story of the sparks that came before and the slow burn that followed it as a community struggled to recover, and that is a story still being shaped every day.

But as we inch closer to May 3, 2017, and as the fire-related content ramps up in every conceivable way, I find myself shutting down. So, instead of shutting myself down, I am instead shutting it down.

I am not watching the television shows, seeing the films, looking at the photos or paintings or reading the books. I am not saying I will NEVER do those things; I just won’t be doing them at a point when I am already feeling vulnerable and emotional. There may be people who wish to immerse themselves in those things, but I am not one of them.

In May of last year when I was struggling to cope I commented to a friend that I was having trouble with the photos and stories. Their simple question was why I was viewing or reading them, as if I was finding them difficult then I was likely traumatizing myself repeatedly, a form of taser-ing myself emotionally on a regular basis.

And so I stopped.

I stopped watching the news and instead began talking to real live people. I stopped looking at the pictures and focused on real faces instead. And I stopped living and breathing the fire on a daily basis, because the fire was beginning to burn me to emotional ashes inside.

Dear friends, it is okay to step away. There is no requirement to continue to expose ourselves to an experience we lived through if we do not wish to do so; it is not only understandable but normal to want to establish some distance from it at this point.

During that long drive south almost one year ago, I had my satellite radio cranked loudly to an 80’s alternative music channel. The sound was all about mitigating the feeling of loneliness, staying awake and trying to drown out the nervous panting of the dog and the caterwauling of three unhappy felines (that was the drive when I learned why it is called “cat-erwauling” as it is an apt description). After about six hours in, a song came on the radio and I laughed so hard I cried. And then I just cried for a bit, and kept driving into an uncertain future while contemplating how strange life and the world is.

Since that date whenever I hear the song I crank it up, remembering that moment and that time, thinking about how I knew even then that despite the uncertainty I, the people  I love and the place I call home would be okay.  This song makes me laugh for all the right and wrong reasons. It takes me back to that day, but not in a bad way; it takes me back to a point in time when even though all seemed uncertain and unknown and frightening, there was still time to find some absurdity in it all.

And it reminds me that while I might now see myself as a “fire woman” and Fort McMurray might be internationally known as the home of the “Fort McMurray wildfire”, both and I this community are so much, much more than just a fire.

The Road to Recovery, One Year Later

I have been so fortunate to meet so many people during the past year; one of them is an individual who has worked with natural disaster survivors as a therapist and who now is involved in research on the long-term psychological impacts of these events. We have talked many times since May 3, 2016, and in one of our recent conversations we discussed the looming “one year later” date and some thoughts on how this date played into recovery.

There are many different facets of recovery; there is the collective and community recovery, and there is the individual recovery. My friend and unofficial therapist offered me some thoughts on ways for me to cope with the upcoming day, based on things they have seen in the past.

They tell me it’s not a “one size fits all” solution, and that what they offer as advice may not work for everyone. Or that only bits and pieces will work, and that every person needs to find what works for them.

Their one emphasis, though, was the ability to get through this together, as the strength of individuals is always maximized when they have the ability and opportunity to connect with others.

Natural disasters, like any trauma, can be isolating. It is in this isolation that the peril lies, as it can foster feelings of anxiety and depression. Connection, whether with another individual, a group or even nature, can help people to overcome feelings of isolation.

The standard recipe for good mental health still applies: adequate rest, nutritious food and some form of exercise. In addition, though, my friend (therapist? counsellor? recovery guru?) talked to me about the following and how they could play into my life over the next few days and weeks.

I wanted to share them in case others find value in them; that is part of recovery too, sharing what we have learned or come to understand in the hope that it may help someone else.

The primary thing to remember is that recovery comes with no timetable or schedule, and is as unique as we are. Some may find the next few weeks exceedingly difficult while others will not; much depends on our individual circumstances. Again there is no right wrong; there is simply what is.

Here are the 5R’s of Recovery they shared with me:

Respect – Not everyone will want to talk about the day, their memories or their feelings. Respect their needs, as everyone processes these kinds of days differently. And some people may have very different feelings than your own; respect that their feelings reflect their experience and remember that whatever their experience was does not diminish your own. And respect your own feelings – don’t think you “should feel” a certain way. Allow yourself to feel what you feel.

Reach out – If you notice someone expressing thoughts or feelings you share, consider reaching out to tell them you feel the same. The greatest risk is individuals feeling isolated in their thoughts and feelings, and there can be tremendous power and healing in simply knowing that whatever you feel, you are not alone. And if you find your feelings overwhelming, reach out for help. Call someone. Anyone.

Reconnect – Remember all the people you connected with in the early moments, hours and days after the fire? Reconnect with them now, see how they are doing and just remind them that you are there. Keep building those connections. They can fray over time, so this is a good point to renew them.

Reflect – Allow yourself the opportunity to think about the day if you feel the need to. But don’t feel you have to if you don’t want to, either. There is no right and wrong. And maybe you want to paint it out, write it out, sing it out, dance it out…these forms of expressions can be tremendously freeing, even if you have never tried them before. Or just go for a walk, with others or alone. Exercise is a huge stress relief and can serve as time for reflection in busy schedules, too. And if you find yourself wanting to forget instead of reflect, remember the first R – Respect those feelings.

Reclaim – Dates have significance in our memories; and while we cannot change the events of May 3, 2016, we can make new memories on every May 3 after that, and we can choose to reclaim the date. Maybe it’s a family gathering, dinner with friends, a backyard BBQ, a trip out of town, an evening of movies and laughter; however you do it, reclaiming the date is possible if you choose to do so. There is power in countering painful memories with happy ones; if reclaiming the date is something that appeals to you, then look for opportunities to do just that.

There they are. Five very simple ideas, but each with power to help us heal, cope and conquer the next few days.

So if you see me reaching out, reconnecting, reflecting, respecting and reclaiming, you’ll know why. These simple guiding lights will brighten what could be an occasionally darkened path as I approach a date I will never forget. My hope for you is you find your guiding lights, whatever they might be; and I hope you know you are not alone. Just as we were together a year ago but each living a unique experience, so we are one year later, navigating our individual journey but still part of the collective experience. There is strength in that knowledge, my friends, and from your courage, wisdom and resilience I draw my own. I hope in some small way you can draw the same from me and others around you, as we walk further down the road to recovery, one year later.

 

Let it Rain

“Perhaps if you could shed a tear or two,” he says.

I shoot him a sharp look, likely far sharper than I intend, and say: “I am not so good at crying on command”, and go back to gazing across the river towards the blackened and charred trees on the other side.

I have shed a lot of tears over the past year, but faux tears are not one of the things I am willing to produce.

As we approach the one year date since the fire (do we call it an anniversary? I don’t know, I struggle with using that word for it), I am, like I suspect so many are, deeply conflicted.

There is still a desire in me to tell the story, to share my tale, to tell of the challenges and the triumphs, the moments of sorrow and of joy and the length and breadth of the experience and yet…

And yet in some strange sense I struggle to do so, as I no longer know where to begin or how to end it. Everything is a jumble of thoughts, words and emotions, and as May 3rd draws closer, the jumble tightens and intensifies.

“What will you do on May 3rd?” the interviewer asks.

“Hopefully not spend it driving nine hours down highway 63,” I respond with a small laugh. As I look around at the camera crew, I realize I am the only one who finds any humour in this.

Too soon for them, I guess.

And they weren’t even here for May 3, 2016.

The tears don’t come on command, I now know that. They come at the most unexpected times, like the moment when I am thanking someone for an act of kindness and am swept back in time to the person who tossed a bottle of water into my car while they were fleeing to safety just as I was. They come at times when I least want them, sneaking up on me at the end of movies about tales of human courage and resiliency, humbling me into silence.

And it seems I no longer have the interest or appetite I once had for natural disaster movies. Tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes; I lived through a natural disaster made not of roaring water and cracking earth but roaring flames and crackling trees. Once you have experienced one, the movie set pales in comparison.

I have a lot of words bottled up inside. I wrestle with them daily, some of them struggling to be freed while others elude me with the kind of trickery one expects from things that only want to be glimpsed but not fully seen.

What will I do on May 3rd?

I will get up and fill the dog’s water bowl.

I will pet all the cats in turn, the ones who deign to get up to meet me in the morning and the ones who decline to leave their soft warm beds.

I will drive to work.

I will glance out my window throughout the day, seeing the skyline I have come to love, not filled with skyscrapers and towering offices but with the places that have come to reside in my heart over the past sixteen years.

I will drink my coffee.

I will do my job.

At the end of the day, I will go home and cuddle those cats and that dog.

And I will go to sleep in my own bed, feeling nothing but gratitude for all I have learned and gained and lost and found in the past year.

I will allow myself to feel whatever I feel on that date, but at the end of it all I know I will simply feel happy to be here.

And oh yeah.

On May 3rd, 2017, I hope it rains.

That way when I stand outside and look at the blackened trees, nobody will see the tears.

Leave Them Kids Alone

The whiplash one could get in recent days from following the saga of GSAs, Jason Kenney and Brian Jean is nothing short of astonishing – and painful, too.

Jason Kenney, newly elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, recently came out with a statement that parents of kids who join GSAs should be informed by the school of this, unless the parents are “abusive”. Never mind that the parameters for “abusive” were never defined, never mind that schools have never informed parents when their kids join the chess club or the glee club, never mind that this has the potential to out kids to their parents before they are ready, never mind that this could put kids at risk…and never mind that wading into this was a foolish idea in the first place and he should likely know this, he did it anyhow and the negative reaction, as one might expect, was swift and hard.

It appeared Jason Kenney was not interested in protecting kids, as his interest was in garnering votes, and this did not go down well with many, myself included.

Enter Brian Jean, Leader of the Wildrose Party. Why he would wade into this topic is yet another mystery, as there is clearly nothing to be gained from this topic when one is an elected representative.

Brian’s first response was one that made me incredibly proud. He stated, quite unequivocally, that parents should not be notified when their kids joined a GSA and that this information needed to come to parents from their kids.

I will be very frank. I have not always been kind to Brian, as he represents my community and region and I expect a lot of our representatives. However, I have come to respect his representation of Fort McMurray as our MLA, and his response on GSAs was one I could definitely support and respect as the parent of a youth who co-founded the first GSA in Fort McMurray.

Then came a story in the Calgary Sun, where it appeared he made another statement at odds with his first one. Then, as the brouhaha from that began to grow, he issued another statement, this time on his Facebook page, indicating his initial statement was the accurate one.

Confused yet?

Me too.

And likely so are the thousands of LGBTQ kids in this province and their straight allies, who simply want Gay-Straight Alliances as safe spaces where they can watch Disney movies, eat cupcakes, talk about equality and sing “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga.

It reminds one of the Pink Floyd song:

Leave them kids alone.

My kid, your kid, every kid in this province: not pawns for anyone’s political gain. As Jason and Brian begin their “unite the right” talks I suggest they start with one piece of common ground and very simply leave the kids out of it, whatever their sexual orientation.

During the last two years I have seen some mind-blowing commentary on GSAs, such as:

GSAs are more for the parents than the kids – this one is actually hilarious, as my kid, who co-founded one, had to explain what it was to me when she did. I would bet a good number of parents are similar to me.

GSAs are hook-up clubs for horny kids – this one barely dignifies an answer, but they are no more a hook-up club than the chess club, drama club, badminton club or any other club, and diminishing and demeaning youth in this way just shows how obsessed adults are with sex, not how kids see it.

Parents have a right to know as they own their children – yep. I have seen parents and other adults suggest kids are basically property we own, not actual human beings who might have their own set of rights.

Parents know what is best for their kids – when it comes to being an expert on their own family dynamics and if “coming out” to their parents would be well-received, I would suggest kids know that one far better than any politician does. And kids have rights too, including a right to privacy when it comes to their sexual orientation.

You know what kids don’t need?

Politicians arguing about their rights on the front page of every paper, completely ignoring that those kids can in fact read. They don’t need to have their trust and faith in adults further diminished as the adults who are supposedly our provincial leaders discuss their rights as if the kids don’t even have a stake in the outcome. And they don’t need to be used as pawns in a struggle for political power.

Leave them kids alone.

Let them form student clubs in peace, allow them to support each other, let them bake cupcakes and sing Lady Gaga and watch movies and let them just be kids already, okay? Kids are already throwing up walls as fast as they can to distance themselves from us and our adult obsessions, preoccupations and absurdities. Stop talking about them like they aren’t in the room, because they are and they are watching every damn thing you do.

And some of them, like my kid who is about to turn 18 and enter voting booths and run for political office some day, are taking notes, too.

I would guess a lot of those notes read like this:

“Things not to do as a politician: underestimate kids”.

Oh, and probably this:

“Things to do as a politician: Leave them kids alone.”

Otherwise, all in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

GSAs, Youth and Politics

When she was in Grade 10, my daughter came home late from school one day.

She informed me, proudly, that she was now a cofounder of the first GSA in Fort McMurray. And then she had to explain to me what a GSA was and why she felt the need to help found one, as I didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about.

GSAs – or Gay Straight Alliances – are fundamentally a student club, not much different from the variety of other clubs my kid has been involved in over the years, from the chess club to the robotics club to the drama club. The GSA is designed to promote and celebrate diversity and develop inclusive and welcoming school environments for all students, including those who happen to be LGBTQ.

The more research I did on GSAs the more I began to understand why my daughter, who is a keen believer in equality and fair treatment, would wish to found one, and the more I began to understand that these groups of students provide safe, welcoming and accepting spaces for youth who may not find this in other places in their lives.

Recently Jason Kenney, the newly elected leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Alberta, suggested that when a student joins a GSA the parents of the student should be notified, without the consent or perhaps even the knowledge of the student. His exception to this would be if the parents are “abusive”, although how one determines if a parent is abusive in this regard seems undetermined.

There are several problems with Mr. Kenney’s approach, and it suggests he has never spoken to youth who have founded or participated in a GSA to better understand why this concept will not work for them. Far more frightening, he seems to fail to recognize that it will put youth already at risk into even more potential peril.

Laying aside the fact that schools have never taken on the role of informing parents of their children’s after-school club involvement (as my daughter is in Grad 12 I can attest the school has never told me she had joined a club, and the only way I knew was when she told me), consider only this: youth join clubs to spend time in a safe place with other youth with similar interests.

In my daughter’s GSA they have watched Disney movies and baked unicorn cupcakes. It was not some form of “sex club” – it was simply a safe connection point for youth of all sexual orientations, and a way to help them to form stronger peer relationships that would be of benefit not only within the confines of the club meeting, but in the hallways, libraries, lunchrooms and classrooms. It was a way for youth who might feel “different” to develop a sense of belonging, of community and of connection.

The statistics on GSAs are quite clear: they save lives. And in the case of my own daughter and her friends, the GSA has provided a safe place free of judgement where they can connect with others.

When I asked my daughter, who is now about to graduate and on the cusp of adulthood, about the concept of informing parents when their child has joined a GSA she was appalled. The very reason many youth join, she said, is because they are not yet ready to explore the topic with their parents. Their parents may not be “abusive”, but they also may not be supportive, and she shared with me that many youth still fear their parents will abandon them, turn them out of their homes or try to convince them they are not LGBTQ because the parents are not ready to accept this news. Youth join GSAs to find strength with their peers, both LGBTQ and straight allies, and to help to build their own confidence and self-esteem so that they can share this news eventually – if they wish to – with their parents and families.

What Jason Kenney is suggesting will do the exact opposite of what GSAs were created to do; his approach would deter youth from joining as they will in effect be “outed” to their parents perhaps long before they are ready for this to occur, and it strips youth of their fundamental right to privacy.

And yes, our children have a right to privacy, particularly as they likely understand their own family dynamics far better than anyone else ever could. If they wish to join any club – chess, robotics, drama, GSA – without the school informing their parents, should they not be able to do so? Or are we going to extend this expectation of parental notification to all student involvement?

And if the only club we are going to require parents be informed about is GSAs, then doesn’t that speak far more to our own preoccupation with the sexual orientation of our children and others than anything else, and our own discomfort not only with homosexuality but with sexuality in general?

The truth is that if we are truly interested in putting the safety and security of our youth first, then we will unequivocally support GSAs as safe, peer-supported spaces for young adults to connect and gather without fear. As soon as one introduces the parental notification element, the faith youth have in these groups will diminish, and we will remove yet another support system for youth at risk in our society.

Jason Kenney’s proposal cannot and should not be ignored. His willingness to expose young adults at risk in this way indicates he is not well versed in the issue and has likely spent little time with LGBTQ youth or those who participate in GSAs. Whether or not a young adult is LGBTQ or not should not be the issue; what is the issue is ensuring ALL youth have the opportunity to connect with other youth in safe environments. Until Mr. Kenney can commit to that goal, he is not someone who should be trusted with the future of the youth of our province.

It is profoundly disappointing that this issue is still surfacing, and that youth still need to fight for peer-driven support groups. It is even more deeply disappointing that any politician in 2017 is promoting a policy that has the potential to cause the future of our province – our youth – to turn away from the very kind of support they desperately need. 

I’ll leave the final words to my daughter, who cofounded a GSA because she saw the need first hand and knew it would benefit others.

“Adults always make everything about them,” she says. “This isn’t about adults. This is about kids. This is about us.”

Wise words indeed. In this instance, Jason Kenney, it might be prudent to realize it’s not at all about you.

Traumatized

It starts innocently enough, as these things often do on social media. I have posted a response to a thread on a friend’s wall, where a discussion regarding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and potential long-term impacts on a sufferer is occurring. I post the following, based on both anecdotal and factual evidence showing the incidence of PTSD in our community following the wildfire in May:


And out of nowhere comes a response that leaves me somewhere between enraged and heartbroken, because the individual posting it clearly has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to an experience that impacted tens of thousands of people:


Perhaps most troublesome is that when I creep his profile (which I freely admit I often do – whatever is in the public eye is fair game, in my opinion) I discover he has listed his Bachelor of Psychology degree. I am now not only enraged and heartbroken, but aghast.

I have blacked out his name, because as easy as it would be to identify him I always believe we should focus on the words and actions of others and not on their persons; I have no desire to “release the hounds” on this individual, but I do find myself in desperate need of commenting on his premise that “watching insured material possession burn is not trauma”, and how he minimized the experience we endured.

Trauma, as defined in every resource I have found, is “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience”. Often, the definitions also include potential risk to life, and natural disasters are clearly indicated as a potential source of trauma.

I recall May 3 very clearly. And I recall one moment when I stood in a field, watching flames leap into the sky, and feared not only for my own survival but for the survival of members of my community. I recall finally reaching Edmonton that night after a journey of over eight hours, and watching anxiously as people I knew checked in on Facebook to indicate they were safe. I remember the phone calls – dozens of them – checking in with every person on my contact list to make sure they and their families had made it out. I remember thinking it would be a miracle if everyone survived the experience, and I remember the phone call from one of my closest friends telling me that two young adults had been killed during the evacuation on May 4.

I broke down in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express after that phone call, sitting on a parking curb and crying; we had been denied the miracle. The narrative of all of us – every person – surviving had ended.

For days I continued to fear the worst, news of a friend or the spouse of a friend or a stranger who fell asleep after a long shift and didn’t wake up in time to escape; that this did not happen is truly a miracle in itself as I have lost track of the near misses that day, the pounding on doors to wake a sleeping neighbour.

I remember the drive away from Fort McMurray. At around 6:30pm I headed south, and as I drove I watched my city burn in my rear view mirror, flames and black smoke all I could see. I remember thinking I may never be able to return home again; I recall wondering if I would even have a home to return to.

I remember all the uncertainty of the early days, checking satellite photos and having my internet provider ping my modem, desperate to know if my house stood or had fallen; and I remember counting how many friends had already lost their homes, stopping when I reached the number 35 because I couldn’t handle any more.

I remember wandering Edmonton in a state of shock and disbelief; how could this happen to us, to me, to my community?

May 3 was not about “watching insured material possessions burn”. And even if it had been, no one looked at their house in flames and thought “well, there goes the toaster”. No, they thought about the family photos, the quilt grandma who passed away last year had knitted, the Christmas ornaments the kids made, the memories tucked into every corner; insurance would never replace those “things” or quell the pain their loss caused.

May 3 was about families who had minutes to escape, their back yards on fire as they leapt out their front doors; it was about people trapped in neighbourhoods abandoning their vehicles and, very literally, running for their lives. It was about watching everything you knew and cherished and held fast in peril; and it was about the deep fear you feel when you know life would never be the same again.

Trauma? Of course we experienced trauma. Some of those who lived through it may feel it was not traumatic, and I am both happy for them and deeply envious. But no one gets to tell someone else whether or not they experienced trauma, and nobody gets to minimize or diminish our experience or what it is taking for us to recover from it.

I must admit that when this individual posted his response I sort of lost it for a bit. I fired back with several posts, each more angry than the last, and my friend, sensing this was headed in a dangerous direction, put an end to it by blocking this individual from commenting further. But he managed to get in one last comment, and one in which he stated that an event that I personally knew had occurred during evacuation had not happened; at that moment I knew that this person spoke not from a place of knowledge and understanding, but from a place of ignorance and callousness. To summarize, he simply didn’t have a clue about what he was talking about.

But we do. We lived through the kind of experience few will ever encounter; and here we are today. And I am so very proud of all of us, because we got through it together and we continue to do so. We share a common bond, one that will last the test of time, and I suspect one day when meeting someone new the question will be: “were you here on May 3?”. Those that were will always be connected through an experience none of us would ever wish to repeat and that changed us forever, but that strengthened us at the same time it traumatized us.

Nobody who has not lived it will understand it; and some will seek to minimize it, most likely for their own reasons as acknowledging it somehow disturbs their own narrative. Fortunately, these people are a rarity, and we have instead been embraced by the vast majority who may not have lived the experience with us but who empathize and understand the impact it has had on every member of our community, from the youngest to the oldest.

And for this individual, the one callous enough to suggest we did not experience trauma? Just as with everyone I encounter, my wish for him is that he never experiences what we have and never has to learn what we have learned about trauma, survival, PTSD and the slow and painful recovery of an entire community.

And perhaps most of all the experience of the last ten months has taught me the power of forgiveness and of letting go; and with this post I do exactly that, moving on with what truly matters, which is my community and our collective future.

Keep your eyes on the prize of our recovered community, my friends, and do not be deterred or detoured by individuals like the one I encountered; our wisdom has grown in ways others may never comprehend, and if there is  any good to come of the experience, perhaps it is that.

I am so very, very proud of all of you, every single damn day.

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The Problem with Millennials? It’s Not Them – It’s Us


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Angry, bitter, old people. Once it was my parents I occasionally thought of this way; but as I look around I am startled to see that now it is instead my peers, the fifty-something cohort that I experienced a childhood in the seventies with and slam danced through the eighties beside. Gone are the mohawks, safety pin piercings and leather jackets, but still there is the simmering anger of the suburban punk who had nothing more to protest than our parents imposing curfews and maybe expecting us to show up for supper once in a while.

And it seems a lot of our anger is directed at the generation us Gen-X types call the Millennials; and sometimes these offspring are in fact our own children who we tear down as we object to, well, pretty much everything about them.

They are entitled, we think, lazy and far too reliant on technology. They are too sensitive, they don’t understand what it is to REALLY have to struggle and they spend way too much time on social media. They are narcissists who do nothing but take selfies and they have no work ethic. After all, we work with them and we resent their attitude in the workplace. They don’t seem to care about anything, and frankly we find them completely inexplicable.

My friends, it has happened. We have become our parents.

I know, we all swore we never would. We would remember those crazy days of our teens and twenties, right? Back when our elder generation thought we were the problem and said we had lost our way (as well as our minds, what with that whole Sex Pistols thing). We were never going to be so critical of youth, because we had been there, man. We understood.

And then we started to grow older. Some of our youthful flamboyance and optimism ran straight into reality as we realized our mohawks weren’t helping us to secure jobs. We started paying rent and mortgages and taxes and car payments.

Then the next generation came along. And you know what? They grew up differently than us.  Of course they don’t remember some of the shit we remember, and why should they? I don’t recall a world before indoor plumbing, but that doesn’t mean I am entitled; it just means I never experienced it.

If we had all this tech when we were in our teens and twenties you can bet your ass we would have enjoyed the hell out of it. Honestly though I am glad there are no Instagram photos of some of my exploits with bands like The Dead Kennedys or those rather drunken episodes at seedy bars in late night Toronto.

And speaking of the workplace, how my older coworkers back then must have despised my cavalier attitude, coming in late and reeking ever-so-slightly of old booze. How carefree I must have seemed, free of any real commitments and only needing enough cash to cover the rent and my next bar tab.

Sure, some of us went to university – but then again there was all those beer-soaked keggers and parties which we barely recall. And when we got “real jobs” it took us some time to settle into the concept of working life, too.

But here we are, a few decades later standing in judgement and finding the Millennials guilty of ALL THE SAME THINGS WE DID. And you know what? I bet our grandparents felt the same about the generation after them, the spoiled little jerks who lived a life far easier than their own.

Can we be honest for a moment? The real problem with Millennials is that we are seethingly jealous of them.

We want to be them, with their easy lives and carefree attitudes.

Dammit, we want to be young again.

And it is all so absurd, because the truth is the Millennials don’t have life any easier than we did; it’s just different. They face different challenges and opportunities than we did, and we might not understand theirs any more than an older generation understood ours.

At the age of 50, I find myself the parent of a Millennial. There are many things I find curious about her, like why watching Youtube videos of other people playing video games with a running commentary is so intriguing. And I know she is different from me, as she has grown up as a digital native with tech my parents could have never imagined at her fingertips her entire life.

But in so many ways she is EXACTLY the same as I was at her age, although she has an edge of cynicism I don’t quite recall. She is young and vibrant and opinionated and sassy. And just like I was, she is on occasion lazy, lacking in work ethic and without a care in the world.

Millennials are having kids now. I suspect they tell each other they won’t be as harsh on them as we were on them; they will remember being young and all the hardships they faced. They are likely deciding they will never be like Gen X.

And one day they will look at the kid next to them at work. and think “look at this entitled, spoiled lazy little bastard”.

And so it goes, as we grow up, grow old and become our parents.

But we do not have to become angry, bitter old people, my friends. We can choose instead to remember our own youth, whatever form it took. For me, I remember all the crazy, ridiculous stuff I did as a young adult, how I flew almost entirely by the seat of my pants, how I must have appeared to older adults who were likely appalled by everything about me, and how, in the end, I turned out pretty okay (I think) and managed to raise a Millennial kid who is brilliant and funny and sarcastic and flawed and frankly the best damn thing I have ever done in my entire life.

We can be adults and parents without becoming our parents; and we can remember what our own youth was like as we gaze on this next generation. They are, most simply, a new version of who we were decades ago; just with a few changes. And if we recognize that, maybe we can avoid becoming angry, bitter old people.

Okay, I will admit the “old” is unavoidable – but the rest of it? That is up to us.