Do You Know Where Your Old People Are?

Back in the 1960’s, when the world was either experiencing the dawning of the Age of Aquarius or waiting for the Silent Majority to speak, a Public Service Announcement (PSA) ran on local television stations at 10:00 o’clock every evening asking “Do you know where your children are?”

It was a question filled with guilt, social judgment, not to mention a whole lot of government interference in how a family should behave. It also reflected the underlying distress with all the social change occurring.

Loss of Innocence

Answers to this question more than not reflected the loss of those innocent days where kids could safely roam neighborhoods until the street lights came on or stay-at-home moms would ring a bell or call out, “Dinner’s ready!” to bring the wandering gaggles back home.

Those with families that were law-abiding, Christian, and Republican were safely at home, homework and dishes done, and readying themselves for prayers and bed. Those “others” had no idea where their pot-smoking, delinquent, sex-crazed rabble-rousing off-spring were, much less what radical, socially undermining activities they were engaged in.

And that PSA was all that was needed to bring everything back into natural order.

It’s Different Today

Today, of course, it is totally different. Children are locked into their screens and rarely are found outside, much less unsupervised in group activities. Where they do interact, it is now socially-distanced and monitored. There are no public service announcements on TV because TV is no longer for the public good. It is still a money-maker, but now freed from government regulation, focuses on fantasy, sex, and pharmaceuticals. As for news, well, that is fodder for another blog.

In contemplating all this, it occurred to me that the question is still valid for those of us who are Boomers, with some minor editing – I wonder how many children and grandchildren can answer the question, “Do you know where your grand/parents are?”

Golden-Ghettos

The 1960’s was over 50 years ago. Much has changed in terms of where aging adults can be found. Back then, many grandparents lived within a few blocks or miles of where their grandchildren lived. Some even lived in the same house!  It was also the decade when the first 55+, “active adult communities” were built. Ironically, these “golden-ghettos” became the perfect answer to the question, “Do you know where your grand/parents are?”

Active adult communities were a real estate salesman’s dream job. These places practically sold themselves!  Hard-working, middle-class retirees could move into a lovely home for around $8,500 and still have money left over for Bingo. The home owner associations (HOAs) determined who could move in, where and when children would be allowed to visit, and how long they could stay. No disturbances after 10:00 pm and a feeling of safety because everybody looked alike.

A Welcome Relief

When originally built, the average life-expectancy in the U.S. was 66 for men and 73 for women.  This meant between one and seven years for most residents to enjoy golfing, swimming, canasta, and manicured lawns. Adult children were relieved of the burden of having to monitor Mom and Dad, and could rest easy knowing that parents had things to do and people their own age to spend time with.

I have lived in one of these communities for the last 25 years. My husband and I used to drive by and make fun of it, wondering why old people would want to live so far away from the hustle and bustle of town. We ended up here not out of intention, but out of availability. And, I have to confess, it has been a place of incredible beauty, wonderful friendships, and a deep sense of community. All unexpected to me.

Downsides

With that said, there are downsides to living in a 55+ community. The most obvious is not having interactions with people younger than I. I admit my tolerance for being around small ones who are running, jumping, squealing, and constantly needing attention has dropped the older I have gotten. But exposure to that kind of joy, curiosity, happiness, and intensity is actually beneficial. You need only check out videos showing older adults interacting with young children to see this.

And children would benefit from being around aging adults. We have much wisdom to share, and many stereotypes to break down. We have experience managing the unmanageable. We have strategies for getting through hard times. We have stories to share about how we fundamentally changed our government and implemented social change.

Another downside is exclusivity. These are not gated communities in the sense of Brentwood or Star Island. The “gate” here relates to lack of diversity, economic barriers, and covert and overt racism. There are very few AAPI, brown or black people living in my community. And we are diminished because of this.

Economics is another issue. My home was built in the 1960’s. Back then, prices were under $10,000 for the four models offered where I live. Today, median cost is $650,000. As originally built, homes had all the modern conveniences. Electric kitchen, garbage disposal, Formica counter tops and all-aluminum windows. In today’s energy-efficient and all-natural products world, these “amenities” all require refitting and upgrading.

Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

One looming issue for me is that I live three miles away from town. This isn’t a challenge right now, as I am still able to drive with confidence (both day and night!), and I don’t have mobility issues. But there are those who no longer drive, and there are those who should not be driving, but do out of necessity. Without a car, the incredible beauty of my location loses some of its draw because I will have to rely on friends to either fetch or carry for me.

COVID demonstrated the need for investing in distribution networks to make sure that those who should not go out or cannot get out are still able to receive the services they must have to survive. My neighborhood has seen a rise in delivery traffic from local grocery stores, UPS, and FedX. Without these services, the three miles to town that I can easily cover now could be more like being sentenced to exile on Elba.

Long-Range Planning

One final observation. We are living longer. That means we will need different levels of support and assistance if we are to remain in our homes for 30 years after retirement. Who will adapt my home when I need to build ramps or widen doorways?  Who will upgrade my lighting and make my home energy efficient?  Who will refit my bathroom to insure it is safe and convenient? What adjustments need to be made to install medical equipment?  Where will I find caregivers who are willing to come to me?  How far will they need to travel?  Will the HOA CC&Rs permit me to make these modifications and/or add a granny-unit for live-in help? Such questions were not contemplated when these developments were first constructed.

It is closing in on 10:00 o’clock. We certainly do know where many of our old people are, but how long will they be able to stay there?  And where will I go if I can’t?

3 comments

  1. Thought provoking – very. I’m 72, solo after 42 years, & live in the home we’ve had in the family since those optimistic developments from the ‘50s ( Except the covenant accepted all races & religions; most didn’t) I believe in what the French believe: “ageing in place.” I “should“ still be mobile, active, & my financial plan assumed I’d work as a therapist into my 80s. Instead, I’ve had terminal cancer for four years, been bereaved, & have a fused neck, which makes driving not illegal but exhausting. One childhood friend & I are the only ones who have ever moved from our home city in Australia. The expected mobility of undergraduate in the USA insures partitioning of age groups. So while I am the exception to the rule (Family live within driving distance), I can assure you: being the manager of a one-person “adult community” home with superb help is exhausting. Younger family members live close but work, raising children, visit but can’t care for me (especially during COVID)
    Scandinavia and the Netherlands have been aeons ahead of us since the early 70s. They have intentionally mixed generation or family status, government/funded community housing. All free. Raised conservative in Australia, I saw one of these on a “social services tour” & converted me in two hours to what I didn’t know were more socialist values; high taxes; health, professional, & family provision for all. Take a look online at which countries have highest happiness ratings. Scandinavia’s right up there.

  2. I believe the 60’s TV program pictured above was “Leave it to Beaver”. As a recently retired internal medicine physician. I cared for many persons living in a 45+ y/o community which has many of the services and commonality advantages noted above, but also tended to be mainly an option for upper middle class Caucasians and lacked living contact with children and people in their 20’s-50’s. I agree that this diversity creates greater community resiliency and vibrancy. In terms of the functional decline that is progressive and associated with aging and disease. In the USA, our health systems are not up to assist with this functional decline and mainly address functional decline worsened by acute illness that’s severe enough to warrant hospitalization. A GeriPal free podcast focused on Disability in the Home and can be found at: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/disability-in-home-podcast-sarah-szanton-kenny-lam/id1164272877?i=1000518165724

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