“It’s happened,” my husband Chris tells me solemnly one afternoon as we’re standing in the kitchen packing for a picnic.
He glances at me sheepishly. Pushes the picnic basket aside and hoists his tennis shoe up onto the countertop, slowly pulling up his pant leg to reveal his ankle like some sort of Victorian bride.
My eyes widen. “Black socks?”
He nods. “The only thing left would be the sandals,” he says sadly, putting his leg back down.
“But why?” is all I can think to ask.
He shrugs, putting a few napkins into the picnic basket. “They’re actually quite comfortable.”
My husband and I had been worrying about this day. We made a pact, when we were about 25, that we were not going to do “old people” things. We were always going to dress cool, talk cool, be cool. We were not going to wear elastic-waist jeans or colored socks. We were going to be hip. Forever.
Our plan began slipping, of course, only a few years later, when we began approaching our 30s. Our oldest child was still young, but he was already entering that world unknown to many parents: The Kid Zone. That place where pop culture exists behind a 3-foot-high turnstile.
The first occurrence I remember is when the band 98 Degrees was coming into prominence, and my son was talking about seeing them on television.
“What?” my husband said from his coma on the couch.
“98 Degrees,” repeated my son.
“Oh, yeah,” said Dad. “It’s getting pretty hot in here…”
My eyes widened. My son and I looked at each other, and then we collapsed into a fit of hilarity.
“What?” said my husband.
“Daaaaaad!” said our 6-year-old. He said it in that gosh-don’t-you-know-anything voice. The wow-you’re-out-of-it voice. (It’s the same voice, I’m pretty sure, that we used on our parents when they asked us what Styx was.)
“They’re a band, Dad.” My son got up, touched his dad on the shoulder and then left the room, leaving behind him a wake of horrified silence.
“Oh man,” said Chris.
“Even I knew who 98 Degrees is,” I said, rolling my eyes.
Shortly after that came a rapid succession of foreign concepts: Emo, Izzys, MySpace, Plugs, Uggs, PIR, and then – when we had a teen daughter, too – Team Jacob and Robert Pattinson.
We accepted each of these things with aplomb. They each became sort of like that high-frequency note that only young ears can hear (which our teens played for us, on the computer. Sure enough, we couldn’t hear a thing). We met each fact, at first, with a bit of alarm. But then, like the high-pitched note, we sort of shrugged and looked at each other and went back to watching The Biography Channel.
If the first stage is denial, and the second is acceptance, the third must be nonchalance. Because we found that, eventually, we didn’t care. We didn’t care that we weren’t hip. We didn’t care that we didn’t know half the artists at the Grammys. We didn’t care that we couldn’t recognize any of the faces on the tabloids when we stood in line to buy “20 Recipes for Your Slow Cooker.” We wanted to know what our teens were into because we wanted to know what they were up to, but being part of their culture – or immersing ourselves into it – became number 1,314 on our list of things to do. “Hip,” over time, took on a new dimension. It started to feel like being smart. It started to feel like having experience. It started to feel, most of all, like freedom. We didn’t know that the older generations – throughout time, I imagine – were experiencing a delicious reality that we weren’t aware of: They didn’t care what people thought. “Hip” was not fitting in. Hip was liking what you wanted to like: The Biography Channel. Practical cars. Frank Sinatra.
And yes, black socks.
“I bought a pack of them,” my husband says, hauling the picnic basket off the breakfast bar. He treads softly across the kitchen in his cushy 100-percent cotton and then looks at me over his shoulder. “They’re the softest socks I’ve ever worn in my life.”
And I smile back.
How very hip. …