Saturday, January 1, 2011

Booming into old age

I can't say that I ever felt "special" in any way. Other than that each person is "special," that is. I didn't feel that I was privileged or that my childhood was better or worse than my parents' had been. Of course, they lived through the Great Depression and I didn't, but my mother's stories of those days were entertaining and she always cast them in a positive way, so it didn't really seem that awful.

And, of course, I was born after WWII, so I also didn't really understand what it meant to be so fully separated from husband/father/boyfriend during a time of war. And of course WWII wasn't divisive in the way our war was. People who were against the war or who didn't want to serve learned to keep their mouths shut. So the country may have been divided - but nobody knew about it.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood and went to a working-class school. The vast majority of my friends had parents who were in the military (we lived just minutes from an Air Force Base), or who did some kind of manual labor or office work. I don't recall a doctor, lawyer, or other professional person among my peers' parents. Oh, there were some at our church (I was raised Episcopalian), but we really didn't socialize with them other than on Sundays. And we knew that where they lived was a far cry from where we lived! But I don't recall being particularly envious, nor do I remember feeling deprived.

That was largely - maybe even fully - thanks to my mother and her upbeat attitude. She was the original "be-thankful-for-what-you-have-there-are-starving-children-in-China" kind of mom. We had little enough; our polio-crippled mother was our only support - other than the occasional generous help from our church - but I never felt poor. Somehow, if that new Elvis record was really important to me, mom found a way to get it. Money for a high school football game? She'd make it happen. The only way I really felt different was not having a dad, and I did create elaborate lies to explain his absence from our home in those divorce-unfriendly 50s and 60s. But really, mom worked very hard to make our lives as much like our friends' lives as was possible. We often had little to eat, and it was frequently what we called "filling" rather than nutritious. But we not only survived; we thrived.

And we lived our lives pretty much as our friends and neighbors did.

So, although the term "baby boomer" wasn't applied to my generation until we were in our 20s (by some counts), I really don't recall thinking of myself that way until after my youngest was born when I was in my 30s. Since then, however, we've learned how "special" we all think we are; how we influenced television programming, advertising, consumerism of all kinds (most recently health care), and are generally accused of being a fully self-centered generation.

There are a lot of reasons put forth for our supposed feelings of entitlement: our parents wanted us to have better lives than they did (what parent doesn't feel this way?); we exerted a fiscal force to be reckoned with (with 76,000,000 of us, we'd all have to stay home to prevent some kind of impact!); we overwhelmed society with our music and values (as if Frank Sinatra and the bobby-soxers didn't shock the previous generations!).

Remember, though, my generation gave the world Bill Clinton AND George W. Bush. Many of us fought in a war that others of us protested against. We sang along with The Rolling Stones and Cat Stevens. We let it all hang out at Woodstock, and covered it all up with granny dresses. We smoked pot because our parents didn't want us to, and then lied about it to our kids to keep them from smoking pot. We left home, rejecting our parents' values and indulgences, and then we protected and indulged our children to a greater degree than any parents before us.

We are a generation like any other, in that we defy easy generalities. Some of us embrace our ageing with grace; others of us are kicking and screaming. Some have sought and enjoyed early retirement and its attendant woes and blessings; other vow that we would have no real purpose if we didn't have our jobs.

So today, January 1, 2011, as the baby boom generation begins to turn 65, don't be too hard on us as a generation - and let us not be too hard on ourselves. We didn't choose the world into which we were born; no one does. We didn't emerge from our mothers' bodies demanding special treatment, except in the way every infant does. We didn't walk in lockstep in the 50s (some loved Elvis, others loved Pat Boone), the 60s, or the 70s; and we don't walk in lockstep today.

We're your parents, your grandparents, your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends. We're as individual as you are and most of us - not all of us, by any means! - don't want to be lumped together as a bunch of navel-gazing, self-important old folks.

After all, most of us are still dealing with the fact that we're older than 30!

1 comment:

  1. And I'm still irked to have found out that everything my mother said was true! You DO feel better if you get up and move around; washing your hands is healthy; if you want a friend, be a friend. I'd hoped I was right and she was wrong ... :)