Friday, February 13, 2009

Let's talk about...Gen X

I want to discuss being a Generation X person and mother. So before I sat down to write this, I poked around on Wikipedia to get their definition of Generation X. It was pretty much what I thought, although it turns out that the term originally was used to define a group of folks quite a bit older than myself, the general understanding of the moniker puts me right in it, for sure. First, a bit of background about me:

I was born in 1975. My parents were true baby boomers, born in the immediate post-war years of 1945 and 1949. My parents were young adults at an incredible time to be young adults, the hippie years. Although by the time I came along, neither one of my parents could be really described at hippies, (well, Mom, anyhow!) my parents certainly had that rare experience of being able to not only tell about the actual olden days (1950's) in great detail, they could also tell me where they were when JFK, RFK, and MLK were shot, and when it was absolutely crucial to do so, they had long hair and progressive politics and musical tastes, and Mom had her baby (me) at the very average age of 25, making me precisely one generation after Baby Boom.
I grew up with a few memories of "President Carter", but as a Regan/Bush child of the 80's, all the way. The years 1980 to 1990 encompassed my life from age 5 to 15, so if that doesn't perfectly fit the bill for a 1980's childhood, I don't know what would!
I remember so many 80's things, the first neighborhood friend to have Cable TV, Atari, a Cabbage Patch Kid, Divorced Parents. Feathered hair eluding me and looking like a wet schnauzer in every school picture from age 6 to 13. Thanks, BoRics. (I know I went in there begging for feathers, but couldn't one of you have maybe broken it to me or at least Mom that bone straight children's hair does not feather...and don't get me started on the perms or -gasp- the homeperms!)

But the real important Gen X stuff, in my estimation anyhow, had to do not with funny little cliched memories of early or middle childhood (although a good whiff of grape (Aussie Sprunch) hairspray can send me back to spin the bottle days in about 2 seconds flat)....but with the heavier, defining stuff. I was 16 years old The Year Punk Broke. I was a senior in high school when Nevermind bumped Michael off the Billboard charts...I was a few months too young to vote for Bill Clinton, but was extremely amazed watching the votes come in,some cheerful young saxophone playing guy who went on MTV-- a Democrat-- in office, after 12 long years? Wow, my life is really turning awesome! I was 16 years old the summer our metropolitan area got our first (and still only) alternative radio station, and I had just turned 19 when a serious piece of my heart froze and disintegrated and died way too young alongside my Kurt Cobain...and an unexpected and very unwanted connection to all those before me who lost Janis or Jimmy or Lennon was forged, sick angry sobs and a well-founded fear for the future of music....ow, ow, ow, what an extremely painful time for so many of us. If the media was calling us "disillusioned" before this happened, (We Weren't! We weren't! We were cautiosly optimistic! I swear to God!) they were sure right now. Yes, we are definitely, definitely, disillusioned once Kurt died. An maybe he wasn't a president or a scholar, but this was our guy who died that we heard about on the radio and stopped dead in our tracks...this was our guy whose untimely and unsolved death and for whom the nature of the whole thing left us an angry and hopeless and bitter, bitter taste in the mouth nearly 15 years later. (and ps I cannot believe I just typed that-fifteen years--whoa.)

I got married "young", but due to my unique life story, it felt anything but. I had been with my highschool sweetheart Steve for almost 4 years when he proposed to me, Christmas Day, 1995, and our wedding plans started immediately and we were married August 23rd, 1996. I was 21. Crazy, right? But I had lived so much in those 21 years, and I don't mean to elude to any kind of Drew Barrymore rehab or anything, there is no such story, only to an emotional/spiritual thing. I was a ten year old when I was 3, I was a 16 year old when I was 10, and even though I skipped a grade and was actually a year younger than everyone in my class, I really always felt like a peer or higher than most of my teachers and supervisors growing up. There were many adults who took advantage of me in this regard. I looked 18, I acted 28, I was 12. Catch my drift? Super tall, super smart, super developed, having read ever morsel of popular and "adult" literature of the 20th century before age 13, if I wasn't experienced, I certainly was well-read.
ALOT of this old-soul stuff did not go over well, to put it mildly. I know that my precociousness was obnoxious, often wildly disrespectful, and came across as a disdain for authority--which albeit very understandable---was not the case. What I did have was a vast disappointment in the heroes and grown ups, and a resentment for the social etiquette that required me to pretend to "respect" those whose faults and imperfections were so clear and obvious to me. I never wanted to go to the psychologist, but not as some thought, out of a fear of being discovered, but, out of a fear of what I presumed would be the doctor himself turning out to be just another transparent phony ignoramus whom I was supposed to role play with.This could be a very universal experience of disillusionment, with Presidents and parents and the world not being what they used to be, all experienced by one girl born with a scary IQ as a headstrong extroverted Aries firstborn who skipped a grade, and all of the other things that make up a person, well that was me and that is one little snippet why being married at age 21 was not young at all, but rather, high time to start living life as I wanted to: Alongside the very very rare person whom I actually respected and who had and has almost no ability to be fake, who has immediate access to his real heart and whom I adored and was attracted to in all ways. We should all be so lucky!
I literally *saw* my Steve across the flickering moldy cavernous dank high school hallway and my eyes zoomed in like a high powered lens and seriously, I knew something extremely interesting was going on there with this boy and I sought him out, 1-2-3. Despite teenaged complications in the form of a sick and depraved obsessive possessive demented current boyfriend who was ridiculously hard to dump, Steve and I were together within weeks, ever since '92. Yay!

I am wandering, huh? But this is the picture of me, as it pertains to my experience of being a Gen X-er. Out of my group of peers, I was the first married and the first to have a baby, and so, in a turn of events that I have found quite interesting to say the least, I have had a an eye opening experience of Motherhood and Marketing and Media change for my generation of Mamas. Things both superficial and intellectual, have changed a LOT since baby Greta was born in June of '97. Things that are mostly shallow accoutrement and banal materialism, but nevertheless real. Things that I was not too sure until recently were actual changes in society and media or if they were just a part of my experience of the changes in life that accompany the ages 22 to 33. Let me describe:

Aesthetically, we Gen Xers are clearly the ones running ad campaigns nowadays. Remembering not so long ago when an actual current song of a cutting edge band came on accompanying some spot for Toyota and how disturbed and freaked out we used to be by that (So and so SOLD OUT???? NO WAY?!?!) Now, almost all commercials have "cool" music in them, especially those products that are supposedly for us, like small electronics, green vehicles, and now, baby gear. Which leads to my next observations...When I had my first baby, it felt very very isolating and almost shameful to "have a kid". No celebrities had babies and it was still considered a career killer to "ruin your body" and get pregnant. Courtney and Kurt had Frances, but their story wasn't one you really wanted to align with, so to speak, and by '97, Kurt was dead, Courtney was an anorexic coiffed alien-villain in Prada, and nobody knew where Frances Bean was. Now the celebs cant pop them out fast enough. And so, the days of me feeling alone and freaky wandering the aisles of Babies R Us and feeling nothing but revulsion at the Navy Blue diaper bags with ugly bears on them, are happily gone. Gen X mamas want hip gorgeous stuff and now it is easy to get. (One might argue if these items are truly hip at all if they are available at Target or the mall, but I say who cares? Gimme lime green retro prints and don't make me order it online for 90 bucks from Europe, thankyouverymuch!)

So, one real change is that baby gear is now stylish and no longer frumpy. Whatever those words mean, my brain has been accustomed to a certain look being outdated and a certain other look being attractive. As it is now cool to be a Mom, it is cool to have a stroller, bag, sling, and baby itself who look a certain way. Interesting! (Are any of you sensing my guilt and shame at this shallow stuff being so important to me? Its hard to be an artsy type while maintaining a perspective of the actual suffering in the world....thus the conundrum of Gen X to pretend everything we buy is going to help some charity! Ack!)

I also struggled, and I mean, STRUGGLED with the idea of being both a mother and ____ what inadequate adjective will suit here....youthful/punk/hip/rock and roll/not a pantyhose lady? Now try that and try to still get some respect from the doctor/dentist/school folks. Try to look young and heaven forbid, be young and still not get treated like teenage scum. I happened to be happily married at the time of conception, but there is a great movement headed by as well as to end the hateful treatment of actual teen moms...but i digress. I was not a teen mom but looked like one and was treated quite woefully in hospital when i had Greta. I don't think Hello Kitty barrettes warranted me being ONLY called "hun" or my husband being referred to as my "boyfriend"....but I chose to look a certain way that made me feel attractive and true to self, and that was not in line with how the majority of birthing women looked there and I guess tats how it goes.
This, too, is changing and just this month there was a (mediocre) little article in Mothering about a mom who wears chucks and a superman watch and rock band tshirts and how she felt like a freak on a school field trip with her child because all the other moms were dressed in conservative lady wasn't the best written thing I ever read, but it made me smile, and Greta liked it, too, and yes, its coming fast, the ever youthful Gen X females are in their 20s and 30s now and of course we are reproducing and many of us are not turning in our blue streaks or our Doc Martens at the maternity room doors.

Speaking of Maternity Room, alternatives in fashion are also much more importantly being accompanied by alternatives in birth choices. We have a long way to go, but most people have at least heard of some model or actress choosing homebirth, waterbirth, natural birth. This really does help the cause in this media and celeb obsessed society, so I am glad for any and all exposure.

Breastfeeding: negative or positive, it is in the media. There is a subject abuzz, and most everyone at least knows that Breast Is Best, even if the numbers still unfortunately show us mothers not sticking with it for very long, newborn breastfeeding initiation rates are on the rise, and that's wonderful. I remember "back when" the ONLY supportive thing there was on the planet was my tattered Motherwear catalog that came randomly in the mail when baby Greta was a few weeks old! I couldn't afford the ill fitting (maybe just for tall moms but i hated their stuff, sorry to say) clothes but the blurbs on the side margins of that magazine were as sacred and important to me as any long lost pamphlet from the lactation folks at the hospital. I didn't know about Mothering magazine until I had 2 kids and was a veteran nurser, and we didn't really have the high speed internet like we know it now until about 1999, but those little catalogs with the breastfeeding mamas and the encouraging words in them ultimately changed my life! Crazy.

Staying home. Raising our own children. even though 2 income families have been made to seem as the only way, there definitely is a movement for women and/or men to not send the children to daycares, but rather, to scale back until one salary can work, and to raise your own. What might fly in the face of what our mothers and formothers fought so hard for,to "get out of the kitchen", has become more nuanced and less black and white. Although our appreciation for the choice being there itself we can never adequately express, we arent necessarily as enraged at the prospect of the cooking, cleaning, child rearing and general homemaking. The privilege of choice itself makes this option an option, and along with trying to make it a go on $30,000 instead of 60 comes another spin-off: Its Cool To Be Crafty and Kitschy and Simple. Which again, I think might make some 1980's glitzy types revolted, but for me, Im lovin' it! Websites like and magazines such as ReadyMade have us sewing and gluing and gardening and duct-taping our ways to our own cheap and darling alternatives that have much more meaning and oomph than any McMansion mortgage or 2nd car payment dependency ever could. Being unique is no longer taboo, its almost essential to our generation, even if that "uniqueness" is found in the pages of colorful magazines or from television homemakeover shows, hey, not all of us have intact families or Grandpas to show us how to do this stuff anymore. So its ok to have quirky stuff and to make stuff and thats awesome to me, because I always did and now maybe thats all gonna be more acceptable. By age 33, I care much more about friendships and community than I do about being staunchly original---that can get really lonely! If I saw a bunch of other Mamas with blue hair and postcards glued to their light fixtures carrying babies in retro fabric slings, I would think I had died and gone to heaven, not "aw man I'm not original"---life and loneliness have taught me better than that, trust me! Its never gonna happen, and so I happily have a very eclectic group of friends, but that whole quest to be the one and only hasn't haunted me in a long long time. Too lonely!

So, being a Gen X adult now certainly has changed things. My age peers are running the world, or starting to, and from an aesthetic viewpoint, I am likin' what I see and hear. We have a glorious new president who has given me a ray of hope where there hasnt been one since I was a 17 year old who couldn't vote for Clinton (who was no Obama, BTW but at least seemed cool and not some old freak) and i definitely don't feel like I am the only cool kid who has a baby anymore : )
There are tons of important things that my generation has and is going to do on a global political scale, and there are tons of problems that plague us as well. But I can say that I do feel now that we have arrived, and it feels pretty good. I'm off to go raise Generatiion Z, what a job that is!


Dave Sohigian said...

Thanks for the great bio! You certainly are a Gen-X'er. I am as well, although born earlier (1966). The experiences you describe are a great picture of what our generation has faced: crumbling institutions and individual discovery. Although I agree that Gen-X'ers have taken over popular culture, our tenure is almost past. The Millennial Generation is already making its move and it is a very different generation indeed. Most of your kids are Millennials (born between 1982 and around 2005). Cute kids by the way.
I have been writing a bunch about the generations if you are curious: Take a look at the Start here section that will give you some orientation.

Kelley said...

That was quite a post, Joy. I think that our friendship is a perfect example about how people from totally opposite backgrounds can come together and truly understand one another.

I grew up soooo differently than the way you've described. I'm almost embarrassed to say this, but when news went around my high school that Kurt Cobain had died, I honestly thought it was another student at the school. I had NO IDEA who he was. I had no experience with the culture of the kids my age, and didn't know I didn't until I was a junior in high school.

Stassja said...

What an interesting little bio! And funny that just a few days ago I was looking up Gen X and Y and so on. I'm Gen Y I suppose, being 22 now. But I feel I can relate in a lot of ways, especially with the "old soul" business! I got married at 18, started the family at 20, and now we're expecting our second. I remember visiting my folks back in VA, obviously pregnant, wedding bands off because of the swelling and getting some interesting looks at the mall with my mom. *sigh*

Anyways, tangent. Thanks for posting this, it helps me feel a little less alone too. And I'm so effing jealous of your blue hair! I've tried it on my natural brown and it doesn't show, I've tried bleaching and then doing it but it ends up tealy green and yuck. ARGH! So for now I'm sticking with my super short pixie cut and deep dark "will never be seen in nature" maroon. <3

hans said...

I liked reading this, too. Have thought some of these thoughts. One of my horrors about having kids would be that I'd have to get a non-threatening hairdo and wear pastel sweatshirts with cartoon geese on them. Then one day while I was pregnant, I realized I could just be myself. But I've certainly had the experience of doctors/dentists etc. thinking I'm some punk kid when really I'm 33 with a masters degree. I once sent a letter to one of these doctors declining a neverending series of unnecessary tests she kept wanting to do on me and I like to think that I gave her a wake-up call by appropriately using a semicolon in it. :)

There are a couple of guys who wrote a book called _The Fourth Turning_, about the way generations work and have crises. I haven't read it but I heard them talk about it on the radio a couple times. They said interesting things about Gen X -- that we have this "slacker" stereotype, when in fact we're much more like you describe, hardworking, community-oriented, serious (to a fault sometimes) about childrearing, very different from the boomers, who were more self-centered in a lot of ways. He also says the baby boomers are unique as a generation, in that they seem to think it's their right to impose their set of morals on future generations. They say usually, when a new generation comes into their own, they bring their own moral agenda, but the boomers seem unwilling to let go and give Gen X the space to establish ours. That made a lot of sense to me, and seems to relate to what you talk about, how much things like hair choices seem to define us to institutions, stuff like that.

Andrea said...

Whoops, my husband was logged in. Hans was me, Andrea.

A New But Committed Reader said...

"If I saw a bunch of other Mamas with blue hair and postcards glued to their light fixtures carrying babies in retro fabric slings, I would think I had died and gone to heaven"

Oh hai! *waves*

I'm on the other side of the world, though. And the hair is not blue, it's not anything of note any more, but it was the pinkest red you ever saw. The labrette in the lower lip, gone, but the small tattoos retain both their presence and meaning.

I am (a) she of the day-off school for mourning my beloved Kurt, the girl-gone-child at 22, the body that wants to sack out when the mind wants to rock out, a just-made-it Gen X-er, a resigned-but-unwilling c-sectioner, both an indomitable femme and a house mama, a regretful slacker intellectual.

We'd probably have too many beers together.

Keep on. I love this place.

jenx67 said...

What a lovely blog!!! I love the pony tail pic. You sound so fun. I've linked to this post on my GenX site. Please come on over and have a look around. I post a news/blog aggregate, BLUE PLATE SPECIALS - on Gen X Stuff on a regular basis - once a week or so - among other things.

jenx67 said...

Do you share what state you are from? I have a blog roll of Xers from different states.

Joy said...

Michigan and thanks for everyone who is into this post...I will be writing more like these.

Stinx' Mom said...

You seem like a really fun Mama. From what I've read, I'm really enjoying your blog!