“It was the 60s”

“I was a baby Boomer.”

“Generation X”

“They left when the Depression hit.”

I took a college class that I cannot really remember much about. I don’t know the name, the professor, or even the college (I attended colleges in Washington, Missouri, Oregon, Costa Rica, and California). But I remember this quote:

You are who you are where you were when.

The general idea was that if you grew up during the Great Depression, you might always be a skimper and a saver, no matter how much money you made. Or … you might go hogwild and buy two and three of everything in rebellion to the sufferings of need and want during the 30s. Either way, you were defined by the times you lived in. “It was the 60s” was an overarching, all-encompassing, omnipotent excuse for any action, word, or deed committed during that decade. Those who came of age during that tumultuous decade were forever dominated by it. Baby boomers have generally annoyed Generation X kids because they make us feel guilty. They save their money. They plan for the future. They pray. They go to church every Sunday. They call their mothers. They go see their mothers. They write cards to their mothers. They take care of their things, they like their things, and they polish their things. Their clothes match. They’re even ironed. No buttons missing. Generation Xers walk around like lost puppies wondering what happened to the affluence they grew up in, wondering why life is so hard, wishing they knew who they were, wondering what’s going to happen.

This idea You are who you are where you were when causes me to examine my children’s generation and wonder what will define them? What will our kids say about us? How will they rebel? What will they choose to keep? And what will they throw away?

I dropped off Elsa at volleyball the other night and she called back as she ran into the school,

“Pick me up at 8, Mom!”

I waved at her and drove away, engrossed in a chat with my sister who had come to visit.

We returned home and ate dinner with friends and family. 8 o’clock drew near. I thought, What time did she say?

I checked my phone calendar. It read: Sunday volleyball practice from 5:30 to 8:30. Good. I’ve got time to finish my beer.

At 8:15, I left.

Ring.

Elsa was waiting, alone, and near tears with frustration. Someone was waiting with her, but obviously impatient to leave. I apologized. I sped. I arrived at 8:30 on the dot.

When I was girl, I was frustrated by similar incidents. It was rare to be greeted when I got off an airplane. I usually had to wait awhile, alone with my luggage, before being picked up. I watched happy reunions around me. So I could sympathize with my girl for being the last one, for being left alone. I obviously dealt with my upbringing by imitating it, rather than rejecting it. Will my offenses against the virtue of punctuality define her? Will she forever be on time because she hated that part of her upbringing? Or will she do as her mother did — tried to fit one more thing into the moment so she didn’t have to wait.

I tried to put off this notion. I tried to excuse myself by blaming my mother and by grading myself on a curve. Naw, I say to myself, we all have our little quirks. I’m not so bad. My mother was worse. Heck, my mother was 20 minutes late to church every week — and she was the organist!

When Elsa got into the car, she vented. “We are late to everywhere. We are late to everything!”

I could see she was embarrassed and hurt. But the writer in me resisted exaggerations.

“Be accurate!” I corrected. “You haven’t been late to volleyball once this year.”

But if I looked at my record, I’d have to eat crow. The day before, I arrived late with Greta and Ingrid to a volleyball tournament. I showed up with a half cup of coffee. Part of it spilled on the car seat for which my parents bought me seat covers and which I haven’t put on. The other part was dripping down my new jacket, which my kids bought me for Christmas.

I smiled when I arrived as the whistle was about to blow to start the game.

“I’m here to coach!” I said. Can anyone hear the organ chiming in to the people singing a cappella?

At the end of the tournament, I forgot my new coat and had to have the head coach hold it for me until I saw her again.

Two days later, I brought the little girls with me to tutor at the library. I was supposed to take them over to volleyball practice at break time.

I forgot they were there! I thought I already dropped them off! I didn’t ever recognize my mistake until I saw their questioning little faces peeking around the corner.

You are who you are where you were when.

Generation Xers are considered a “reactive” or “nomad” generation, also called the “me” generation. We’re supposed to be materialistic, slackers, and disenfranchised.

I can hear my daughters talking now. I grew up in a home with a harried mother who could barely focus on the words I said. We were late to everywhere. Sometimes we forgot to get places altogether! I was always having to mother her, help her out of parking lots, help her to find her keys, her phone, remind her to remember the siblings …

I started making excuses to those voices in my head. I have four kids. I homeschool! I don’t un-school. I do the real thing! Assign and correct and plan. And I don’t get paid. Worse, it costs us!  I work part time. I’m trying to write a book. I write articles. You kids don’t have an interest! You’re interested in everything! You want to do everything. And you’re good at everything! I’m breaking my back trying to treat each of you like you’re the only one.

Instead I said I’m sorry. I begged forgiveness. But forgiveness is hard to get if you’ve begged it too many times. Just the same, kids do forgive.

I guess.

I still brought up that I was often alone at the airport.

Maybe I should call my mother and tell her how wonderful she was. That I forgive her. That I understand how hard it was. Maybe I should cut her a little slack.

I know I’m going to need yards of it.

Anyway, where did all this labeling of generations come from? Is it helpful? Is it useful? Once labeled, do we fulfill the defining characteristics? From what I can tell, it benefits marketers and advertisers.

Another study found that Generation Xers are highly educated, active, balanced, happy and family-oriented. We really don’t fit the bill of  studies done during the 80s.This gives me some hope. Maybe we don’t have to be who we are where we were when. Maybe we can be who we want to be.

Maybe we were just young.

So, I’ll stop thinking about generational characteristics and wondering what defines us and what will define them. I’ll just be me. I’ll do my best. And if my daughter ends up painting a picture of me looking harried and crazy and driving off without the kids, I’ll laugh and say,

“Paybacks are hard, Baby. You’ll be sitting in my seat someday.”

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