Through the looking glass: When I grow up

When I grow up… I’m still working on finishing that statement. There’s still a part of me that thinks the very first answer you scribbled with crayon in your school days treasures, right between ‘my best friend was’ and ‘I was __ tall’, should be what you aim for. Somewhere along the way we are hit with the reality of several more years of schooling, lack of funds, or the terrifying possibility that we might miss out on something in life while slaving away in the confines of a post secondary institution, and our goals in life become much less ambitious. I would have made a great Astronaut.

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If you look at the three generations currently in our working demographic, Baby Boomers, Generations X and Y (Millenials), we can see somewhat of a disturbing trend: Baby Boomers were much less concerned about being wealthy than Gen X, and even less so than Gen Y. Additionally, Baby Boomers were much more concerned with political affairs than the Gen X or Y folks. What does this mean for us? Well, in my house it means I stare at my mother blankly when she talks politics and she shakes her head at my kids when they talk about the grand visions they have for their future homes. Wow. Gen X’ers really did get stuck in the middle! Is it sad that a ‘Stealers Wheel’ song sums up my life?

Baby boomers, born between 1945 and 1960, grew up with the candor and rectitude of such comedic icons as Abbot and Costello and Ed Sullivan. Archie Bunker was relevant and hilarious. And as much as they curse the amount of time the next generations would spend in front of the TV, the can’t deny being responsible for the engineering of TV dinners. Just sayin’. Most Baby Boomers have enjoyed one career path. They’ve worked hard and enjoyed the benefits of a stable income. Authority impresses them; my father thinks Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones should run the world. I can’t say I disagree! So, with the driving force of a work ethic to rival Forrest Gump, Baby Boomers created the technology, and generation, that continues to shape the world today.

Generation X grew up with Chia Pets and KISS. As primitive and archaic as it may seem to my children, we had cutting edge technology, and were taught to live in the present. We were encouraged to question the world around us, including authority. We were encouraged to be creative and look for challenges rather than job security. Ironically, although Gen X’ers are considered the smallest generation, we were met with post secondary debt, stock market crashes and real estate slumps. Gen X’ers dealt with the driving work ethic of Baby Boomers on average nine years longer than anticipated, which left any sort of advancement in careers out of reach.

On a parenting level, It was perfectly reasonable to allow a child to sit in front of the TV in 1975 as there was only one channel to entertain, at best, two. It was OK to allow a child to sit on a Commodore 64 all evening without the fear of Internet stalking or, well really anything beyond the Ralph Macchio or Farah Fawcett covered walls of your bedroom. They worked hard so their kids didn’t have to. They wanted to give everything to their kids that they didn’t have. They wanted an easier life for their kids… and they got it. My mother gave me everything. I had the computer. I was, by today’s standards, a pro-gamer. I could play PAC Man with my eyes closed. And Frogger became a series of tantamount moves without any real challenge. I had the TV in my room. Floor model. Remember those? I even had satellite for a while, although going out in the front yard to crank the giant orb slightly to the left to catch the next signal was way more effort than Alf was worth. My mother did all the laundry, cooking and most of the house cleaning. It can’t be coincidence that Starbucks never really took off until the late 80s. It is with the greatest of confidence, pride and a certain amount of narcissism that I order my non-fat, no-whip, grande double chocolatey chip frappacinos with white mocha and a shot of vanilla bean. Well, my discomfiture solidly in tact, I will move on. My point being, we tend to shape and mold each successive generation, but not without some vexation regarding the results.

Enter Generation Y. The Millennials. They are dubbed the ‘trophy kids’. They were rewarded for everything. “Good job in track and field! Nice ribbon! I didn’t even know they made a ’37th place’ ribbon”. The participation became more important than the skill or often even the effort expelled. I praised my kids whether they won, lost or just sat on the field eating Twizzlers. Should I be surprised when my request for them to wash dishes is met with “what do I get for it”? It is predicted that Gen Y will have no job security, as they will switch jobs frequently to satisfy their expectations. All forms of social etiquette will be lost as they will be unable to converse in person. Due to their ‘helicopter’ parents they will need feedback and guidance constantly with a sense of entitlement to rival Paris Hilton.

If you looked solely at each generation as more bastardized and dismantled than the last one you might be left to wonder how we have survived this long. If you looked a little closer, you would have your answer. As much as the Baby Boomers claim that Gen Y will all develop Scoliosis in their thirties due to addictive texting, they can take solace in the knowledge that Gen Y tends to prioritize family over work. They are team players. They don’t think they can take on the world alone and they work well with others. As much as they thrive on feedback, they also give it. They are committed to loved ones and fiercely loyal to family and friends. Whether because of or in spite of, Baby Boomers you did something right.

Case in point: My teenage daughter suggested a ‘no screens’ night. Immediately my mind goes to cell phones and computers. Beautiful! I’m in! My social network doesn’t revolve around Facebook, Twitter or texts. My friends actually know how to use a phone that’s connected to a wall. I expect her to last through two, maybe three nights before calling it off as a failed experiment.

“Which day were you thinking?” I inquire casually.

“Um… how ’bout Friday?”

Pondering. “Yeah, that sounds good.”

“Cool!” She’s excited. “Every Friday is ‘No Screens’ night!” She posts on Facebook. Sends a Tweet.

“That’ll be awesome! It’ll be just like when you were little! Pizza and movie night.”

Her smile fades as she pulls her face from her cell phone and looks at me deadpan. “No screens, Mom. The TV is a screen.”

As the gravity of her words sink in, my heart starts to race. Sweat beads across my forehead. My throat tightens. I manage to squeak out “No TV?” I swallow. “What will we do?” A nearby chair graciously catches my clumsy fall.

Her face brightens, “We’ll play games! It’ll be awesome!” She continues on with her sisters discussing the different games we could play. Talk of dusting off the old Pictionary game barely penetrates the throbbing now taking over all parts of my brain. Somewhere between cheers for placing 37th in a race and buying Velcro runners instead of laces to avoid feelings of inadequacy for being unable to tie laces, we instilled a sense of family? How the hell did that happen? I feebly agree and manage to choke out an encouragement as I mentally catalogue all the shows I will have to PVR. The irony is not lost on me.

As of this date, this grand experiment has yet to come to fruition as one thing or another has cropped up each Friday making ‘No Screens Night’ as yet unattainable. However, as I’ve had time to process and set my PVR, I do honestly look forward to a night of reckless generational abandon. I mean, you haven’t played Pictionary until you’ve played with my Dad! His version of ‘close enough’ often leaves a lot to be desired.

“Dad I guessed ‘square’…”


“But the card says parallel…”

“Close enough.”

When I grow up, I want to be Dad.

Jennifer Barry is a writer for The Spectator Tribune

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