My family is a microcosm of the span of the famed “Baby Boomer” generation. Having met at a USO in Chicago during World War II, my parents married after the war and began their family. My brother was born in 1948, in the early years of the post-war Baby Boom. For another 17 years, there were enough babies born every year (lots and lots) to count as the Baby Boomers, even though “the war” was long past. I was born in 1958, near the end of the boom, which officially closed in 1964.
Every time those first Baby Boomers hit a milestone, it makes news. “Boomers Turn 40!” “Boomers Turn 50!” Boomers Turn 60!” “Boomers Retire!”
Well, when the afore-mentioned Boomers were turning 40 and facing their burgeoning mid-life crises, I was hitting 30 feeling footloose and fancy-free. When they reached 50 and changed the cosmetics market forever in a panic to stay young, I was just heading into my 40’s with a new husband and a soon-to-be blossoming career. And, while older Boomers are now retiring in droves, I’m still stuck in job-land for another 10 years or so.
I’m a ‘baby’ Baby Boomer. I was shaped by the 1960’s, but via the television screen, not a college campus. One of my earliest memories is watching the JFK funeral on a small black & white TV while my mom cried. I was five. In 1968, my brother (the Old Boomer) paid my best friend and I fifty cents each to tear all the Bobby Kennedy campaign banners from his car the day after Bobby was killed. At 20 and involved in his first presidential campaign, he was too heartbroken to do it himself.
My view of those years was skewed by looking through the prism of how they affected him. I paid attention to the war in Vietnam because my big brother was eligible for the draft. I watched violent college protests on TV because he was headed off to college on the other side of the country (Mom’s advice – “do whatever you want out there, but don’t ever let me see your face on the national news!”). I was 12 when four students were killed by the National Guard at Kent State. I couldn’t understand it, and I worried that my brother would be shot on his college campus.
Our childhoods were so very different. He grew up with Andy and Opie. I grew up with Laugh-In. He was an Eagle Scout with a stay-at-home mom in a one car family. They had a fishing boat and went tent camping in the Adirondacks for vacation. He played Little League on a small local diamond (that’s still there). I had a working mom in a family that boasted two cars, three snowmobiles, two boats, and a camper. We went to New York City for vacation and stayed at the McAlpin (not quite the Waldorf, but almost right next door). I showed horses for fun. Yeah – being ten in 1968 was a whole lot different than being ten in 1958.
1958 was full of hope. Ten-year-olds didn’t have a care in the world then. 1958 was Sputnik, Elvis, Alaska, de Gaulle and Eisenhower. Yes, Castro and Khrushchev made a little noise, but that stuff rarely made it into the family living room. Good grief, the musical hero of the year was Van Cliburn.
1968 was a whole lot more complicated, and the news of the day was in our living room in living color. It was LBJ, Vietnam, Nixon and hijackings. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were both gunned down. Campuses burned, and Led Zeppelin rocked the radio while Hair rocked Broadway. In ten short years, the world had turned upside down.
My mom often says she feels like she raised two “only children”. I thought she meant it was just because we were ten years apart – he was an only child for ten years, then I came along, then he was off to college with I was only eight. But I wonder now if her statement also covers the fact that she raised two children in two such completely different eras.
Some studies show that young Boomers like me don’t like being called “Baby Boomers”. That’s probably a knee-jerk reaction to wanting to clarify that we’re not as old as those other guys. But I don’t mind it. Being a Boomer is cool. We’re part of the generation that changed the world. We may not be the “greatest generation” like our parents, but we were the 500 lb. gorilla that had to be dealt with. We changed everything – politics, entertainment, fashion, civil rights. We rocked the workplace, and powered the economy as we set aside our hippy beads (well, the old Boomers had more of those than us…), and we went into the workforce – men and women. As we’ve aged (we’ll all be over 50 within 4 years), we continue to throw our collective weight around, for good and for not-so-good. We’re spending Social Security dollars faster than our children can replenish them. Senior living centers are springing up everywhere. Powered wheelchairs now come in bright colors and stylish shapes. We’ll need more doctors and nurses as we all begin to fall apart. We’ve got another good 40 or maybe even 50 years of making our mark on society. Sorry, kids!
Why would I want to be called the “X” “Y” or “Z” generation? What does that even mean, anyway? It’s lame.
Nope, call me a Baby Boomer, and I’ll take the name with pride. Just don’t mix me up with those really old Boomers like my brother. I’ll stick with being a Baby Baby Boomer, thank you very much!