I was born right on the cusp between Generation X (slackers) and the Millennials (sellouts). Like a Millennial, I’ve lived most of my life online; I’ve had a blog in one form or another since I was 15 years old—before the word “blog” really existed—starting with a hideous GeoCities page that is now thankfully defunct. But when I tell friends who are just a few years younger than me that, in college, my now-husband and I would use our leftover meal-plan dollars to buy blank cassettes and make mix tapes for each other, they look at me like I’m talking about engraving a wax cylinder for Edison’s phonograph.
With my parents, though, there’s no such ambiguity: They are Baby Boomers. Legend has it they fell in love during a cross-country road trip in a VW Bus that barely had enough engine power to make it over the Rockies; it’s a trip my mom informed my grandfather of via a note left on the kitchen table. (“Don’t try it,” is always my mom’s coda to that story.) My dad often ruefully remembers that he kept his unripped, three-day Woodstock ticket in a wallet that was eventually stolen. My mom, who worked for a television network at the time, less regretfully recalls that she had a chance to fly to Woodstock in a helicopter, but opted not to because she “heard it was going to rain.”
As the child of Baby Boomers, I often heard these anecdotes and more: stories about growing up in the Bronx that could’ve come straight out of a Betty Smith novel (albeit transported to a different borough), tales of hitchhiking (“don’t try it”), memories of Kennedy and Martin Luther King. “We were young and idealistic,” Mom remembers. “We realized that we had the power to affect change, and so we did.”
So, what’s it like to be raised by Boomers? I have suspicions that their priorities were, well, different from their parents’. When I was in junior high and I was caught cutting day camp to go to the Galleria, my parents pretty much just shrugged. But, when I was in elementary school and looked at a picture of four mop-topped Beatles and said that they all looked exactly alike, they yelled at me.
That’s not the only way they were different from my grandparents. “We got on the floor and played with our kids,” Dad says. “Our parents didn’t after we could walk. We encouraged our kids to be heard as well as seen.” My parents were hands-on; growing up was full of road trips in a Malibu station wagon listening to Simon & Garfunkel and family dinners where the kids were so “heard” we barely let our parents get a word in edgewise. If my sister and I asked nicely, Mom would pull out the ironing board, throw towels over our heads, and iron our hair to a degree of straightness the Chi still hasn’t been able to master.
Recently, I asked my parents what Boomers wanted for their children as they grew into adults. “True to our free thinking,” Dad says, “We tried to redefine success for our kids from success in the business world to one of self-fulfillment.” Dad tells me this from his cabin in the Finger Lakes, where he often emails me photos of his growing herd of alpacas; he defines success by example.
It’s one of the few ways my parents are similar. Like the former hitchhiker she is, Mom hoped we’d be inspired by her generation’s willingness to pick up and go. “We had choices,” Mom says, “and, even after we made those choices, we realized we could change our minds and start anew.” Still in Westchester, Mom made a career change around the time I was graduating college; we finished up our shiny new degrees one right after another.
So, while sometimes—behind their backs—I roll my eyes at yet another story about how the Boomers saved the world (sorry Mom and Dad!), watching my parents did instill something in me, something their generation fought hard for: freedom. The freedom to decide that I’d rather be at the mall than day camp. A freedom that meant I could choose find my own, nontraditional image of success (with the slackers), or dive headfirst and try to make my own mark on the world (with the sellouts). I could do whatever I wanted—so long as I learned how to tell the Beatles apart.