Because my daughters learned in High School that statistically I was born into what is labeled as “The Baby Boomer” generation, we have been having an ongoing argument about such said status. It started when one night in a restaurant I (loudly) argued that I was not a Boomer, would never be a Boomer, you couldn’t make me a Boomer, so, Boom. I’m done with that.
It is a family joke. Last night a friend posted a link to this article by Debra Ollivier, So You Think You’re a Boomer? Think Again. So I reposted it and tagged all my family with the witty remark: BOOM. This morning I woke way too early with this conversation rattling around my early morning brain (because my daughters were “Booming” me as I went to bed last night, perhaps), but also because I finally figured out against what I have been rebelling with regard to being labeled a Boomer.
You can tell me all you want that because I was born in 1962 that I am a Baby Boomer–but my LIVED EXPERIENCE cannot match what is portrayed as that of the ones I call the true Boomers. Ollivier provided some really helpful ways to consider this:
I was born in 1960, when nearly half the population of the United States was under eighteen years of age. I was too young for Woodstock and Civil Rights protests. I was a toddler when JFK was shot. I didn’t take LSD and “turn on, tune in, drop out.” Vietnam raged but my peers were far from getting drafted. I remember the slogans — Make Love, Not War. Question Authority. Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty – but the reigning popular icon of my day was the Happy Face button, not the Flower Power decal.
It was this idea that was permeating my sleep this a.m. and clarified for me what my rebellion is about. You see, I think the label fits those who had some semblance of autonomy during the late 1960s and 1970s. I attended peace rallies in the 60s, but on my father’s shoulders, not on my own two legs. The old joke is if you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there–but for many of us lumped into that generational category–we couldn’t remember it not because we were high on illicit drugs, but because we were high on Captain Crunch!
Much more cogent thoughts went through my head as I lay in bed, barely sleeping, but the gist of it is this: I don’t identify as a Baby Boomer and that should be enough. I didn’t have those shared experiences of attending Woodstock or being heartbroken by the killings of the Kennedys and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When I think of Baby Boomers, I picture The Big Chill–and I mean I picture the cast of characters from The Big Chill and the range they represent. There are no people of color represented in this cast, only Jeff Goldblum to add religious diversity to a very white gathering.
As a very white woman who is cognizant of the unearned privilege that goes with the color of my skin, when I think of Baby Boomers, my mind does not include people of color born in those same years. The reason my brain doesn’t categorize that way is because I think of Baby Boomers as having the freedom to choose for themselves how they will react to the world around them; I see them as unfettered by law, by tradition, by expectation. I think of them as privileged beyond anything seen up to that time. They had choices that were unprecedented in generations before. Frankly, when the term “Baby Boomer” comes up, the picture in my head is of a group of people who expected the world to be their oyster simply because they showed up.
And by the time I came of age, those oysters had all been stewed and consumed. Which may make me seem bitter that I wasn’t so entitled, I guess. But that’s not what I’m trying to get at here. I’m trying to understand my own personal animus to being labeled as a Boomer–not expressing animus against Boomers.
The family joke is that I am part of a generation that I won’t claim and they insist that I do. While I can’t deny the definition as outlined by some sociologist, I can argue that the definition is not just a set of years, but a set of shared experiences. And if The Big Chill and The Wonder Years outline what those shared experiences are, they aren’t mine.
This is why, too, in my mind, the moniker doesn’t fit for people in historically marginalized populations. In my mind, if you had the choice to drop in or drop out or both, you fit the label. It isn’t just that in 1970s you drove a VW rather than a Schwinn with a banana seat (as cool as that was), or that your first understanding of Jane Fonda had nothing to do with Barbarella or Hanoi, but of Spandex, it is the mode of understanding how you could move about in the world that, again IN MY MIND, defines you as a Boomer.
I own that this is not rational, nor does it fit in any demographic understanding. But it does help me to identify why I rage when my daughters call me a boomer. It helps me to understand what I have always known: we can explain things in parameters, or we can explain them in experiences. Both are important, but when someone rails against logic smartly outlined, there is usually something else going on. For me, it is that my lived experience is not that of the people portrayed as Boomers over and over and over again in our shared cultural understanding. And so, on this, I shall exercise my option to opt out.
And now, to work, because I’m not old enough to retire yet. BOOM!