I grew up in the 70s and 80s. I spent my youth trying to figure out where I fit in the precarious space between my parents’ world and mine. I was ready to move out at 10. I am serious. I was like, “ok, so I feel like the last decade I learned a great deal and now it is time that I stop sponging off my parents and get on with this whole living business…”
My parents are lovely people and it was not so much to get away from them (and lord knows I accepted their support — financial and otherwise — for years to come) but because at the ripe old age of 10, I felt like I had already lived a lifetime and so because of that, I was ready to take on the world.
I wasn’t. I know that now. I benefitted immensely for the protective cover and rearing that the next seven years brought me, and the financial assistance that continued far beyond that…
But at 10 I felt 30. And I have some very good reasons for that feeling, and I also have no good reasons for feeling that way. I think my generation just looked at the world differently. Not in some manner that means that we were this exceptional generation that never before felt this way. Each generation brings with it a culture, an ethos, a way of being. And we being raised by people who were raised by people who lived through the Great Depression and the 1960s, were so raised by a confluence of factors, feelings, trends and change.
Our parents were getting divorced and they were consuming (alcohol, drugs, sex, consumerables — yes I made that word up — it has been awhile…it was time) and they were working in the Trickle Down Economics that never quite seemed to deliver any flow, so the trickle was really just a boondoggle that only served to get them in debt and doing more of the consuming to avoid the problems created by all the consuming.
And there we were, latch key kids, being left to our own devices after school, where we partook in our parents liquor cabinets, prescription meds, porn and began to figure out the world we lived in without a great deal of adult input. Family dinners were rapidly becoming a thing of the past (although my family had family dinner pretty much every night). Single moms were raising the kids on their own, often while working several jobs to make ends meet. The dads were fucking their secretaries and then marrying them and starting their lives over, swearing that they would get it right this time.
And there we were in the middle of all that. Growing up, feeling disconnected, alone, adrift while also having a complete feeling that it shouldn’t be other than exactly the way it was. I didn’t want my parents around, actually I wanted them around less. Much less to be honest. I thought I knew shit and was sure that I could manage just fine on my own. I was not alone in this feeling or movement. We kept secrets, we hid things and we pretty much saw our parents and the parents of our friends as Enemy Numero Uno and created elaborate evasive maneuvers to keep our whereabouts and activities on the down low and off the parental radar.
For me, I saw that education was important, I saw this because that is what I was told, repeatedly, for years. So I knew that fucking up in school would not be tolerated. So I made the deal, not with my parents, but with myself. I would have to keep up with school and my grades to stay off the parental radar. Check!
Sports also seemed important to the folks so having something that I did that was extracurricular (besides drinking) would have to be managed (tennis, diving, soccer) were all places I could disappear to so as to stay further off the parental sonar. Check!
So I look back and find it completely reasonable that I felt 30 at 10. And it worked, all of it. I went to school and did the sports thing and pretty much got to do what I wanted, when I wanted. Lying becoming the currency of my generation, keeping my parents in the dark about where I was, what I was doing and who I was doing it with.
I was smoking at 12, drinking at 12 1/2 and living for the party by 13.
Fast forward 40 years…
Now I am in my 50s. And I still feel 30. I can’t explain my prolonged adolescent nature other than to say that perhaps I feel on some level that I missed something growing up since I felt 30 at 10. So perhaps now I am reclaiming my youth by refusing to act my age, and instead live my life as a 30 year old in her 20th year.
There is a stubborn, non-conformist strain shot through my generation…often quite self destructive and resulting in a great number Gen X’ers not really ever making it to see their 30th birthday, let alone 50. We have been on a crash course in this life, so many of us never figuring out that all that childhood that grew us up so fast, was a great source of pain, but also a great source of strength that we could use to move forward in a less self destructive manner, and instead use all that happened to us as a catalyst to heal the childhood wounds, and leave the self destructive nihilism back in the 1980s where it belonged.
It is hard to be 10, 30 and 50 all at the same time. I am never really sure which decade of me is living my current life. Sometimes I am so 10 it is frightening. Sometimes I am so 30 it is embarrassing and often times, mostly with my body, I wake up and realize that I am fucking 53 and am so very fucking disappointed.
Soren Kierkegaard said “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. I get that. And this stop and start living of looking backward while attempting to live forward is perhaps why I feel that me and my fellow Gen X’ers might have this odd feeling of being 30 at 10 and 30 at 50. We are constantly searching the past for understanding and moving forward as best we can with all that we have at our disposal, attempting to make sense of all that we learned, all we have needed to unlearn and all that we have come to know that is worthwhile and meaningful in this life. All while attempting to parent, work, “succeed” (whatever that means) and outgrow our feral upbringing which was often lightly parent supervised and often quite untamed and wild.
And we move on, one day at a time, mostly with the benefit of a great deal of therapy, pharmaceuticals and 12 step programs with our 30 year old 50 year old selves. Determined to do it our way, no matter fucking what vascillating constantly between being a kid, a young adult and this middle aged person who spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to understand the past, while always living in the present and attempting to move forward with this life that is straddled over 50 years…and counting.
I guess the upshot will be that when I am 70, I will still act 30, which will be confusing and a problem for my children…which seems fitting. Perhaps Gen X’ers are incapable of ever attaining that illustrious status of solid adult, and perhaps that is because we grew up having to fight for our right to party! And partying was the only thing that mattered.