Where Are You, Gen Xers?

My current job, working as the Senior Writer/Editor for a foundation at a land-grant university, involves sharing stories, Tweets, photos, and more on various social media. Most recently, on #GivingTuesday, I was checking out articles on LinkedIn, one of which mentioned “how to get Millennials to donate.” Since two of my children are Millennials in their early 20s, and I volunteer for another local foundation, I clicked on the link.

About 2/3 of the way into the article, I came across a paragraph that compared Millennial philanthropic trends with Baby Boomer trends. I kept reading, waiting to see how Gen Xers felt about philanthropy. Guess what? There was no mention of Gen Xers in the entire article. Zip. Zero. Zilch. So, I became curious. And like a Millennial, I went to Google and typed in Generation X.

Suddenly, a whole new world opened to me. I was born in 1968 and have always considered myself a Gen Xer. With a brother born in ’66 and one in ’75, I’m also the middle child. Coincidentally, Gen Xers are called the Neglected Middle Child, mostly because there are 70 million plus Boomers and 70 million plus Millennials, and there are only 50 million plus Gen Xers. Why the discrepancy? Well, lucky for us, even though the hippies were having a lot of sex, in the early 70s, birth control and legalized abortion helped them have fewer children.

After visiting a few more websites, I found conflicting information regarding the specific dates that designated a person as a Gen Xer. My theory holds at this: Gen Xers were born in between the early 60s and the early 80s. And, similar to astrology, if your birthdate straddles those years, you are said to be on the cusp, or a cusper. So, my uncle John, for instance, who was born in 1965, probably has Boomer and Gen Xer traits.

When I think about my being a Gen Xer, I think about being a child of divorced Boomer parents who needed to “find themselves,” walking everywhere by myself, and being raised on or by television. I often joke that my father (a single parent until I was six) used the TV as a babysitter. Through my research, I discovered I wasn’t alone. Many, if not most, Gen Xers were left home alone with little more than the TV and their siblings to keep them company. It’s probably why we love pop culture!

On a positive note, Gen Xers are independent, resilient, hard-working, and have a sardonic wit. I remember bristling, years ago, when I heard us called the “Slacker Generation.” WTF? When I was 12 I got a paper route. And from that moment on, my father gave me no more spending money. So then I worked as a babysitter. Then as a lifeguard. McDonald’s manager. Nursing home diet aid. Retail sales. Bakery cashier. Then, when I was 20, I joined the navy to get the G.I. Bill because my father wouldn’t help me pay for college.

I’m happy to report we are the generation responsible for creating Hip Hop and paving the way for ethnic diversity. When I think of my childhood, I think of Sesame Street, Captain Kangaroo, and the Electric Company, which we watched in second grade as part of our curriculum. Also, with my father, I watched shows like Good Times, What’s Happening, Laugh In, and the Sonny and Cher Show.

On a negative note, Gen Xers, because we were almost always left alone, referred to as the “latchkey” kids, and were often physically and sexually abused, have become the “most devoted parents in American history.” Some folks call us “helicopter parents.” Guilty as charged. Both of my adult daughters failed out of college, although they grew up watching me bust my butt to earn a BA, an MA, and an MFA, all in writing. I did that without parental support. My daughters have oodles of support. Have I killed their ability to stand on their own?

Anyway: this post is a plea. If you’re a Gen Xer, I want to hear from you! After all, peers are more important to us than parents. I plan to continue my research. If you want to share a story with me, please email me at cindyjoy68@gmail.com.


Childhood Injuries: Who Hurts More?

When I was 13, while skipping stones before a lake with a dozen of my classmates, I bent over to pick up a rock when someone accidentally hit me in the face with a boulder. My left front tooth broke in half, which hurt like the dickens. I started bawling and ran back to the cabin where we were all hanging out for the afternoon. The dentist fixed my tooth, and many years later my father told me, “When I saw your fat lip and tooth hanging, I started crying.”

When my daughter Jessie was four, she was bitten by a white German Shepherd. I rushed her to the E/R where she had to get four stitches on her lip. That night, I pored over the pages of her baby book. As I stared at her beautiful photos, all chubby cheeked and pig tailed, I cried. What a terrible mother I was–leaving Jessie alone with my mother-in-law and that crazy untrained dog. Of course it bit her! I didn’t deserve such a beautiful daughter.

My second daughter, Josie, is a bit more self-destructive. My husband, daughters, and I were all living in Bellingham, Washington, when Josie ran into our duplex and said, “I just stepped on a nail.” I’m a Gen Xer, okay. So, all I could think was, tetanus shot!!! One of my grad school buddies said “calling the fire fighters was cheaper than calling 9-1-1-” so we called the fire station. Turns out it’s not the rusty nail that causes infection, it’s the bacteria from the bottom of the shoe going into the skin. But later Josie told us, “I wanted to see what it would do.”

Nothing comes close to Kid #3, my son, whom I love to the moon. He’s allergic to tree nuts. In the last ten years of his life, he’s been to the E/R five times.

1: Age one- Grandma makes cookies with walnuts. Vinny eats one and then pukes. Breaks out into hives. Left side of his face swells. Dad gives epi-pen because of peanut allergy. Takes Vinny to the E/R.
2. Age five- Teacher gives Vinny cookie from grandma of classmate. Vinny pukes. Breaks out into hives. Dad gives epi-pen. Takes him to E/R.
3. Age six- Vinny eats toffee with almonds. Lies to family and says allergy was caused from COOP bread. Mother throws fit at the COOP and threatens to notify the local media. Gets them to install allergy signs on all foods. (yay)
4. Age eight- Vinny’s best friend makes him a sandwich with “nutty bread” containing “almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and Brazil nuts.” After Vinny complains of a burning sensation on his tongue, Eric comes and injects Vinny with epi-pen, but Vinny spends the night in ICU and needs a ventilator. His entire body is covered with hives.
5. Age ten- Vinny’s home from school because of a cough. He makes a frozen dinner with vegetarian ravioli, not knowing it contains walnuts. He takes one bite, says, “I have that nut feeling.” After we read the ingredients, mother gives him epi-pen and rushes him to the E/R.

I called in at work, spent most of the day in the E/R and ICU watching Vinny get poked and injected full of Benedryl. He says his vision is blurry and that he feels weird. All I can think of is what his life will be like as an adult–when his father and I am not around. When he’s negotiating his own life–no mother or father policing his decisions, looking for dangerous foods. I start to cry.

Finding a Mother’s Day Card

Every May I sift through the glut of greeting cards
with their glowing notes: Thank you for raising me,
You’ve always been there, and To my best friend.
I look for the one that says, Enjoy your day,
because Carla, as my mother signs letters to me,
was never a Mom. She and my father split up
when I was a baby, and Dad told her never to come back.
She went away to college, traveled the world,
let another woman feed me, bathe me, beat me
with leather belts. I see her in a black turtleneck and
blue jeans, svelte, five-ten, hair to her waist, bright green eyes,
cheek bones that could slice paper. She sips Scotch,
smokes Marlboro Reds, poses for art students, sketches
self-portraits. At 40, she walks down the aisle, again,
settles into a new life in New England, spends her days
in an art studio piecing magazine clippings into collage art,
teaching millionaires’ wives how to paint. We met once
in my hometown, hugged like strangers, dined on prime rib,
returned to our separate lives of sending letters
about the weather. Some friends say I owe her judgment,
others, respect. As every new spring brings
its buckets of rain, I wonder what we owe each other.

The Cobbler’s Daughter-a Memoir in the Making

For more than a decade, I have been writing my childhood memoir, The Cobbler’s Daughter. Keep in mind, a memoir is a “slice of time” from an author’s life, i.e., this is my first twenty years. And since I hope to live to at least 100, I have four more books in the recesses of my brain. Ha!

But seriously, sometimes you hear a person say, “You’re 45? You’re too young to write a memoir.” Not really. It depends on how much has happened in your life—and how much time you have had to reflect. I know a writer who could have written one at age 30. And you should, Alisha.

Why do I think anyone cares about my life story? Because I have cared so deeply about the lives of others: Autobiography of a Face. This Boy’s Life. The Glass Castle. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Hungry for the World. Mommie Dearest. To name a few.

Every one of these memoirs touched me in a profound way, and I will be channeling these authors as I write. I will also channel the hearts and minds of my beloved father and brother, who have gone before me, and who played such significant roles in my life before I turned twenty.

Moving My Blog to WordPress

Dad and two kids

Hello, friends:

For all of you who’ve stood by me since my blog Against All Odds, I am moving the Cobbler’s Daughter blog to WordPress. Stay tuned for more poetry, stories about the Leather Shoe Shop, my children, and whatever life hands me.

More to come!

Love you all.