Some great, well-written pieces are out there about how Generation X is the generation best positioned to muddle through these Coronavirus times, and why we have the strength and self-sufficiency to self-quarantine. I totally agree, but don’t think that necessarily makes it any better for us.
Yes – as latchkey kids, we learned and literally held the key to independence and responsibility for letting ourselves in, and entertaining ourselves once home. Staying there until our parents got home from work, or running around the neighborhood, but knowing – by the sunset – when to return. We had hours of unstructured time, and handled it. Thrived in it, actually.
As an only child and introvert, I sought out neighborhood kids when I wanted to; got exercise when I felt like it by walking through my apartment’s back yard and into the alley for a lively game of kick-the-can. I played Space Invaders on Atari. I did homework. I rarely watched the clock or got bored.
For some years, I got to enjoy a stepbrother and stepsister. We didn’t have tons of free time, but, when we did, we simply found stuff to do. We made peanut-butter marshmellow fudge, watched VHS movies, went ice skating in the park outside our living room in winters, and chased the ice cream man and ran through sprinklers in summers.
We weren’t trying to pass the time, like our kids do now, though now I realize that’s what we were doing. We were just enjoying the time.
Noone gave us schedules or very many rules. There was a street we couldn’t cross and that was our border. Other than that, we navigated on our own, whenever.
Many of us also lived through realities of divorce and blended families, split-level classes and chaos in public schools, missing kids appearing on milk cartons, and, later, for some of us, one of the worst job markets for college grads ever. But we grew up with hope and belief fueled by telephone lines where Santa or “The Weather” actually answered. We were shocked, thrilled, sort of shaken, or excited. But we were always bold and brave in the face of adversity. Like we must be now.
I don’t know how much of this is simply a reflection of growing up in the 80s, of growing up in an urban Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, or my family’s world. But I am pretty sure it’s all of those things. But wherever GenX kids grew up, I am guessing we share a common strength and history – finding and pursuing interests on our own, adaptation in uncertainty, self-reliance in chaos, pride in perservering.
Before I go on too long about what seems to be turning into a tribute to growing up in the broken but beloved Eighties (sigh), let’s get back to today. Being cooped-up in the Coronavirus outbreak sucks – yes. But we can do it. We must do it. GenX can resurface the strength to do it. But we don’t have to like it just because it may come easier to us.
We are grown-ups now, with realizations about where health falls in the list of priorities and where it can fail, and where happiness may (or may not) be found. Even if we weren’t quarantined, we would not be running around the neighborhood so carefree anymore, other than maybe running to lose that middle-age weight or driving our kids down the road to endlessly overscheduled activities. But we remember what it's like to make the most of our freedom.
We know change and challenges. We are self-sufficient and resilient and we just know how to find stuff to do. We shaped our worlds, created our own entertainment. Our kids and parents need us to help them do that now. Millennials, Generation Z, and the Baby Boomers are going to need that – and us. As I write this, my state of Maryland just declared a stay-at-home directive. So, Generation X, stay strong, even when it sucks to do so.