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Monday
Jul081996

Generation Why

[NPR, "All Things Considered," July 8, 1996]

When my daughter came home from college she announced she wants to paint something else on her car. It’s already covered with daisies. Now she wants to add cartoon depictions of the Beatles, Yellow-Submarine style, on the doors. The tape rack inside is filled with Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors. "Everybody I like is dead," she says. Her brother David is a couple of years younger. His golden hair flows over his shoulders, and he’s attempting by sheer force of willpower to generate a moustache and goatee. Wire-rim glasses complete the look. The other day I found him bent over his guitar, picking out the chords to Bob Dylan’s "Like a Rolling Stone."

The funny thing is, I was picking out those same chords twenty-five years ago. I had granny glasses and daisies and boyfriends with long hair. It’s strange to see it all reappearing decades later. Why are my children reliving my life? Being around them is like stepping into my own high school yearbook.

When I was a teenager, I wasn’t sneaking off with my mother’s old Sinatra records. I didn’t try to copy her shiny post-war hairstyle. The whole idea was rebellion. What’s confusing me is the current crop of teenagers’ penchant for conformity—conformity to my adolescence, my rebellion.

Maybe this is just the fruit of an amazingly successful marketing ploy. About the time the Baby Boomers’ kids became teenagers, we started recalling our tie-dyed years fondly. We resurrected our stars and styles and told our kids, "Isn’t this cool?" And they fell for it. As my daughter said at the time of the megahyped Woodstock II, "They just want us to spend our money on their old recycled hippie culture. We’re always celebrating some Boomer anniversary. Our whole present is just Boomer past."

Generation X may feel compelled to walk in lockstep twenty years behind the boomers. But another generation is coming up right behind them. My youngest son, Stephen, falls over the line into Generation Y. His hair is short, and his clothes are snappy and carefully coordinated. Lately he’s taken to referring to himself as "Stevebo" and "the old Steverino." His Mother’s Day card to me read, "We love ya, ya big lug!"

My son, the 14-year-old Ratpacker. It’s not my teen years that he’s reliving; he’s skipped right over me and gone straight to a previous generation: his grandmother’s. I wonder if my mom still has those old Dean Martin records. I think she’s in for a surprise.

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