People think Baby Boomers are the “sandwich” generation, sandwiched between caring for their children and caring for aging parents. That is not the case in my family, perhaps because we don’t have many Boomers. Most of us are between 30 and 43 years old, officially Generation X. And we’re the ones being sandwiched.
As you probably know, last week was my family reunion, named after my late grandparents – Margaret Dunbar and Willie B. Walker. They were married for over 60 years, raised a brood of 9, and they were hardcore. Old school. They believed in discipline, all kinds. Their kids had to work, go to school, go to church and generally be productive. The Dunbar-Walker children got the switch for any of a series of infractions, most having to do with sass and lack of respect. They also got a “talking to” from Granddaddy and even though I didn’t know him well, I’d rather have died than go through that. He was tall and impressive, and you just didn’t want to disappoint him. A few of my aunts confess to having been afraid of him (my mother was not, as she often got the “sass” beat out of her; we have that in common).
Anyway, the Dunbar-Walker children were fruitful and multiplied – 21 grandchildren – and spared no rod in raising unspoiled children. Like our parents, we didn’t have lots of money (who has money when you have 9 kids?), but we took lots of car trips to each others’ homes. Who needs summer camp when you can camp out with your cousins? Which brings me back to the family reunions at which, for years, all the Dunbar-Walker kids and grandkids convened at my Granny’s in the summer. We were put in a room and told to play nice. We walked around the one-horse town, sneaked firecrackers, drank Coke in a glass bottle, and had generally good kid fun. We had no choice but to like each other, which we did and still do. It wasn’t much, but its the reason we’re all still close, and are successful people in life and in career.
Fast forward to 2009, our family reunion cruise, Dunbar-Walker children, grandchildren, and great-grands in attendance. First let me say that I love my family dearly. And I love my godchildren – my cousin Leslie’s kids – to death: they’re smart and funny and have the best little personalities. When my godson was called on his quasi-violent conversation, he responded “I guess I watch too much TV.” Awesome. Anyway, the godchildren and others of their generation were enjoying the pleasures of the Caribbean cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line. Needless to say, their parents had never known such pleasures as children. I’m telling you, this ship was replete with kid-friendly activities. Of the 2 small pools, the largest was the “kiddie pool”. The 4 jacuzzis on board were open to all ages, though half were apparently off limits. There was another shallow pool for kids, a daily camp-type activity, family movie night, and all manner of PG goings-on for the little ones. It was an under 13 free for all, and I would have given up desserts for a month (not that I was allowed to have dessert) to be on that ship for ONE DAY, let alone 4. If you’re considering a cruise with your children, NCL is the place for you, and Norwegian Sky is the ship. If you don’t have kids and are in your 30’s, stay away and opt for Royal Caribbean. Or better yet, skip the cruise altogether and just go to Hedonism.
On day 2 of the cruise, we (the D-W grandchildren) wanted to ship the kids off to the Youth Programs for the day. This is where the kids are divided by age group and wrangled into cruise happiness. Fun, no? My godchildren were having none of it. While I was happy that they actually wanted to spend time with us, I was a bit annoyed. It’s our vacation too! We need some adult time, dag-nabbit, and you have to go. They pouted, and sighed, and tried to bargain with us. I disagreed. The retort? “Aunt Mary said we didn’t have to go.” Indeed Mary is my aunt – Mommy’s sister – and my godmother, and one of the elders that we were all taught to respect. But she wasn’t in loco parentis up in this piece, so she didn’t get a vote. Particularly if she wasn’t going to watch them during the hours of the proposed Youth Program. My cousin Lisa, the official shipboard guardian, waffled. I told the kids that Auntie Lisa and Auntie Tracey needed grown-up fun, but we still loved them. Seriously, what were they complaining about? Even at my age, if someone wanted to gather together a group of my peers and engage us in some age-appropriate activities I’d be on it like a Westside whore on a New Jersey businessman. But, the new youngsters thought it was punishment, being forced to play games and make friends without parents. On a cruise ship. In the Bahamas. I told them to get a grip and reminded them that actual punishment is going to bed without ice cream. Then I ordered another round of drinks.
The next day after the family dinner, these same children declared their desire to go swimming because some of their cruise friends would be at the pool. Parental response: ‘Oh, HELL no.” Generation X was in full effect, pretty much because we’d been on kid detail for days and were in some need of adult after-dark time. Having spent hours in the pool that day keeping a hawk-eye on 6 of our kids, I’d had enough. And on her 10th night with niece and nephew, Auntie Lisa was done too, but far more open to guilt-tripping. Still, “no” was on the table, and apparently useless, as our parents began to negotiate and a full-on discussion of whether swimming was appropriate ensued. Huh? I never negotiated with my parents, what they said was the law. But here they were, engaging in prolonged discussion with a 10 year old about what will be done and when. Was I in a parallel universe? Where was the unilateral decision-making? The respectful lack of backtalk? The reluctant obeisance sans lip? And, once again, our parents were negotiating for an activity that we would supervise: their plans for the evening involved slot machines, no minors allowed.
Such is the particular joy of the Generation X sandwich: we may be sandwiched between taking care of children and elders, but we’re also sandwiched between raising our kids the way we were raised, and the revisionist disciplinary history of our parents, who’ve apparently forgotten everything they ever knew about kids. Start negotiating with them about bedtimes and activities and they’ll grow up thinking everything is negotiable. They sense a chink in the parenting armor and you’ll be manipulated into buying every toy, every sugary cereal, every video game they can find. There’s a reason that you can’t have kids when you are a kid yourself: because with age comes experience, and knowledge, and judgment. You fork over the judgment to the under-13 crowd, and you’re pretty much telling them “I know nothing, so feel free to question everything I tell you.” So not good, especially when you have to return them to their mother on the weekend.
I was raised with a healthy, respectful fear of my parents. I wasn’t afraid of them, per se, but afraid of disappointing them because they had expectations. And they expressed those expectations by guiding my behavior, and disciplining me when it got too far afield. There was minimal spanking, and it worked. All my mother had to do was say “where’s my belt?”, and the threat made me fall in. Crying about not getting what you want? “Stop crying before I give you something to cry for,” or my favorite, “The more you cry, the less you pee.” Classic Dorothy Mae Walker Lloyd. I sucked it up and learned that in life, you never get everything that you want, but you’ll live through it. These were good lessons, and my generation is the better for them. However, we’re still kinda living in that healthy fear of our parents. We can’t negotiate with them because we never did it, so when they say “let the kids play” on their way out the door, we can’t disobey. We try, but get the same stern looks that we saw growing up. Then we suck it up and do what everyone else wants.
So, when you ask our parents about the cruise, they’ll tell you how wonderful it was, how entertaining the ship was, and how much fun the kids had. When you ask the kids, they’ll talk about everything they got to do, the new friends they made, bonding with their cousins, and ice cream every day. They’ll all talk about spending time together, and how awesome it was to have 39 family members together for 4 days, which really is the point. I’m not going to lie, it was a great time. But ask my cousins and me, the Generation X crowd, and we’ll tell you that we’re still tired and need another vacation.