Another GenXer Lives to Tell: Parenting Through the Generations

Once upon a time, people woke up and read the newspaper. On weekends, perhaps they’d do the crossword puzzle or share the funnies with their kids. As time marched on, people stopped sitting down to breakfast and instead of the paper, they switched on the TV to listen to the news and hear the weather forecast. Today, upon waking, we reach for our phones to silence our alarms, and shortly after, start scrolling through various news feeds before beginning our day.

It was during this ritual on Monday morning, when I came across this tweet by @thebradking.

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Reading through the comments sparked nostalgia for my own upbringing. Born in 1978, I’m on the cusp of being a Millennial, but lugging my sister’s Brother typewriter with me to college cemented my GenX status.

Due to the popularity of his tweet, Brad King went on to post this: “GenX Tribe: Breaking Bones and Other Stories of Walking it Off,” which got me thinking…

While I have never broken a bone, my daughter has. As part of the GenZ cohort, hers was a similar story to many of those shared by the GenXers responding to King’s tweet.

It was my first day back at work for the new school year. Our children wouldn’t begin until the following week, so I had hired our babysitter and given her permission to walk to the park with the kids. My daughter decided that rather than walk, she’d Skip-it there.

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{via Giphy.com}

When the Skip-it, along with many other 80’s and 90’s toys, recently made a come-back, I thought it was a clever marketing idea. I got a kick out of watching the mom in Target trying out a Pogo Ball in the aisle while her kid, trapped in the cart, continued playing on his tablet.

I never loved the Pogo Ball, but the Skip-it was my jam, which explains why, when I saw them being sold again, my kids I had to have one. In hindsight, it was an expensive mistake.

The walk to the park from our house is half a mile, downhill. If you’ve ever used a Skip-it, you know that momentum is key. If you ever Skipped-it while walking to the park…You probably haven’t because that is an utterly ridiculous idea that only a nine-year-old would have. Had I been home, I would have looked at her like she was crazy and told her no, crushing her spirit like only a mother can. But since she was in the care of a fifteen-year-old (partially developed prefrontal cortex and whatnot), this is what happened:

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As my daughter tried to keep the Skip-it in motion, and because she was also headed down a hill with a spinning ball hooked to her ankle, she ended up going faster and faster until, at full speed, she tripped herself. Putting out her hands to break the fall, she came crashing down on her own wrist.

When I came home from work, the babysitter told me about the spill. I asked some questions, checked it out, and found her arm a bit swollen, but it wasn’t bruised and she wasn’t crying or howling in pain at my touch. She moved it around for me, and so, we did what any parent would do: We took her to the hospital.

Did that sound right to you? Of course we didn’t take her to the hospital! We gave her an ice pack. We wrapped it in an Ace bandage. We kept an eye on it and asked her how it felt. Meanwhile, we took her to golf practice where she swung her clubs for an hour, and we took her to soccer practice where she ran drills with the ball. We took her to the water park where she went down slides and swam in the wave pool. We took her to a birthday party (at another park) where she practiced trying to make it all the way across the monkey bars. We did all this for two whole days. It wasn’t until day three that we took her to the doctor, and only because the swelling hadn’t gone down yet, not because she was complaining.

She had broken her wrist in two places requiring that she get a rather large cast that went from her hand all the way up to her armpit. After eight weeks in that sucker, she got a smaller cast for the last four weeks, thankfully getting it off just before we went on vacation.

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The comments on Brad King’s Twitter feed don’t just talk about broken bones that weren’t attended to, but being left outside to play for hours (unsupervised), being latch-key kids (after school and all day long in the summertime), and taking care of one’s own college admission packets (gasp!). There are stories of riding bikes without helmets, and sitting unbuckled in the back seat of the car—in the middle so as to have a better view. Parents smoked in the car and in the house, feeding their children bologna sandwiches on Wonder Bread.

As a kid, I never owned a bike helmet. To this day, I still forget to buckle when I’m in the back seat. I drove myself (eight hours) to my college orientation, pre-Siri. And while my mother was always a fan of whole wheat bread, I have had my fair share of bologna sandwiches.

For GenXers, this was our childhood, and despite the few commenters who claim it was negligence and abuse, we’re no far worse because of it.

My mother laughs about how, when we were babies, she used to hold me and my sister on her lap while my father drove the car. She’d take our little baby arms and make us wave to the neighboring cars when they were stopped at a red light. (Britney Spears did something like this once circa 2006 and was publicly shamed for it.)

My mother will tell you that for many of the parenting decisions they made, they just didn’t know any better, and I think that’s the god’s honest truth.

When my father lit up a Winston while in the car with us, he wasn’t purposefully ignoring the dangers of second-hand smoke; his knowledge was limited to a Surgeon General’s warning that smoking may be hazardous to one’s health. While those warnings sometimes addressed pregnant women who smoked, they never mentioned the three kids who were riding backwards in the third seat of the station wagon making faces at the cars behind them.

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{via knowyourmeme.com}

Partway down King’s Twitter feed, I found a comment that read, “This thread completely sucks. Parents, do better.” But as Maya Angelou (and my own mother) said, people do better when they know better, and we (mostly) know better now.

Regardless of what we know, we are also a product of our upbringing. The fact that my mother continues to hang onto a biscuit cutter that she’s had since before I was born (wooden handle with chipped red paint that likely contains lead) is probably because she was raised by parents from the Silent Generation who fixed things when they were broken (although, not their children’s bones) and rarely threw anything away.

Evidence of this frugality showed up the other day in my own home when I cut up a cucumber for my daughters to eat with their lunch. After snacking on only a few slices, my youngest threw the rest in the trash. Hearing the wet thud it made as it hit the bottom of the garbage can triggered something in me and I lectured her for way too long about the starving children in Africa. Whether it was because of my mother’s upbringing or because, as a single mom, she often didn’t have the resources to go to the store and pick up all that was needed for dinner, I was raised to never waste food. In my home, we eat our leftovers. I may end up feeding some to the dogs, but rarely will you see food in my house go to waste, even if it is a 33-cent cucumber.

The “Parents, do better” comment is typical of the self-righteous, judgmental online culture we face today. My parents (like most parents) were trying to do better. When my mom held us on her lap, she probably thought that it was safer than having us roll around in the back seat. Had the five-point harness been invented, I know she’d have used it.

With the advancement of technology, we have access to way more information than our parents ever did. With my firstborn, I spent hours online researching the safest forward-facing car seats. It wasn’t a question of which one we could afford, it was a question of which one was best, with every reviewer’s opinion weighing in.

Even when we’re not actively seeking it, online parenting advice often comes unsolicited. Take Jersey Shore’s Deena Cortese , for example, who was recently mom-shamed for a photo she posted of her newborn in his car seat on the way home from the hospital.

In the end though, the parents of today, just like the parents of yesterday, mostly defer to doing what feels right, and often, parenting the way our parents did isn’t such a terrible idea. (If you haven’t kicked your kids outside to play in a while, I highly recommend it.)

Despite which generation we belong to, no matter how much we learn or what we do, we’ll never perfect parenting. Nor will the perfect parent ever exist.

I hope the day comes when my daughters will reminisce about their childhood with each other like my sister and I do, or reminisce online with a group of strangers who belong to the same generational tribe. My youngest might laugh about that time I totally freaked out for her having thrown away half a cucumber. My oldest already sees the humor in how she spent several days with a broken arm before being taken to urgent care. My husband and I will chuckle too, especially when our children become parents themselves and get to experience what it’s like to be the ones making the judgement calls, because in the end, isn’t that really what parenting is all about?

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My Top 10 Reads of 2018

A couple of years ago, I decided to keep a list of all the books I read in a year. After recording the twenty-somewhat books of that year, my competitive nature showed itself and I decided I would read more the following year. I set a goal to read at least 25 books in 2018. I ended up reading 38. In addition to those titles I completed, I also abandoned a few. When I was younger, I wouldn’t have dared to not finish something I’d started, but I’ve come to that place in life where I no longer feel I’ve got something to prove. Life’s too short and there are far too many books out there to waste time on the ones that don’t thrill me.

This year, unlike last with My 18 Resolutions for 2018, I haven’t been able to decide what my goals for the new year will be yet. Sure, I want to get more fit and eat healthier, but that’s nothing new. I’d like to replace screen-time with face-time or even just me-time, but as for the big goals, this year I am going to have to wait to see what life unfolds. Whatever my intentions end up being, I know reading will be a part of it, so for those of you who also enjoy curling up with a good book, here (in no particular order) are the top 10 books from my year of reading.

  1. The Untethered Souby Michael A. Singer (Non-fiction/Self-Help)

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“You are capable of ceasing the absurdity of listening to the perpetual problems of your psyche. You can put an end to it. You can wake up in the morning, look forward to the day, and not worry about what will happen. Your daily life can be like a vacation. Work can be fun; family can be fun; you can just enjoy all of it.”

I’d first heard about this book when I listened to an episode of Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations; I’d written about that experience in To Forgive, Divine, but at that time, I hadn’t read the book yet. Well, as the second book read last year, this one deserves a place on the list; it’s actually a great choice for starting a new year. This is the type of book you will want to read with a pen in hand. You’ll underline a phrase here and a quote there, and then eventually half of the page will be highlighted. You’ll write “WOW” in the margin or you’ll bracket off whole paragraphs that speak to you. There’s a reason it is a #1 New York Times Bestseller with more than one million copies sold.

  1. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (YA Fiction)

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“If you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.”

I’d had students who had read this book in the past and really enjoyed it, but I hadn’t read it myself until I planned to include it as a book club choice for my students last year. The story centers around three teens who are unlikely friends in a small, southern town, but it’s more than just a book about friendship. The protagonist’s father is a religious man who is in prison, but the story behind his imprisonment is disturbing, to say the least.

At one point, I had to put the book down, then pick it up and reread, then put it down again. “Did that just happen?” I asked my husband who wasn’t reading the book and therefore had no idea what I was talking about. “I can’t believe that just happened.” Later, when my students were reading it, they’d come into my classroom at lunch or in the morning to ask me, “Did that really happen?” While it is a YA book, it certainly doesn’t read like one.

  1. Educated by Tara Westover (Memoir)

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“I was an incurious student that semester. Curiosity is a luxury reserved for the financially secure; my mind was absorbed with more immediate concerns, such as the exact balance of my bank account, who I owed how much, and whether there was anything in my room I could sell for ten or twenty dollars.” 

 Every now and again, I read a memoir that depicts a life that is so incredibly different from my own and from anyone else’s with whom I am acquainted that I have to keep reminding myself that it isn’t a work of fiction. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs was one, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls was another, and Tara Westover’s Educated was a third. Westover beautifully tells the story of her childhood growing up in the mountains of Idaho with a father who did not believe in public education. She was seventeen when she first entered a traditional classroom yet ends up with a PhD from Cambridge University– although it came a a cost.

The quote above is a great example of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and a good reminder that not all students have the “luxury” of being engaged in school. This book has garnered a lot of praise and publicity this year, and it is definitely one that is worth the read.

  1. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison (Sci-Fi)

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“It does no good to tell a beautiful woman how beautiful she is. If she already knows, it gives her power over the fool who tells her. If she does not, there is nothing that can be said to make her believe it.” 

Sci-Fi is not usually my genre of choice, but a girl who I went to high school with (who is now a librarian) posted about this book on social media and I thought, if a librarian is posting about a book, then it’s worth a shot. It was. This was one of those picked-it-up-and-read-it-in-a-day kind of books. It’s a post-apocalyptic world where any woman who attempts to bear a child dies, as does that child. The protagonist, the midwife, is a fiercely independent woman determined to help save humanity.

This is Book 1 in The Road to Nowhere series, but despite liking this one a lot, I haven’t checked out any of the others.

  1. Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao (Fiction)

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“We girls. Afraid of the wrong things, at the wrong times. Afraid of a burned face, when outside, outside waiting for you are fires you cannot imagine. Men, holding matches up to your gasoline eyes. Flames, flames all around you, licking at your just-born breasts, your just-bled body. And infernos. Infernos as wide as the world. Waiting to impoverish you, make you ash, and even the wind, even the wind. Even the wind, my dear, she thought, watching you burn, willing it, passing over you, and through you. Scattering you, because you are a girl, and because you are ash.” 

If I had to pick ONE book that was my favorite read of the entire year, this would be it.

Girls Burn Brighter was not only beautifully written, but also told a story of friendship, love, and female empowerment unlike any other I’ve read. It was disturbing and heart-breaking, powerful and poignant. Every woman should add this book their list, then read it, then cry about it, then get together with friends and drink wine and talk about it together.

  1. There There by Tommy Orange (Fiction)

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“This is the thing: If you have the option to not think about or even consider history, whether you learned it right or not, or whether it even deserves consideration, that’s how you know you’re on board the ship that serves hors d’oeuvres and fluffs your pillows, while others are out at sea, swimming or drowning, or clinging to little inflatable rafts that they have to take turns keeping inflated, people short of breath, who’ve never even heard of the words hors d’oeuvres or fluff.” 

This book has harvested a lot of accolades this year. Told from the perspective of ten different characters whose stories come together in the end at the Big Oakland Powwow, Tommy Orange gives voice to the urban American Indian, a voice not heard nearly enough in modern literature. While I loved the Indian legends and lore peppered throughout this tale, it was quotes like the one above that made me stop and re-read entire passages and then just sit with it for a few minutes only to go back to the page and read it again.

  1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Literary Fiction)

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“But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.” 

Years ago, I read Silver Sparrow by this same author and I friggin’ loved it, so when I realized this was also by her, I knew it would be a great read. It’s a story about love and marriage and race and family and everything in between. Reading the letters sent between Roy and Celeste felt deeply intimate and immediately drew me into this story that satisfied me all the way to the very end.

  1. What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith (Non-fiction/Education)

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“We treasure the occasional story about a child who climbs out of poverty, graduates from a prestigious university, and goes on to success. Since it’s possible for a handful, we cling to the view that nothing is broken in America. But it is. Education has become the modern American caste system. We fuzz up the issue in a sea of statistics about test-score-gaps, suggesting that social inequity is a classroom issue. We bemoan the achievement gap but dwell on the wrong ‘achievement’ and the wrong ‘gap.’ Achievement should be based on challenging real-world problems, not standardized tests that amount to little more than timed performance on crossword puzzles and Sudoku. The gap we need to face is how much more we spend to educate our rich children than our poor. We can test until the cows come home, and we won’t begin to bring meaningful equity to our youth. As an educator in the Midwest noted, ‘If a cow is starving, we don’t weigh it. We feed it.’”

I already raved about this book on social media and wrote about it in Dear Fifth-Grade Teacher, but I had to include it in my top ten list too. I found the book to be inspirational and thought-provoking for anyone who is involved in education or policy-reform. The quote above is my favorite from the book. I considered getting it as a tattoo, but it’s a tad long.

  1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (Fiction/Drama)

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“In the silence, Leni wondered if one person could ever really save another, or if it was the kind of thing you had to do for yourself.”

 I still think Firefly Lane is my favorite Kristin Hannah book, but it was the first of hers I’d ever read, and I have a habit of latching on to firsts (i.e. My Sister’s Keeper is still my favorite Jodi Picoult and Looking for Alaska is still my favorite John Green). For some reason, I refused to buy this book since it was still in hardcover, and I had to wait ages for it at the library, which may be why I didn’t love it as much as I should have.

My mom read it first, and once I finally got it she kept asking me what I thought. It really was a great read, but it was also over 400 pages, and I really hated the protagonist’s father, Ernt. Somewhere in the middle of the book, I got sick of his shit and kind of lost momentum as a result. Still, it deserves a place on the list. It may not have been worth waiting months for, but it’s worth the eighteen bucks to not be cheap and buy it.

  1. The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo (Fiction/Romance)

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“What I wanted to tell you is that there are lots of ways to love people and I know that you’ll love someone else again. Even if it’s not the same, some of it might be better.” 

Last, but not least. One of my favorite people told me about this book and I had the title written on a notes page in my phone for a few months, but then, I saw a former student post about it on social media and it reminded me to check it out from the library. It was another can’t-put-it-down book that I texted every reader in my life when I was done to tell them about. This is a book you can lose a day in, and even though I’m not a huge fan of romance novels, this book won my heart (and gave me a bit of a book-hangover too.)

Well, that’s it… for now. I’ve got The One Thing by Gary Keller and Michelle Obama’s Becoming to start off 2019.

What are you reading this year?

Note: ReadingWhileEating is not affiliated with Amazon.com. If you click on a link to purchase a book, I do not get anything, but you get a book, and books are awesome.

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