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Time Hunger– A Babyboomer’s Elegy

When I grew up, people had time.

The family ate dinner together when Dad got home– 5:30.  We visited the grandparents–both sides–almost weekly.  As high school students, we went to bed at 10:30 and slept late on Saturdays, sometimes til noon. Sunday a family activity–a movie, a museum, the zoo–Mom, Dad, and the kids. On weekdays, we played with neighborhood friends; we walked to each others houses after school to collect the group, then to the park, the beach, or the ice cream shop. Be home by dark. The comprehensible life of the baby boomer.

My parents took one vacation a year with us children and one by themselves. Florida, Mexico or a Caribbean cruise. Our grandparents babysat.  They hated bedtime.

Television had 5 channels  every family member could watch together without embarrassment. Children’s programming? Sat morning cartoons, which we’d watch while parents caught up on sleep;  they didn’t have to get up for early workouts or the farmers’ market or fresh bagels.

Meals had weekly routines: Monday chicken, Tuesday dairy, Wednesday spaghetti, Thursday was the maid’s day off, so we went out to a neighborhood place for sandwiches.  Friday was roast beef, designed to last so Mom didn’t have to cook week-ends.

Food was plain. Veggies came from cans: string beans, peas, corn.  Concoctions like jello molds and string bean casserole (canned string beans mixed with a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, topped with a can of friend onion rings) were for company meals.  These items had neither elegance nor nutrition to recommend them, but they had easy to buy, cheap ingredients, and they were quick to prepare.  Moms (usually) went to one large supermarket for the week’s rations–no greengrocer , butcher, fish monger, artisanal bread baker, or brewer.

When we went to college, we actually had a break from parents.  Long distance calling was expensive but a relative bargain on Sundays. That was connecting with family time. Our parents were there to answer the phone. We took our one pair of jeans, which we softened up ourselves.  That took time, including sitting in the tub with the stiff jeans on our bodies, but it was relaxing, staying at home time.  We didn’t have stores purveying $100 pre-ripped pairs with ironic names like True Religion.

The houses we lived in, usually for most of our growing up, seem tiny in look-back. People didn’t search the internet for new homes (property porn?) nor buy $1000 faucets–at least no one I knew.  If the toilet broke, you got a plain new one; it didn’t warm your rear, flush 6 golf balls, o hang on the wall of the power room, but it didn’t take time to choose it, either. Another ironic name: American Standard.

We didn’t “work out,” the current designation for exercise that reflects our work obsession. No one I knew belonged to a gym, ran, or took yoga, let alone Cross Fit, Soul Cycle, Tough Mudder, or triathlons.  Somehow, though, we weren’t obese, notwithstanding the cream of mushroom soup. But then, we wore clothes that covered most of our bodies, so we didn’t care so much.

That was then. Now, when we realize we’d like to substitute real time for Facetime with our adult children and their kids, calendars come out.  The high school kids, forget about it.  Every team, choral group, or play requires daily after school commitment plus long bus hours to compete with other schools on weekends.  And the homework!  Of course, they can’t drive til halfway through high school, providing parents a chauffeur gig to add to the busy list.

The little kids need calendars, too.  Swimming lessons, skating,  piano, dance, programming, robotics.  Of course, they can’t just go out to play; they’d be kidnapped.  We just sat in the back seat when we were little.  Today parents have to keep up with a range of ever safer–and pricier–car seats, so just putting them in the car is an arthritic grandmother’s exercise program.

People work harder, or at least longer hours and get up at 5 to fit in the workout. Add commutes from suburbs that were farmland a few years back. Both parents usually work, which often involves travel and complex childcare arrangements. Speaking of travel, the high priority is on novel experiences–far away locales or adventures.  Nobody I grew up with–even rich kids–swam with dolphins or ziplined.  We were happy with any beach and an ice cream shop–didn’t require 31 flavors, either.

Food is intense, along with fancy local beers. There were 2 or 3 brands of beer in the olden days, and you didn’t have to research them. The search for quality and novelty, in fact, the competition for them, consumes many internet hours. The 1980’s flick “When Harry met Sally” gave us the line; “Restaurants are the new movies.” But don’t feel sorry for the movies. We can now movie “binge.”  In case we do have a “free” day, we can watch the season’s worth of a Netflicks show in one sitting. And we can spend some more time comparing streaming sites to get the best deal–best shows, best price–don’t get behind on the coolness factor.

Boredom is the enemy.  We fight it with everything we’ve got. We don’t really want relaxed time; we’d feel out of sorts. For sure our kids would, and they’d whine, so its better to schedule ahead of time. Exciting entertainment is the goal of life, now, known generically as “experiences.”  Need some calming down?  Fancy wine for the adults, Ritalin for the little ones. Squeeze in another vacation.

There is no going back.  Even I don’t want canned string  beans and chicken every Monday.  Nor a woman’s role embracing all the repetitive stuff.  But what will it be like going forward?

What if each member of the family cut out one “experience” per week? What if the cut-out occurred on the same day of the week, so the whole family was free together ? And no one could use that free day to research or make any plans for the other 6 days?  Hey, make your own adventure; its worth a try.



2 Responses to Time Hunger– A Babyboomer’s Elegy

  1. billgncs September 28, 2017 at 9:24 am #

    the transistor was invented in 1947, maybe we can blame it all on that accelerator of human experience.

    I often cycle past fields in the summer, empty unless surrounded by cars and parents with whistles and cones to run between. It makes me think that we
    micromanage childhood with the kids being just another product to produce.

  2. Eli September 29, 2017 at 10:00 pm #

    This is a beautiful article — a poignant lament for a flawed era with much beauty in it. I love the recommendation in the final paragraph.

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