“Little boxes on the hillside/ little boxes made of ticky tacky/ little boxes on the hillside/ little boxes all the same,” sang Malvina Reynolds. This song is so all-encompassing of the generations before us, who were taught with a very different mind fame. We, generation Y, were raised by omnipresent parents to believe we are special snowflakes. The generations before us were taught to toe the line, to fit in, that conformity was the best way; “All went to the university/ where they were put in boxes and they came out all the samel and there’s doctors and lawyers, and business executives/ and they all look just the same.
The key to understanding who our parents are and how they think lies in understanding who raised them. What were their philosophies growing up, what was their generation like? My paternal grandparents were from the GI generation, the children of World War I, survivors of the great depression; they were raised tough. My grandfather living in Hungary, at the time, fought in World War II. Then he and my grandmother moved to the United States after the war ended; leaving their war-torn home looking for the American Dream. They were the generation of Happy Days, of do it yourself or not at all, and of hard work.
Community minded with an emphasis on team work, the goal was to fit it, not to stand out: “Little boxes all the same. ” My father, their only child, ensconced in the baby boomers, was a career climber and egged on by first generation parents; he worked hard for everything he had, moving away at eighteen and paying for his own education. Working his way up from entry level jobs then going back to school and getting his MBA: “and the boys go into business, and marry and raise a family/ in boxes made of ticky tacky/ and they all look just the same.
He did just that, always in search of a better job title and a challenged, he would change jobs as soon as he felt he had conquered the current one. This meant a lot of moving around for him, and then for my mother once they married. My maternal grandparents are the tail end of the silent generation. Immigrants, they hailed from Portugal for an education. They have seen most of the great changes in our country: they watched and participated in the civil rights movement, were there when our outlook on war changed so drastically, and now they are watching the technology boom, all be it from the sidelines for the most part.
My grandmother a nurse, a common occupation. She worked full days then came home and tended the house and kids while my grandfather worked at IBM. Forty-five years with the company he was heartbroken when they let him go, he never worked after that, said he couldn’t imagine working for another company. IBM was his, and to this day will tell anyone and everyone that he was in on the ground floor of the computer; many times as a child | went to the history museum and showed the first computer he ever built, right there with his name on it.
His life was the air force, IBM and his family. Together my grandparents raised three children and five foster kids, to retire surrounded by family in their humble house on the lake. My Mother’s generation, the generation in limbo between the end of the boomers and the very start of generation X, she doesn’t really fall into either: she is giving and pragmatic, common good over individual wants. She grew up in an idealist generation of civil rights and equality, and women’s empowerment.
Also with great suffering: the AIDS epidemic and the Vietnam War. Her generation was one of the last ones with a truly free childhood. At twelve years old she began flight school, and at fourteen she got her solo pilot’s license, every weekend she and the rest of the kids in a specialized branch of the national guard, flew up to the northern Minnesota wilderness to search for forest fires. There are not many parents today that would allow their fourteen-year-old to fly a plane by themselves, let alone for a weekend, hours away from home.
But her parents saw it as a chance for her to support the country that had given so much to them. She graduated college with a degree in organic chemistry, the only woman in her chemistry classes; she reminds me often how lucky I am that no one questions me when I sign up to take a science class. She married my father after living together for three years, ever the pragmatic. Wanting lots of kids and a stay at home mom while we were young, being integral to our childhoods, then rejoin the work force once we were school age.
My father however never wanted kids, but then his box wouldn’t look the same, so he compromised. However, there isn’t much compromise to be had between wanting kids and not. I don’t have many early memories of my father; I have memories of him with an aunt or uncle and myself, of my mother and my father and I but, not singularly of my father. He was there but there wasn’t much interaction until I was around six or seven. Around that time my father started to get involved in my education, probably more than was necessary for my age.
I remember every morning, without fail, sitting down on the living room sofa with a big box of flash cards he had made. They started off with sight words: I had to read them, define them, use them in a sentence then spell them. Every morning! I hated it; I used to beg and cry to my mom not to make me do it; to tell my father that it was stupid, but he always seemed to win that argument. And I would sit there and do the flashcards with him until I got every single one right, then the box started to grow as he added other words to them and the daily torture continued.
I don’t know why my mom never stopped him. Was it because she was trying to keep the peace or because that was one of the few times he ever acknowledged my brother or I? My mother, however, is ever-present in my memories, she stayed at home with us, until a divorce and being a single parent forced her back to work. My childhood was one that is never seen anymore, every morning breakfast wasn’t made for us, but with us, we were active in the kitchen, sometimes hindering more than helping.
Afterwards sent outside, we were constantly outside, during the warm months we ate lunch and dinner on the back patio; we ran around not only our street, but the park down the street with no fear. After running of extra energy after dinner, my mom would corral us inside for showers, then sent back outside to air-dry, as she liked to call it. During the winter not much varied, we spent anytime not at school outside, and on the weekends my mom would drag us inside to warm up, put on dry clothes and sent back out.
We weren’t the only ones, she was out with us almost as much, the ever-present eagle eye watching over us as we ran wild. My childhood as well as wholam is greatly influenced by who my parents are, the age gap between them as well as their parents leads to such generational differences in both who they were as people as well as their views on how to raise kids. There is such a huge shift that has happened from the way generations before us were raised and how ours has been. But now that our generation is all wonderful, special, unique little snowflakes aren’t we all starting to look the same again?