We were the good girls when girls were divided into three categories: good, nice, and the others. We wore heather plaid skirts and matching heather sweaters. Our round collared blouses were pinned with circle pins, “virgin” pins. In most cases, it was true. My sisters warned me that, because I developed breasts early, I would be thought of as “fast,” so it was doubly important to guard the gate, so to speak. You certainly didn’t want to get a reputation.
We went to college and got predictable degrees: elementary education, nursing, librarianship. If we tried to go outside society’s expectations for us, we were firmly seated at a secretarial desk. A degree in mass communications? Well, at least I was a fast typist.
Most of my friends married shortly out of college, if not before. That was the goal, after all. Not to work for ourselves, but to become an “MRS.” Just as the time-warp woman recently said that girls need to marry before they leave college, that was our mantra. Graduating college without an engagement ring was a fate to be dreaded. My mother rubbed in my unmarried status, daily, by placing the morning list of marriage license applications next to my breakfast cereal, each day. My father told me not to get an advanced degree because who would marry an “over-educated” woman?
But times were changing. My role models were not Donna Reed and Mrs. Cleaver. I longed to be Mary Richards or Anne Marie, women whose purpose extended outside home and children. Unlike my much older sisters, I crossed the country to put down tenuous roots in a different city. As Rhoda Morgenstern said, I headed (west) because it was colder there and I would keep better.
I married at 25, late for the 70s, though so frighteningly young when I look back in time. I worked until my daughter was born, then stayed home just long enough to get her ready for the new invention of the 70s, the commercial daycare center. Each day, I would drop her off and hear her plaintive wails as I left her behind. I cried all the way to work for months and months.
We Baby Boomers have always been on the front of the curve. Now I’ve reunited with so many of my high school friends through social media, specifically Facebook. The “old neighborhood” is our touchstone; the magnet that draws us to each other. Philadelphia girls, one and all, we still speak fluent “Wynnefield” and “Overbrook Park,” even though all of us migrated from the old neighborhoods. But when I dream, I still dream of the streets on which I grew up and the row house where five people shared one bathroom.
Many of us “Boomers” were at Woodstock, some in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, and some joined communes like the Farm in Tennessee. Some of us inhaled. Some of us tripped out. Some corresponded with young men in Vietnam, while others protested the war and changed the course of history. Some, on the other hand, were totally conventional and were puzzled by the counter culture when we were culturally conformist.
Many married the coveted doctor or lawyer, and some discovered that the brilliant marriage was not fated to last. Our parents stayed together for better or worse (often for worse), but we did not. First, second, even third marriages came and went until some women discovered that a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. We declared our independence and learned to function as single mothers, single women, women who could care for themselves. While our first credit cards had to be co-signed by our parents or husbands, we now were primary or sole breadwinners for ourselves and our families.
Some of us, at least one in ten, found that our sexuality was differently oriented. This dark secret, hidden in the closets of the fifties, sixties and seventies, began to emerge from the dark as “women seeking women,” and now women seeking to marry long time partners and claim the right to be a spouse in their sixth or seventh decade. Despite the perception that feminists were all lesbians, it wasn’t true but the converse likely was. If you are female-oriented from birth, why not be proud of what women accomplish?
Now, in our later years, we find that our long-living parents are our responsibilities, as well as our disabled spouses, and still dependent children. Women are as strong as the mountains, but even mountains wear away after years of the drip, drip, drip of being care-givers. So, we pop a pill, take a yoga class, meditate and exercise to control our stress. What happened to our golden years? We’re finding that gold is plated on and we must get down to the base metal for our strength.
Weren’t we supposed to retire, about now? Not if we paid for our children’s college and got caught in the first or second recession. So, now we “grey hairs” are competing in the job market with kids who speak computer as a native tongue, while we are fluent but still stumbling technology-as-a-second-language students. Nora Ephron said that the difference between our generation and our mothers’ generation was hair dye. A few of us have claimed our hair color independence. Why conceal what has taken you years to earn? Each grey hair marks our experience; each facial line is a lesson in life. The crinkles around your eyes are the laughter at your own and your children’s successes. The down turned commas around our mouths mark the tragedies of lost homes, husbands, friends, and family. These all come with age. Why deny your age? Why deny your journey?
We were girls just yesterday, it seems. Now we are women past our middle years. We reunite electronically and discover that we have grown similarly or differently, but our life experiences bind us to each other. We talk about a future, not in nursing homes, but where we might “co-house,” or be “women in community,” because Baby Boomers reinvent whatever time of life they are in. We will be “the Golden Girls” for a new age, living together and creating new families of women, because women cooperate with each other better than men do. We have been pioneers our whole lives and inventing and reinventing ourselves comes so naturally to us that the alternative – to sit and reflect on our failures and accomplishments — is outside the scope of our experience.
Tomorrow I will make a sarcastic observation in my status on Facebook ( I am, after all, fated to be Sophia in the “Golden Girls” scenario, short and sharp tongued and without censors on what goes from my brain to my tongue), and wait as my friends “like” my status and add their own comments about the world, their work, and their adorable new grandchildren. I live for those “likes,” that validation, much more than I should.
I love the “girls” I grew up with who traveled similar and different paths than my own. When I look in the mirror, I see all of them standing behind me as we go forward, one more time, souls linked across electronic time and space.