My grandparents were fun. Really fun. And they obviously passed on the fun gene to their kids. My parents definitely knew how to have a good time. I’m not saying that Charming Hal and I are social deadbeats. We’ve had our share of parties and get togethers over the years. But when I look at the ways my grandparents and parents spent the majority of their weekends (well into their golden years), I have to admit that we do look like a couple of fuddyduddies. What is the difference in the generations? Television? The Internet? The economy? Maybe. After all as I write this (on a Saturday night), Charming Hal is in the next room watching TV, because after a very brief discussion about going out to dinner, we decided it wasn’t worth the 100+ bucks it would cost for our family to eat. Still, I think blaming our social slump on money and modern conveniences is too easy. The truth is I think our parents and grandparent just lived in age more conducive to fun.
There was music. My father and grandfather played the guitar which was cool, but nothing unusual. Almost all of my grandparents friends played instruments. If there was a party or family gathering, there was music – singing, dancing. We are not even remotely that cool.
They knew how to dress. My grandparents were young and cool in what was probably the best dressed era in American history – the 40’s, 5o’s, and early 60’s. Their day-to-day attire was nicer than what I wear to church or out to dinner. And they dolled up even more for “special occasions” – a luncheon, a movie, a shopping trip, or travel. And for parties and major social events? Yowza! Bring out the fur coats and sequined dresses! Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I love my yoga pants and sweatshirts. But I also firmly believe that dressing for an occasion makes the occasion feel more special, more festive. My grandparents knew how to make occasions feel special. I bet my grandmother never said, “Do you think I can get away with wearing this?” My grandparents looked for reasons to dress up. We look for reasons to avoid it.
The had places to go. In my grandparents’ day, on Saturday nights everyone “went to town.” The square was a gathering place – there was music and dancing. Generations mingled. Weekdays, even when I was a kid, there was the drug store with the soda fountain, the barber shop, mom and pop stores – all kinds of places to meet up with friends any day of the week, have a cup of coffee and catch up on the local gossip. Today’s superstore aren’t nearly as conducive to conversation. In fact, when I’m shopping, I want to get in and out of most stores (and home to my yoga pants) as fast as possible. I may or may not have, on occasion, pretended I didn’t see someone I knew just so I wouldn’t have to stop and talk in.
Their kids weren’t sucking the life out of them. Charming Hal and I often ask ourselves why we don’t do things like our parents and grandparents did – or even like we did when the kids were small. We used to go out. We used to have parties. We used to be cool. Many of our friends complain of the same social stagnation that we are experiencing. Actually, they don’t even complain really. It’s more of a matter-of-fact observation. Why? Why is Saturday night take-out-pizza night and not go-out-on-the-town night? We aren’t that old. My parents and grandparents definitely did not spend their 40’s at home every Saturday night.
I think the answer is that parenting is different now than it was for our parents and grandparents. Right or wrong we spend most of our “spare time” doing things for and with our kids – football, baseball, volleyball, cheerleading, dance, track, band. It’s exhausting. EXHAUSTING. By the weekend, we just want to be at home. In our pajamas. Watching TV. Yes, we are that lame. And we like it.
They partied with their kids. Some of my best memories growing up are of my parents’ parties. A house full of laughter, music, grown-ups talking, glasses clinking, kids running around everywhere. Sometimes all the kids were sent to a different house to stay with a babysitter, but more often than not, we were at the party. That’s not to say we were a part of the party. The kids were usually banished to a bedroom or playroom or told to go outside. But we didn’t care. It was fun. Occasionally we would make up a skit or a dance (I remember once making up a disco dance called the airplane), and we would be allowed to perform for the adults. Charming Hal and I have managed to carry on that social tradition (or at least we did until the kids got so insanely busy). So, maybe there is hope that we haven’t set a totally boring example for our kids.
They smoked and drank more. Let’s be honest. The good old day were sometimes the reckless old days. Back in my grandparents’ day people didn’t know the dangers of smoking, and there were no public service campaigns to warn them about the dire consequences of drinking and driving. I’m not suggesting that we should all light up, throw back a couple of stiff drinks and get behind the wheel. I won’t even drive if I’ve had one glass of wine. I’m just saying that my grandparents and even my parents lived in a much, much more carefree time.
Is there a way for us to recapture the carefree, fun-loving ways of our ancestors (without the carcinogens and boozed up driving)? Maybe not entirely. After all, I don’t see us getting less busy (or less tired) for a long time. But maybe we can make more of an effort. Dress up a little more. Go out. Have more parties. Get off the couch. Maybe.
On the other hand, maybe not. As Dave Barry points out, my grandparents’ generation was The Greatest (Party) Generation, and to be fair, after surviving the Great Depression and WWII, they deserved to blow off a little steam. But what Dave Barry fails to recognize is that that generation raised the Me Generation of the 70’s, a generation characterized by self-indulgence and self-centeredness. Maybe their parents were too busy partying to realize how their kids were turning out. (Not my parents of course. My parents are saints.)
My generation is often criticized for spending too much time worrying about our kids – for helicopter parenting. I guess time will tell how that plays out. Maybe our kids will go wild and party it up like their great grandparents as a result of our hovering. But maybe, just maybe, my generation really is just as fun as previous ones. Maybe it’s just a different kind of fun – a much more casual, cautious, exhausted kind of fun.