Rosemary McLeod: Now we reap what we sow

By Rosemary McLeod

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Really, how thoughtless are baby boomers? Sitting on wealth taken from us millennials?
Really, how thoughtless are baby boomers? Sitting on wealth taken from us millennials?

Both my grandfathers made it back from the Somme, which is miraculous.

Commemorations this past week for that appalling waste of life called on people to never forget the sacrifices those soldiers made, only they did, and we do, because humanity never learns from its mistakes.

Then their sons were sent off to another world war, only this time there was a reason for it that didn't involve long, mystifying explanations that left you none the wiser.

The idea of empire was a dead duck, surely, even as soldiers were dying for it in World War I. Fighting Hitler at least made sense.

Every year, when I was young, returned servicemen marched in the Dawn Parade on Anzac Day, my father sometimes among them. "Oh look," said his sister, watching the black-and-white news on the telly, "Everyone's out of step but our Neddy!" Our mothers married returned servicemen, with varying outcomes, and they waited a lifetime for prosperity that mostly never came.

But expectations were different then.

A roof over your head that didn't leak was pretty good, a car was hard to get. You grew your veges. But who wants to know?

My grandmother watched the few cars that drove down our street with great interest: "There's a blue one at their place today. Must be their son-in-law."

And then there were us baby boomers, destined for golden years that our kids now so resent. We had everything, they say, and took it all away, leaving nothing but old chocolate wrappers and a locked booze cupboard.

Our kids say they will never own houses, but we do. They have to pay for their education, but we didn't.

We get pensions at 65 when it costs too much, and how we pay the escalating rates on our homes while property values soar is our problem. It's time we - I'm not sure, but death would be convenient as our medical care costs too much.

Old Inuit people politely died of exposure when they saw they'd become burdensome. We who have modern health care rudely live on, and may not even have the funds to give our kids the deposit on a house. We should lash ourselves for shame, but we're too inconsiderate.

There is some truth in those attacks.

Our standard of living is way ahead of what our parents and grandparents experienced, and we've encouraged our kids to think it's normal when it isn't. Most of the world survives - or dies - on much less.

We experienced the deprivations of the golden age of our childhoods; spankings, hidings, unhappy parents who couldn't divorce because it was a disgrace, unwanted pregnancies and forced adoptions among them.

And so we brought our kids up differently. As toddlers we let them run riot in restaurants because constraints were bad for them, and breastfed them until they were 3. They were told they were creative every time they made a mud pie or scrawled their name in crayon on the wall.

We told them it was bad to be competitive, and they were perfect just as they were. We all but held banners over their heads reading "We Are All Winners" and hovered over them with expensive toys designed to make them even more intelligent. Above all, we told them that they were special, special, special and the teacher - anyone - was wrong to chastise them. Of course we never spanked them. They wouldn't like it.

We were their friends, not parents, because as the poet Larkin wrote, parents "**** you up." Tweaks of plastic surgery for our darlings, and expensive orthodontic work to make them perfect, were a given. Today baby boomers still financially subsidise our kids, are free nannies so they can earn more, and help with big purchases like cars and houses, taking on debt just as we need money for our own medical crises.

If we were pampered, in home-knitted cardies and home-made clothes, they needed designer clothing to feel good, and expensive sneakers. Their kids need to go to Disneyland, and who but their grandparents can afford that? No point in mentioning that many of us also must support our own parents, who disliked us for our leftist sympathies, our sexual promiscuity and drug taking, and our selfishness.

Our kids think we should work past the age of 65, and we can only laugh. Jobs for pensioners? Not with this lot in charge. Something like this was ever thus. And still we cling to our wobbly perch. Too bad.

- Rosemary McLeod is a journalist and author.

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