Carter babies were born during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Our birth marks the beginning of the Information Age.
I was born 7-7-77 so I’m right in the sweet spot. We’re a special zebroid of Millennial and Generation X. We watched the Brat Pack movies when they came out (if we had cool parents) but we weren’t really old enough to understand them. For years we’ve been squirming every time some yayhoo mentions Gen X or Millennials. Carter babies agonize because we know we’re not really a part of either generation and at the same time a part of both; a niche generation.
From what I’ve read (since I was a baby and don’t actually “remember”) I conjecture that Carter was some kind of an angelic “peacenik” president who couldn’t really get down to brass tacks. There were all sorts of scandals with hostages in Iran, gas lines, a poor economy and a dead Elvis. Carter Babies are the first people to not remember Carter’s presidency and thus the first group to embrace him in our hearts. We only know him as the loving humanitarian he is, trying to save the world with one poem and one peanut at a time.
Enough about Carter, let’s dig into the real reasons why Carter Babies are the missing link between Gen X and Millennials.
We had absentee parents like most Gen Xers yet our schooling was Millennial.
I was a TV dinner eating latch key kid like many Gen Xers. My parents were older and already had a couple 8-year-old Generation X twin boys by the time I came along. Being alone was the hallmark of my childhood. You could always discover me doing a multitude of activities alone: watching movies, reading encyclopedias, brushing my own hair or even precariously perching on a step stool to cook my own food. It caused me to become a radically independent adult, a true Gen X trait. Like most parents of the time, my folks were the typical workaholics with mom and dad both gone. My mother was very much the shoulder pad wearing ‘80s career woman/college bra burning type. Would I grow up to have my own husband and family? Completely unimportant. When I was about five someone inquired, “What are you going to do when you grow up?” My grandmother romantically swooned, “She’s going to get maaaarried.” My mother quickly snarled, “SHE’S GOING TO HAVE A CAREER!!!”
School was where the Gen X experience ended and the Millennial experience emerged. It was the ‘80s:
- Emphasis on COMPUTERS for the first time
- Obsession with recycling and the environment
- Way too politically correct/teach children to be afraid of ever saying anything ever to anyone
- Strong anti-drug culture, the opposite of the ’70s & ‘60s
- Yes! Awards for everyone, because we’re all so special
We grew up with personal computers and all the movies we could ever want to watch.
The PC and the VCR were game changers. I’m not sure how my older Gen X brothers watched movies as children. I surmise they actually went to the theater, watched film strips or waited patiently until movies came on TV. The VCR was introduced in 1977 and Carter Babies were the first kids to have video babysitters. Our parents could visit the local video store and choose from a wide range of movies to plant us in front of for hours at a time, commercial free. Oliver Twist and Little Orphan Annie 24-7? Why not!? There was never a better time for a child to romanticize about being an orphan who goes from rags to riches.
Carter kids were the first kids to be taught computers in school and to have a home PC. They began drilling computers into the sculls of Carter kids in kindergarten.
DON’T TOUCH THE INSIDE OF THE FLOPPY DISK-EVER!!
We got our family PC when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. I did not live in a particularly progressive household, just middle class suburbanites. My Gen X brothers probably used an abacus to do math. They didn’t have computers. Like many Carter Babies of my era I took over our family’s home PC and obsessively played Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. It was the first time computers were becoming common and not a convoluted Space Age idea of a machine that takes over an entire room.
Carter kids were the first kids to be regularly drugged by our nonchalant parents.
Ritalin was beginning to be widely prescribed around when I hit middle school in ’89. Suddenly lots of kids were getting pulled out of class by the school nurse to “take their medicine.” Because our parents were so overworked and never had time to make us breakfast before school we often acted out, were spacey or became depressed. Our symptoms were dealt with by feeding us drugs instead of simply, “caring.”
Then it happened to me. Junior year I became clinically depressed and suffered a nervous breakdown. In retrospect, I would’ve been fine had I had some type of mentoring. Teenage years are confusing on many levels. How does one navigate? Where do you fit in? There was no one I could turn to and I probably would’ve killed myself had it not been for Seinfeld being so ingeniously funny. My diet was horrific. I ate the public school lunch nearly everyday and scrapped what I could find for other meals. Suddenly at 15, I was full of anxiety and constantly collapsing into monsoon crying jags. When people asked me why, all I could say was, “I don’t know.” Shortly thereafter I was put on Prozac and lived out senior year in a haze of jellybeans and rainbows. Prozac made me numb yet annoyingly optimistic and it was all fake. It’s a common story of an American teenager of the ’90s. Parents today are still drugging their kids symptoms as a shortcut. It’s a band-aid for bad parenting, poor diets and trudging through days of no light in schools designed without windows.
Carter Babies experienced the brunt of grunge but it wasn’t our doing. Forget punk, we have no recollection.
The video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the scariest thing I’d ever seen up until 1991. It came out the first month of freshman year and caused me to be officially terrified for high school and the future at large. Would people always dress like drunken transients? Would people always be so angry, sullen and filthy? Would cheerleaders ever be patriotic again? What about this “Smells like Teen Spirit” deodorant they’re marketing to me? Why does it smell so good, like those Strawberry Shortcake dolls that exhaled delicious, lab created fruit air from their bellies?
We were skeptical in the ’90s and never impressed, “meh.”
Grunge hit us hard while the young Millennials were busy collecting Pokemon pogs. Grunge was the music of my older brothers. For Carter Babies it was more about hip hop and garage rock of bands like The White Stripes or The Strokes. When I think of being a young woman I instantly hear The Strokes. That makes sense since Julian Casablancas is a Carter Baby. Even though the band didn’t get popular until my late 20s I consider Arcade Fire to be music of “my generation” as the main members are also Carter Babies.
We were the first youths to find love using the internet.
Back in my Generation X brother’s day, they met the way they do in the movie Singles. They had to place desperate ads with matchmaking companies or go into loud bars and shout at each other to make a connection. All that changed in the early to mid ’90s with the advent of a thing called, “America Online.” On AOL I met my first internet boyfriend. The entire romance carried out from beginning to end through AOL messenger but seemed very real to my teenage mind. Then in college I broke the ice with my first real boyfriend through email. I spotted him, liked him and looked him up in the campus online directly. If I’d actually had to go up and talk to him I would’ve certainly chickened out. He was also too much of a geek to speak to girls. The rest is history, AOL gave way to sites like Live Journal, Friendster, Myspace, Facebook and now apps like Tinder. Meeting online first is the Millennial way and it’s all we Carter Babies have ever known in the adult world.
You don’t really get it unless you entered the workforce after Bush II became president.
Carter babies were the first to dive into bramble. Some Generation X folks & Baby Boomers have lost their jobs after many years of working and I sympathize. We’re all in this together but at least the older people leave the job with one valuable item: experience.
My older Generation X brothers graduated college in the early ‘90s. They’d both floundered through high school and gone to an unimpressive college, yet right away they were in good careers. I graduated with honors from a prestigious university in December 2000. When Bush II won the election during my final semester somehow I knew, shit was really about to hit the fan. It felt like a swarm of wasps buzzing in my gut. After 9-11 finding a real career became an impossible dream. I’d get a job then get laid off again and again, never gaining the experience I needed to advance. Bosses would always feel terribly, citing the dreadful economy, assuring me I’d land on my feet. This is how many Carter Babies and Millenials got locked into this permateen loop, getting called “Twixters” along the way. About six years ago I was completely fed up so I started my own company which has been keeping me alive ever since.
The real badges of the millennial experience are a) the near impossibility of saving money and b) not easily doing those milestone things like getting married or buying a house. I can totally relate to that. Why do we just live with our boyfriend for years and years? We can’t afford a wedding and we’ve been hitting up our parents for emergency cash for so long we can’t expect them to help pay for one. Most of my friends either didn’t get married, had very small weddings or eloped. If they had kids they had one or two tops. They’re also having kids way later, easily past age 35. Long gone are the days of affording a large family and starting young unless you happen to be very privileged.
My baby boomer parents would scream at me to “just get a job.” They actually believe that if you simply look in the newspaper hundreds of wonderful careers await. How could they understand? They’re still living in the Eisenhower era a.k.a. THE GREATEST ECONOMY THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN. My older brothers don’t get it either, they’ve worked at the same corporations they started at in 1992 and just kept advancing. They got those jobs by looking through the newspaper. Even people who graduated a couple years before me had a bit of an advantage. Two years of job experience caused them to hit the ground running.
For me, at age 37 I’m finally just now gaining ground, growing up, blooming where I’m planted. Looking around at my peers, I can see I’m not alone. It’s taken a long, long time of putting my shoulder to the wheel and the wheel being stuck in the mud.
There have been weeks where I had a total of $10 to spend on groceries.
When I was 28 I had to declare bankruptcy. In my 20s I had to max out some credit cards just to survive. The thinking was that my hard work would pay off and I’d get a job that would pay back the credit. I didn’t or I did but not for long. It won’t be until December of this year that the bankruptcy is removed from my credit report. I’ve been denied jobs and housing for lack of good credit, it’s been a nightmare. America shouldn’t be this hard and I don’t think I’m acting “entitled” for thinking so. It should never take anyone 37 years to grow up.
It’s completely inane to label large groups of people with titles that are indeterminate and constantly in flux.
If everyone could agree on finite dates for these “generations” it would sorta be OK. Right now it’s a hot mess. The idea of generation began in the mid-1800s but labeling generations was largely a 20th century construction.
Let’s take the iconic Beach Boy, Brian Wilson who was born in 1942 as an example. He’s not a true “Baby Boomer” because he was actually born during WWII. He’s supposed to be “The Silent Generation” or The Younger Generation (as Time Magazine coined his age bracket in ’51) but no one ever mentions these groups anymore. He’s lumped with baby boomers because he’s not old enough to be “The Greatest Generation.” He should be Baby Boomers though, I can’t think of anyone more Baby Boomer. He only created the WHOLE American sound of the American Baby Boomers in the 1960s. My mom and dad, born in the same year have been referring to themselves as “war babies” for a long time, yet another name for the same group.
Let’s complicate it further and go back to the “Lost Generation.” This was a term to give a name to the people who came of age during WWI. Do you ever hear about them though? Nope, because they’re dead and no one cares but Hemingway thought they were important enough to write about. It was Gertrude Stein who coined the term. How about the people before that? Well, there was The Futurists of 1909 and they had plenty of stupid ideas like driving too fast and tearing down libraries and museums.
Right now they’re saying that my niece born in 2000 is a millennial. No, she’s a different thing we don’t know yet. She wasn’t even alive when the Berlin Wall fell, let alone have a fuzzy memory of it. She doesn’t even remember 9/11 for God’s sake. That was kind of thee event of the Millennium. My 11-year-old nephew who also gets lumped in with Millennials didn’t even know what 9/11 was when I asked him. Maybe it’s because his parents have him on drugs.
There’s a better solution.
Throw time out the window. People Magazine, why don’t you stop constantly printing the year everyone was born in every article? I don’t care. In the future there will be no age or disease. Half of us will probably be living on a different planet. We’ll be in a time where Mr.Belvedere robot Butlers wash windows and Ryan Gosling robot boyfriends bring daisies. I have a hunch those jumpsuits we envisioned will never quite catch on and “generations” will also be irrelevant.
One of the swiftest moving sciences is the field of anti-aging. People are vain and wealthy vain people will spend any amount of money to look better. Science is just like any other industry, it goes where the money is. We’ll probably figure out how to stay young forever before a cure for cancer emerges.
Age really is just a number. We are a post-millennium mess of contradictions. In the past you grew old and “out of touch.” Not anymore, this is the “too much information age.” They say Millennials are entitled, always on their phones, always on social media and always playing video games. Well I’ve seen plenty of entitled baby boomers, hoarding their fat social security checks. “My generation” will never see social security checks. My mother posts more memes on FB than any 13-year-old girl. My 65-year-old aunt is the biggest gamer I’ve ever known. Because of the internet my dad knows more about top 40 music than I do. What about the age of people having kids? Throw that out the window too because one of my friend’s mom’s just had a baby at 61! Remember, what’s freak science now becomes common in the future.
We’re all outliers.
Make it simple. Take each person on a case by case basis and admire them for who they are. How about we stop grouping people in research categories all together and writing stupid articles about it? At least if you’re going to reference the habits of a particular age group use actual numbers and dates not these made up labels like, “Millennial.”
All that said, if you’re still going to be talking about these ambiguous groups with constantly changing names, please file me into the “Carter Baby” section.