“Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked.” -Peter Pan
As we are driving down route 78 on a Thursday morning, heading towards the exit for route 21, which will take us onto the turn-off for Newark, NJ, my mother does her best to avoid the maelstrom of oncoming traffic. “Calm down,” I say. “There is nothing to be afraid of. You have to go the same speed as the other cars to keep up with the traffic. Going 40 mph on 78 is going to get us killed.” “Just shut it,” she says in that tense voice that in my 30 years I have come to associate with the idea of my mother. “People drive like maniacs here. They shouldn’t be driving so fast.” It’s the same voice which she used when I was a child and wanted to go to the park, only one block away, by myself. I was never allowed until I was 13-years-old. At the time I resented it. In my head I believed that I was mature enough to at least cross the street on my own. It was akin to the sound of nails dragging themselves down a chalkboard for my pre-teen mind. She would always follow up with “It’s not you I don’t trust. It’s other people.” At the time I thought it was my mother just being overprotective. At the time I thought she was lying. It was me she didn’t trust. Now, at 30, I am starting to reevaluate her need to make sure I was safe.
It’s a Thursday morning and my mother is driving me to another job interview. It’s for another contract teaching position. I agreed to the interview already knowing that the job would not be permanent, already being accustomed to the fact that I will never find a position with health benefits, and that my life would continue to teeter on the precarious fine line of “just getting by” or poverty. My mother, at 62 years of age, having recently retired from the job that she had since she was 21, struggles to understand how or why this is happening to me. Is it a lack of effort on my part to seek full-time employment? Is it my off-color personality and my inherent unwillingness to compromise (which she says I got from my father’s side, her husband of 39 years) that has brought me to this situation of constant struggle that she has partnered herself with me in? I’m starting to believe that “it’s other people.” Because what person in their right mind, who is creeping slowly but surely into middle age, would want to be in the situation where their mother is still escorting them through the mundane trials of an unfulfilling life? I had to leave the interview promptly after it was completed. No time for the “getting to know you” adjunct lunch. I openly and embarrassingly admitted to the administrator of the Writing Program for which I was interviewing that I had to leave, because my mother was waiting outside for me.
They call my generation the “Peter Pan” or “Boomerang” generation. From the statistical standpoint of the public eye, my generation is reluctant to “grow up.” The responsibilities of adulthood, from their perspective, is something we do not want to fully realize yet. We live at home, in our late 20s and early 30s we still depend on our parents for financial support, we are trying our best to extend the euphoria of early adulthood. We don’t marry. We don’t produce children, at least most of us don’t, by choice. These studies make it seem like we are trying to enjoy as much as we can the escapism of a J.M. Barrie Never Never land lifestyle, where we all are playing the roles of Tootles and Curly, wasting time fighting pirates and dabbling at marbles. Where we will “never, never have to worry about grown up things again.” This is bullshit. As Wendy said “Never is an awfully long time.” So, I ask, what 30-year-old in their right mind would want this? Where is the dignity in it? Where is the means for self-esteem? What part of this kind of living can one take pride in? I find this nomenclature for my generation an insult as well as a complete oversight of the actual events that have taken place that have led me and my generation to this type of humiliating existence.
Over a year ago when I graduated from my M.A. program, with a 3.9 GPA, awards of distinction, and incredibly high hopes for my future, my parents, especially my mother, were elated. I was the first person in my family, as well as the first female, to obtain a graduate degree. I had my own page in the convocation pamphlet, which highlighted my academic achievements. My parents took a stack of them for safekeeping, to preserve as a souvenir of what the little girl who wasn’t allowed to cross the street could accomplish on her own. It was then that I thought that maybe my mother would trust that I could navigate this world on my own. After a lifetime of proving that I was competent, a lifetime of being an honor roll student, from first to 8th grade, of being a student at a premier gifted and talented high school, of being in first-year art shows in New York City, a Dean’s List undergraduate, and finally, a fellow in a graduate program, I would finally be able to cross that bridge into a prosperous and secure life. Yet, as I write this, I am still waiting in the queue at the toll booth of that bridge, along with the rest of the lost boys and girls, the middle children of the modern age. As I wait in line, I know I am going to have to borrow money from my parents to pay the fee to traverse that gangplank.
I ask the next question with humility, not to pat myself on the back or boast of what I have accomplished, because there are trains of individuals in the same position I am in, but how does a person with a similar background to my achievements get into the situation that I am in right now? From our past it can be seen that we are not too lazy to do what it takes to be outstanding, we are not reluctant to go the extra mile to accomplish higher goals. The rhetoric of the popular media, when it comes to my generation, always seems to associate an unwillingness to try when it comes to individuals in the same situation as I am in. During the Occupy movement, a picture was painted of my fellow lost persons that we were just dirty, over privileged “hippies,” demanding a free ticket for something we haven’t yet earned or achieved. But we have tried to exorcise ourselves from demonic possession of destitution. We constantly work to elevate ourselves from this prideless position. We have earned the privilege of a better, more dignifying standard of living. But we still have yet to see any improvement in gaining the reward of an independent life. How can we be to blame when we followed all of the rules set for us in the 90s and early 2000s by those same voices that now have the audacity to accuse us of being apathetic and idle? Under the Bush (I) era education reforms we were pushed in droves to go to college, to do well there to “earn our bones,” as my mother would say. To stay focused. We would get out what we put in. I’m still waiting to see what fruit will spring from my efforts to be respectable.
The situation that I and others of the “Peter Pan” generation have found ourselves in is not our fault. If we are to be grouped into the category of the “lost boys (and girls)” then I will counter that categorization by going as far as saying that it was the pirates that put us here. Yes, the pirates. The Captain Hooks and Smees in business suits that robbed us of the futures we rightfully earned, but whose rewards we will probably never reap. We didn’t collapse the world economy through our reluctance to grow up or work. We just happened to be the generation that would face the consequences of “other people’s” economic irresponsibility. We have no choice now but to run under the wings of our mothers, who were right in their inclinations to be overly protective of us.
In Peter Pan, the children ask Mrs. Darling “Can anything harm us, mother, after the night-lights are lit?" Mrs. Darling, with all the comfort and faith of a mother, replies “Nothing, precious, they are the eyes a mother leaves behind her to guard her children.” As I drive home with my mother from a successful, yet for all intents and purposes, lackluster and disappointing interview, I feel more pity for her than myself. She came of age in an era where one could maintain a single job throughout their whole lives, buy a house, start a family, provide that family with stable health care, and even send the children to college on one good salary. She abandoned her dreams of being a distinguished anthropologist so that her children would be able to earn some form of distinction to lead more prosperous, dignifying, and fulfilling lives, she gave up her dreams so that we would be protected. As we get back onto traffic-filled route 78, underneath my mother’s muttered cursings of how people act like animals on the road, I come to realize that the contractual position I had just signed my name onto, the guarantee of no health care or job security I quickly agreed upon, is as disappointing to her as it is to myself. As much as I struggled to achieve some form of academic and the hoped-for subsequent economic success, her trials to make sure that I could gain something better quickly overshadow my own. My mother was right in her fears when she would not allow me to cross the street on my own, because she knew when I didn’t that the world is full of pirates, waiting to snatch her children up and rob her nest of life’s adventures. These are the pirates waiting to pigeon hole us into a different type of "Never Never Land": a land where we are never allowed to grow up because of the economic crimes they have committed, we are never allowed to self actuate, and the dreams of our parents to create a better future for their children are never realized.