The Birth of Hey, Boomer
My vision for Hey, Boomer is to have conversations with people from all generations that build bridges of understanding, build connections, educate and entertain, primarily members of the Baby Boom generation. Why the Baby Boom generation? Because I am part of that generation, and it felt like a good place to start.
The idea for Hey, Boomer came to me during the beginning of our staying in our homes because of the Coronavirus. I had been laid off from my job and I know how difficult it is to find meaningful work after a certain age. I was thinking about other people from my generation who still have so much to offer and who still want to be relevant contributors to society. And the idea came to me, that maybe, during this time when we are all missing connection, we build connections virtually, that might spark some feelings of hopefulness in others.
Hey, Boomer is born.
I came across the “Life Purpose” statement I wrote back in 2012, when working with a coach. It is so cool how it applies to what I want to accomplish with Hey, Boomer. I wrote that my Life Purpose is to make a difference, have an impact and empower others. And with that, Hey, Boomer is born.
When I first started thinking about this, I thought about all the social and cultural events that rocked my generation. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Assassination of President Kennedy and his brother Bobby, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Women’s Movement, the Aids Epidemic, Woodstock, the Cuban Missile Crisis. And many of these events had significant impacts on our lives. During all these events, we each had our own personal events, unrelated or semi-related to what was going on.
An Early Event
I was going through a divorce. I was 28 years old, the mother of 2 small children, ages 2 & 4, and I had completed just one year of college. I had gotten a job as a computer operator at a bicycle brake manufacturing company. The office where the computers were, was in the middle of the manufacturing floor. The only people in the office were me, and my boss, who was also the purchasing agent. In those days, early 80’s, the computers were not desktops, they were fairly large machines. My job was to keep them running, print reports and disseminate them, backup the systems at the end of each day and prepare anything that needed to be done for the next day. There were reams of IBM books on programming, running the equipment and other things that I cannot even remember. I do remember trying to learn about programming from the books, when I did not have a specific task to do.
Going through a divorce can be a mind-numbing and emotionally wrenching experience, whether you want the divorce or not. Many days I would come to work feeling like I was in a fog, trying to stay focused on what needed to be done, and yet being pulled away in my thoughts. How were my children doing and how would they do in the future? How were we going to survive? Would I be able to stay in our house? Why did this happen? Why couldn’t we fix it?
One day, my boss, a married man with a family said to me, with a leer, “I know you have needs. If I can help in any way, just let me know.”
I was stunned. His words penetrated my fog and totally caught me off balance. I needed this job to support my kids. I couldn’t believe what he was “offering” and what it might mean for my future at the company. I don’t remember exactly how I responded. I imagine that I smiled and told him that I was OK. There was no going to HR about this. Sexual harassment in the workplace had not entered our lexicon yet, not really.
A few weeks later, he told me that they were going to hire a computer programmer. I said that I had been studying a lot of the manuals and that I could do the job. IBM had a lot of training courses I could take, and I already knew the business. If they would send me to the training, I could do the job.
He told me I had been hired to be a clerk! The young woman they hired as a programmer had just graduated from college. I basically trained her on the equipment, and then I left.
I applied to go back to school, to the University of NC at Asheville to study Computer Science. I put together loans, grants and scholarships to pay for my school. I took part time jobs when I could. My children and I moved into government subsidized housing for a while.
There were many challenges but 3 years later, I graduated with Departmental Distinction and a degree in Computer Science.
At UNC-A I built a community of caring friends. We checked in on each other. We shared communal meals, we watched each other’s kids.
A lot has changed since those days in the early 80’s. Awareness of sexual harassment, the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement, more women in the board rooms. It certainly is not perfect, but it is better than it was.
Purpose and Connection
I think my experience applies today when I think about the people who have lost their jobs and are wondering and worrying about how they are going to survive.
There are 2 things that saved me then and continue to work for me now.
One is to find a purpose, a reason to get up every morning. My purpose was to get my degree so that I could better support my kids in the future. Sometimes that meant meals of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or a baked potato and some vegetable. It meant I had to apply for heating assistance at one point or they were going to turn our heat off. It meant that my kids attended Head Start because I could not afford daycare. There were days that my purpose did not seem strong enough to get me through, and that is where the second thing came in.
Connection. I would call a friend, I would be crying in the office of my department head, telling him that I could not be in the computer lab at night because I had babies in the bed. These connections were my life support.
What is the take away from my story?
The take away that we are not alone. Connection and community are essential as we go through this Coronavirus isolation.
And I hope that you take away from this, that conversation, speaking up for what you need, attempting to understand where other people are coming from, can help to build a greater sense of community and connection. It doesn’t always work, but I think it is worth trying.
I remember as a little girl thinking, “if people would just talk to each other, and listen, really listen, lots of problems would be solved.” I am hopeful that as other people share their stories on Hey, Boomer we start to understand that we all have a shared humanity. We all have struggles, we all want to be loved, we all have things we care deeply about and we all can learn from each other.
Hey, Boomer is a place to tell your stories. We will have different ideas, different perspectives, and we come to them from different life experiences. As we listen to the different stories and ideas shared, my dream is that we recognize that deep down, we are more alike than we are different.
Please leave me comments about what you think about the Hey, Boomer idea and let me know if you’d like to participate. Share this with others that you think would be interested. I will also be posting this to my YouTube channel at https://bit.ly/HeyBoomer0413
We all have stories to tell. Let’s build connection, one story at a time.
The event I am going to talk about significantly shaped my life, and it occurred when I was 16 years old.
I was the first girl page in the United States, but I could not serve in Washington, because at that time they did not allow girl pages. I had written to my Congressman after a trip to Washington with my family and asked if I could be his page. He told me girls could not be pages. Two important things to know about this time. We were in the early stages of the Women’s Movement, and my father had his own Advertising and Public Relations business, and he took on this quest to be a page as a public relations campaign.
We had a letter writing campaign to everyone in Congress and the Senate, and all rejected the idea. We wrote to President Nixon. There was nothing he could do. My father was sending out press releases about this effort and the story was showing up in papers all across the US and Europe.
The timing was right for a story like this and it developed a life of its own. I would come home from school and there would be cameras and reporters setup in my front yard. I was getting called out of class to do live interviews with radio shows around the country. I was invited to Chicago to be on a live TV show that was a precursor to the Good Morning America Show.
It was a whirlwind that I was not really ready for, but it resulted in our Fl. State Senator, Richard Stone, inviting me to be a page in Tallahassee.
Tallahassee was not better prepared for a girl page than DC would have been. They found me a place to live, but basically, I was on my own. There were no adults looking out for me. It was exciting to be in the Senate, to see how business was done, how bills got passed, how citizens shared their thoughts and requests for assistance with their Senators. I had my school work to do, and every day I would take some time to work on it and send it back to my school. No internet of course then, so everything had to go via postal mail.
The night before my tenure in Tallahassee was over, I was raped by a person I had gone out with. He was the son of the Sargent-at-Arms in the Senate. That changed everything for me. It took away my joy and sense of accomplishment about serving as a page.
I didn’t tell anyone about the rape, how could I? My father was so proud of what we had accomplished, the first girl page in the United States! I didn’t want to disappoint him. Rape was not something that happened to anyone I knew. The story in my head was that it must have somehow been my fault. This was well before the #MeToo movement and all the awareness that we now have about unwanted sex. I felt like “damaged goods.”
I stopped sharing the story of being the first girl page. It was clouded by shame and hurt and fear. I didn’t want to be reminded of what happened.
So many of my life’s decisions were a result of hiding this experience. I got married at 19 and divorced at 28. What I had experienced was a shadow part of our marriage, but it was not something we could talk about. I learned to take care of myself and I tried to give my children the best childhood that I could. I was also always looking for someone to be my knight in shining armor, I thought of myself as a victim who needed rescuing. I don’t think most people knew that about me, I could hide it pretty well. I went to counseling several times, but the rape was never something I dealt with, until a few years ago.
I was talking to my best friend about what had happened. She encouraged me to go to rape counseling. That sounded crazy. This event happened almost 50 years ago. I had moved on. I was successful, I was resilient, I was loving and caring, and the truth was, it was still impacting my relationships. So, I went. Has it made this episode easy to talk about? I am not sure it will ever be easy to talk about. But it has taken away the power of the event.
How does this story apply to what we are facing today?
It does not directly apply to the pandemic we are facing, but I do think it applies to where women are in our society now. Women do not have to live with a sense of being a victim anymore. We have learned to have a voice. I listen to the young women today and they seem so much more empowered than when I was coming up.
When I was a page, I was approached by several leaders in the Women’s Movement, asking me to get involved. I did not have the courage to do that at the time, although I did become involved later.