The plight of the sandwich generation

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‘Another Meanwhile in Australia video? What is it with Gen X and their obsession with Jimmy Rees?’ We’re in the kitchen. I’m slicing up chicken; my sixteen-year-old cuts tofu. At the bench, Christopher, a hulking fourteen-year-old, has set up his laptop, ostensibly to do homework, but judging by the frequency in which he shows us memes, I don’t think much work is getting done. 

 

‘What do you mean, Gen X?’ I ask. I thought everybody liked those videos where the same man pretends to be all of the states and territories in Australia. They’re funny.

Matilda tilts the tofu towards Christopher, who nods before she tips it into a bowl. ‘Gen X. Like you and all of your friends and all of my teachers. You all like the same things. And lockdown memes! Gen X is all over the lockdown memes. That one you put on the family chat about the Montague Street bridge being used as a border because it stops removalists? FIVE of my teachers shared that exact same meme. They all thought they were the only one.’

‘If a teacher thinks it’s funny, it’s basically not ever funny,’ Christopher confirms.

Eleven-year-old Harry delivers a large bowl of chopped vegetables from his workstation at the dinner table. ‘I’m going to use my screen time now,’ he says.

‘But I love lockdown memes! They’re the best!’

‘Yup. That’s because you’re Gen X.’ Mat’s hunting for a frying pan.

‘Actually, I think I might be a Millennial,’ I venture.

‘No way. You are so Gen X. You are classic Gen X.’

‘Classic Gen X,’ Christopher echoes vaguely, grinning at his computer screen. 

I was born at the end of 1980. For many years, I was supposed to be at the older end of Generation Y. It has only been more recently, when Strauss and Howe’s description of the ‘Millennial Generation’ was further refined by the Pew Research Center as beginning with people born in 1981, that ‘cuspers’ or ‘Xennials’ like myself have been relegated to Generation X.

 

‘Gen X has grown to middle age. We are now the sandwich generation. Many of us care for young children at home. Many care for our ageing parents. Many do both at the same time.’

 

Gen X is the overlooked generation. The middle child of generational groups, Gen X was originally defined for its indefinable qualities. Unlike Baby Boomers, whose characteristics have distinct historical influences, Gen X was seen as a more mysterious cohort. Once stereotyped as the MTV generation, a gang of apathetic, disaffected ‘latchkey kids’, Gen X has grown to middle age. We are now the sandwich generation. Many of us care for young children at home. Many care for our ageing parents. Many do both at the same time.

I’m frying the chicken in the big wok while Mat fries tofu on the burner beside me. Both Mat and Chris are vegetarian. An eruption of shrieks bursts from the other side of the room, where the TV and couches are. ‘We were WATCHING My Little Pony! Put it back on!’

‘It’s MY screen time! I chopped the veggies!’

‘Nobody wants to watch your stupid show!’

‘Stop hitting me! It’s MY screen time!’

In a climate of repeat lockdowns, the pressure on parents of young children is at times unbearable. My mental load is at near-capacity as it is. In lockdown, it clicks into overdrive.

There is something about being the one in charge of everybody’s emotional health, something about being the one who has to ‘set the tone’ for the household, that creates intense pressure that’s difficult to manage. As a generation, we tend to be in debt, house-poor, and downwardly mobile. When added to the stress of worrying about vulnerable parents, is it any wonder that Gen X-ers are reaching breaking point?

Humour is a universal coping strategy. I don’t think it’s at all strange that a mother of six and a group of worn-out teachers trying their best to educate their students remotely all pounced on the same lockdown meme and shared it around. We need a laugh.

I love a good meme. Something about superimposing text over an expressive photo feels like the perfect comedy format. And surely lockdown memes are the best memes of all?

I start scooping rice into bowls. Mat and Chris are Generation Z, also called ‘post millennials’ and ‘zoomers’. More Rick and Morty than South Park, my teenagers also like memes, but these are far more obscure and complex than the ones you might see on my parkrun chat.

I smile vaguely as they show me their subversive tram-based humour dense with references. I laugh weakly and pretend I understand the joke. Then I surreptitiously go onto ‘Urban Dictionary’ and ‘Know Your Meme’ for research. (What is ‘Chad’? What is ‘Simp’? What is ‘Stonks’?) By the time I’ve worked it out, it’s already dead. I’ve also learnt that if a meme employs ‘Impact’ font and unironic Minions, it is both dead and cringe.

I do try to understand Zoomer culture. I’ve even experimented using a Drake meme format to express my distaste at dirty cloths being left unrinsed in the sink. It was deemed ‘cringe’. I don’t care. I think it’s awesome. 

Dinner’s on the table and my husband emerges from the study, his new workplace. It’s nice, at least, that we’re all home for dinner and not rushing to after-school activities.

‘The thing about Jimmy Rees videos,’ Matilda sets chilli sauce in the middle of the table and sits down, ‘is that they’re all the same joke.’

‘Yeah, but it’s a good joke.’ And it’s not about the joke. It’s about the solidarity. Part of the appeal of Jimmy Rees is that he is himself a parent of young children. He understands the stress of being the captain of a ship that is stranded in the doldrums with an anxious and depleted crew that needs him to hold it all together at all times. At least, that’s how I choose to perceive him.

I don’t care about Zoomer eye-rolls. The next time I see a ‘Meanwhile in Australia’ video on Facebook, or a Sammy J ‘Hookturnistan’ video on iView, or a pithy lockdown meme in my ‘Writer Mums’ WhatsApp group, I will share it right away. I will post and re-post with reckless abandon.

So cringe? So what!

 

 

Kate MoriartyKate Moriarty is a freelance writer. She writes the 'Home Truths' column at Australian Catholics and blogs at Laptop on the Ironing Board.

Main image credit: Mother serving lunch with daughter in kitchen (10,000 hours/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Kate Moriarty, GenX, COVID-19, lockdown, memes, family, humour, emotional health

 

 

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Existing comments

Thanks Kate - as a self-confessed and unreconstructed fag-end Boomer, how poorly I apprehend the interplays among GenX, GenY, GenZ, Millennial, Zoomer. But I do feel for your GenSandwich reference, peculiar perhaps to this thin and unique stratum trapped within multiple - indeed, multiplying (with each new study) - Gens-this and Gens-that. What we do share in common is the ability to access 'Urban Dictionary', when we need it. Which, I admit, is rather a lot.


Richard Jupp | 04 August 2021  

Actually, you seem to be having a wonderful, if stressed, time with a very bright and lively young family, Kate. I am a Baby Boomer with three adult children but no grandchildren, so I do not get to see the sort of life your children lead. Fortunately cousins in America and the UK had grandchildren, so our line continues and I believe their grandkids are as feisty as yours. Their parents are all well educated and were able to give them the love and affection you obviously give yours. On a secular Buddhist meditation retreat - it was generally very good with very lively people and far better food than the appalling crap they normally serve on Christian retreats - I met a rather dour lady who was part of something with a name like Limit Population. They believe no one should have children. God help us! What an awfully dull world that would be. She was an academic of some variety. It figures. My guru, the late Sir Brian Hone, Headmaster for many years of Melbourne Grammar School, once told us in Assembly in the War Memorial Hall that he felt some of the stupidest people he knew had PhDs. His Oxford English tutor was none other than C S Lewis. I concur. Far rather people like you, extremely intelligent and lively and not suffering from intellectual constipation.


Edward Fido | 04 August 2021  

Kate. A simply magnificent article. I am with you lockdown memes and memes in general get us through! Don't listen to Mat and Chris!
I better do.my daily dump of memes now.


Mark O'Dowd | 04 August 2021  

Love this article. The comparisons between generations is on point and the reflections on family life is so pertinent. Great writing Kate.


Kathleen Walter | 05 August 2021  

"I laugh weakly and pretend I understand the joke." This is exactly how I feel about Zoomer memes haha I never understand! Great article!


Michael Walter | 06 August 2021  

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