SNEAK PEEK #8: The 1980s


“The Gen X Poster Child” — from Chapter 8, “100 Years in the Life of an American Girl: True Stories 1910 – 2010” (publishing summer 2013)

“The Gen X Poster Child”  Jenny Isenman, Maryland

Born in 1973, Jenny grew up an only child in an affluent suburb with a bedroom at two houses — her mom’s and her dad’s. A typical kid in the “’burbs” with working parents, she was partly raised by television, she mainlined MTV, she was a slave to fashion, and she coveted the popular toys of the time. She carpooled to school with neighborhood friends and spent her school hours daydreaming about boys and scribbling things in bubble letters on her denim three-ring binders as she counted the seconds until dismissal. At home after school she entertained herself until someone came home from work.

I’m the MTV generation, an official card-carrying Gen Xer, one of the latchkey kids whose moms were back in the workplace for one reason or another. My mom’s reason was divorce, when I was 3, though she was one of those self-sufficient women who would have worked no matter what. I was a typical latchkey kid, which basically means I fended for myself, entertaining myself after school until about 5:30 when my mom got home from work — unless it was a Tuesday or Friday, which means I entertained myself until my dad picked me up to whisk me off to Burger King or the mall or some other place “weekend dads” would take you.

At home, while waiting for someone to relieve me from babysitting myself, I’d settle in front of the TV. And I mean close up in front the TV, and not because I was rebelling against parents who constantly warned such proximity would ruin my eyesight, but because it was a way shorter distance to change the channel, shift the bunny ears, or mess with the tracking on a video. From a couple feet away from the set I watched a medley of sitcoms just in syndication (“Benson,” “WKRP,” “Cheers,” “Who’s the Boss” and “Family Ties”). Some days Elyse Keaton (Meredith Baxter-Birney) was my surrogate mom, teaching me and Alex P. how to deal with bullies. Other days Tony Micelli (Tony Danza) was my surrogate dad, explaining the finer points of dealing with preteen heartache. Other days I hung with a bunch of bar flies chugging beer, at their local pub, Cheers. Who knew I was listening to the rantings of people in desperate need of AA?

In my spare time, I obsessed over boys. I was pretty certain I would one day date one or more of the following: Scott Baio, Shawn Cassidy, Leif Garrett, River Phoenix, one of the Coreys, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Jason Bateman, Kirk Cameron, Matt Dillon, Ricky Schroder, or Tom Cruise. How would this happen? Well, it would start the way all solid relationships did: with a note handwritten on paper pulled from my Trapper Keeper that said, “Will you go with me? Check a box below.” The options would be, “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe.” You know, in case he needed time to think or just wasn’t ready to commit. I imagined celebrity heartthrobs would be no more prepared to commit than the 9-year-old boys who had received similar notes scribbled in my hand and delivered by my best friend. My biggest concern was how to get that best friend to deliver a note to these Tiger Beat cover boys who lived so far away and would probably NEVER show up at recess.

If Matt Dillon did happen to miraculously grace the grounds of my school, I was dressed for it. If you wanted to be cool, and I so desperately did, you had to sell your soul to the mall. If you raided my closet, over the years you could find Farlows, EGs, ID number shirts, CP Shades, oversized Champion sweatshirts in DayGlo colors, Benetton B sweaters and rugby shirts, Guess jeans, Polos and Izods (collars turned up), Esprit ensembles, parachute pants, Jams, SKIDZ, anything made of velour, men’s boxers, OP shorts, Gasoline jeans with conductor stripes on one side, Swatch watches, and anything Madonna wore, from goomy bracelets [industrial rubber bands] to lace fingerless gloves. Yep, I had all the important duds, and a pretty tubular puffy stickers collection to boot.



Stay posted for the LAST TWO sneak peeks into “100 Years in the Life of an American Girl” before it publishes (the 1990s and 2000s). Publication’s getting closer! Be sure to subscribe to my newsletter for publishing updates, book pre-order info and to enter the drawing held this May for a FREE BOOK.