‘80s Babies Skills That Will Truly Impress Your Kids


I’m a Woman of a Certain Age, which means a large part of my childhood happened in the 1980s. And that means I’m walking around with a lot of skills that were essential then and are now utterly useless, like knowing how to rewind a VHS tape or record a song off the radio onto a cassette tape. Not much occasion to use either of those in the era of streaming media.

Does your kid have a single phone number memorized, besides 911? Would they even recognize a legwarmer, much less know how to scrunch it up perfectly? I doubt it. They’d probably look at you like you’d lost your mind if you showed them (God forbid) a rotary phone. But maybe it’s time to give it a try. Maybe you could actually impress your Gen Alpha brood with some of these throwback tricks. I have some suggestions.

Creating absolutely giant hair

My kid recently saw an old picture of me and some of my relatives on top of the Empire State Building with hair that went even higher than the observation deck and he could barely recognize the people in the photo. In case your kids doubt that anybody ever wore their hair like that: Oh yes we did. And we worked for it, too. First you had to convince your mom to let you get a perm; then after you fried your hair by perming it, you got out your trusty blowdryer and round brush, and went to town getting the front part of your bangs to curl over your forehead, and the upper part to go skyward, creating a frozen waterfall effect. You had to add lots of extra-strength hairspray to get those bangs to stay put. And stay put they did.

I know I could recreate a rockin’ ‘80s look in no time, given some mousse and hairspray. Why I’d want to, other than proving to my kid that I could? Hard to say.

Using paper maps

Hell no, we didn’t have Waze. Phones in the car were for rich businessmen. If you were going somewhere unfamiliar or if you were lost, your parents would pull out the paper map. Maybe your family even had an atlas with laminated pages. Probably an argument between Mom and Dad ensued about the best possible route, complete with threats to turn the car around and go home when the kids inevitably began to get impatient — because there was absolutely nothing in the car to entertain you except maybe a book you couldn’t read anymore or you’d get carsick.

Try pulling out a paper map and showing your kids just how much fun it is to try to re-fold a paper map. Tell them you’re practicing for when the apocalypse comes and the robots take over and refuse to let us access our GPS devices anymore. Or maybe they can just start the next Gen Alpha “throwback” trend, like how young people are all carrying around instant cameras suddenly.

Looking things up in phone books

Back in the ‘80s if you wanted to find out, say, how late the video store was open and you didn’t have the phone number memorized or written down near your phone, you had to use a phone book. Every house had one. You would “let your fingers do the walking” as the old ads went. To our kids, this all probably sounds like when our grandparents used to talk about having “party lines” and switchboard operators.

I can’t remember the last time I saw an actual phone book — do they even make them anymore? — but I have no doubt that if you put one in front of me, I could find a place to have a kid’s birthday party (in the ‘80s that answer would have probably just been McDonald’s), without getting distracted by the latest Instagram post.

When I asked my kid if he knew what “The Yellow Pages” were, he said “Uh, a phone book?” and then went back to playing video games (with amazing graphics, not 8-bit ones).

Catalog shopping… by phone or mail

Back in the pre-internet days, to place an order in a catalog you had to call them up on the phone (which was attached to the wall in your house) and tell them what you wanted, reading them the style number, size, color and your parents’ credit card number over the phone. Or you could mail them a check with an order form indicating what you wanted. Then you waited. There was no way to track where your package was. If it didn’t arrive in a few weeks, you could call the toll-free number, and talk to a human being who could hopefully help you. Maybe you could impress your kids by making a phone call to order something from a paper catalog… you know, those things your mail carrier still delivers to your house that your kids probably ignore completely.

The slang, oh the slang

Let’s not forget all the cool ‘80s slang we knew and used. Like, totally rad!! That is dope. Also fresh! Where’s the beef? Bogus! You can impress your kids by using ‘80s slang when they talk about being snatched in their new fit and how it slays. See, we were once young and had our own vocab that our ‘rents didn’t understand! No duh!

Janine Annett is the author of the humor book, I Am “Why Do I Need Venmo?” Years Old. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Real Simple, Parents, and many other places. She lives in New York with her husband, son, and dog.



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