11/16/2012 10:43 am ET Updated Jan 16, 2013

The TV Generation, Healthy Snacks and Husky Toughskins

The traditional definition of "baby boomer" is someone born between the years of 1946 and 1964. I was born in 1965, the beginning of Generation X. Recently, I read an article that said many boomers prefer the term "TV generation" over baby boomer, and I strongly identify with that.

My early favorite programs were on PBS, which in Chicago was WTTW (Window to the World), and that's an apt acronym. I believe Mister Roger's Neighborhood was the first show I was allowed to watch. His calm, soothing voice and gentle manner was mom-approved. He would show you things from the real world and explain them in a way a young child could grasp. My favorite segment was the "Neighborhood of Make Believe," which started by following an electric trolley to another set filled with puppet characters. Later, after mom overcame her skepticism of its educational benefits, I was allowed to watch Sesame Street. I loved all the characters, both human and Muppet. I loved the use of primary colors; the short, quick segments; and the overall pacing. The baker who always fell down the stairs and dropped his pies helped me learn how to count to ten; I had to have a rubber ducky with me when I took a bath. A few years later I became a big fan of Zoom. The show had a mailing address in Boston, and sometimes I still sing the zip code "O two 1 three 4" if someone even mentions the city, which never fails to raise eyebrows. In my opinion, the idea that mom was "using the TV as a babysitter" is a little harsh. It was a matter of her knowing that I was in the house and occupied that allowed her to "get things done" with peace of mind.

In the grammar school days, the sting of having to return to school was somewhat tempered by the new season of Saturday morning shows. Sabrina and the Groovy Goolies, Josie and the Pussycats, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, H.R. Pufnstuf, The Jackson 5, The Osmond Brothers, Wacky Races and Fat Albert are all mixed up in my head as one long, glorious Saturday morning. Completely intertwined with this are all the cereals I ate while watching: Apple Jacks, Cap'n Crunch and Cheerios, Fruit Loops and Frosted Flakes, and the trio of Boo Berry, Count Chocula and Frankenberry all come to mind. I never ate Life cereal though, because everyone told me I looked exactly like Mikey, and I did.

I was allowed to come home for lunch in the early years of school, and it was common to consume a can of Campbell's chicken soup along with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while watching Bozo's Circus. After school, I was allowed to either go out and play or watch TV for an hour. By the time November rolled around, TV won out, and I would race home to watch Speed Racer, Batman and Underdog. A snack to hold me over until dad came home for dinner was also in order. I loved Hostess products, especially the chocolate ones like Ding Dongs, Ho Ho's and Suzy Q's. I now find it funny that mom would sometimes substitute an apple or cherry pie as a more "nutritious" alternative.

With those habits firmly established, it's no wonder that I was, um... fat. I was extremely conscious of this, and I preferred to wear jeans and a sweatshirt whenever possible. I thought that masked my true girth, but it couldn't hide the fact that almost every other kid could run faster and was more athletic than I was. Most of the time this wasn't too big an issue, but I always hated to go clothes shopping. Around this time, Sears released "Toughskins," some kind of synthetic-jean hybrid designed to stand up to day-to-day punishment. While it was a bit of a social stigma to be seen wearing these, widespread adoption by many suburban moms lessened the blow. I, however, had to endure the added insult of wearing Husky Toughskins, not being able to fit in the standard issue sizes. I think one of the most embarrassing moments of my life happened during a back-to-school shopping spree, and I know for a fact that many others of my generation survived a similar horror. I was at Sears with my mom, and noticed that several other kids in my grade were there with their parents. I was kind of hanging out where they were shopping, in the normal-sized section, when I heard my mom call out, loud enough for the whole store to hear:

"Tom! The husky section is over here."