A little story about growing old…
(Warning: This is no fairytale!)
Today I drove an hour to the Girl Scout Sailing Camp so that my daughter could complete her sailing instruction and earn her Mariner’s status. She only had a few items to complete, and did so as resident campers went about their activities. Annie finished early, and as I was walking to the office to pick her up, I passed a group of 10 or so campers who were about nine years old. As I approached the back of the “line,” I heard the following conversation:
CLUELESS GIRL: Hey, that’s the second old lady I’ve seen today.
THOUGHTFUL GIRL: Shush! You don’t say that, especially when she’s right there.
CLUELESS GIRL: What? What did I say?”
THOUGHTFUL GIRL: You called that lady old and she could hear you. You don’t call ladies old, especially to their face.
CLUELESS GIRL: I didn’t say it to her face. I would never do that, but she is old.
As this banter continued, I did not react at all. I simply walked past these young girls as if I were in my own world, pretending that I did not hear this dialogue that will be forever seared in my mind. Unbeknownst to these charming little divas, this old lady heard the entire conversation and was pretty darn surprised. What ran through my mind was this: “Did that girl just call me an old lady? An old lady? Really? Do I look like an old lady? I don’t feel like an old lady, but maybe I am. Did I cross some old lady line that I didn’t see and now cannot go back to being a young lady or heck just a plain lady? What do you think she meant by old? Maybe this darling wanted to say sophisticated but didn’t have the vocabulary for that.”
Move over President Bush! If you want some SHOCK and AWE, you just needed to look at my face. I don’t know why I was so shocked. After all, this happened one other time when I was even younger than I am today.
Two days before Christmas, my mother-in-law decided my girls NEEDED American Girl dolls under the tree. So, I braved the Houston traffic and schlepped up to the American Girl Doll Store, which is about 25 miles away from my house. But, it was okay because I was in good company. It seemed everyone who owned a car in Houston and the surrounding suburbs was also out seeking the perfect last minute gift. So, I felt as if I were in good, albeit angry and aggressive, company.
After 40 minutes of circling the parking lot for a space, I settled on one in a medical office building several blocks away. Good thing I wore my sneakers because I ran a half-marathon just to get to the mall entrance. Once in the AGD store, I noticed the shelves were looking picked over. Despite the paltry offerings, it seemed as though 1,236 people were packed together for this festive shopping experience. I was lucky enough to get the last Molly Doll and the third to last Rebecca doll. Always the optimist, I counted my blessings for the 53 minutes I stood in line to pay. You can imagine my mood by the time I got to the register. Let’s just say, I wasn’t feeling holly or jolly.
When it was my turn, this very perky 19-year-old said, “Can I help you?” You bet I wanted to say, but I was the epitome of refinement, and said, “Yes, I would like to purchase these dolls?”
With that, the perky salesgirl said, “Certainly. Are these for your granddaughters?”
Huh? Did I hear that right? I literally stuck my fingers in my ears to check for wax build-up because there was no way this lady was calling me a grandma. I could tell my pause was making her uncomfortable because her neck and face started turning a shade of scarlet I’ve only seen on people who didn’t use sunscreen and fell asleep at the beach. I don’t like conflict, so I quickly answered, “No. They’re not for my grandkids.” I wasn’t rude. There was no snippy tone in my voice. I tried to keep it as nonchalant as I could. Once the bag and receipt were in hand, I sprinted to the mall exit and ran so fast to my car I could have won the Presidential Physical Fitness test for best time. (Do they still have that?)
Out of breath, I unlocked my door, threw the dolls in the back seat and tire-squeaked it out of there. Safely in my minivan with the windows rolled up, I let out a primordial scream: “OMG! Grandmother? Grandmother? Did she just ask me if I was buying this for my grandchildren? Really? What about my persona screams grandmother? I don’t even have wrinkles. It’s true. Look closely. I don’t. Then, I started to think about what they were teaching in salesmanship and customer service these days. Seriously, if you were going to err, wouldn’t you err on the nice side, and ask if these were for my daughters—even if I did look 87? I would. Back in the day (I love this generic expression), my parents taught me to never refer to a person’s age because you might offend them.
Turns out my mama were right; I was pretty darn offended. I thought, “Heck, I’m not even 50 yet. What will kids call me when I reach the big 5-0 or 6-0? Maybe I should reconsider boycotting that whole Botox thing. Maybe I need to find those coupons for Regenerist Serum. Maybe I should make an appointment now for that lipo-tuck I’ve always wanted. Surely not all my kids will need braces or will want to go to college.”
I worked myself into quite a dither in the hour it took me to drive home. I wanted to run to the safety of my husband’s arms who would console me like Sheldon does in The Big Bang Theory, with a “There. There,” and a hot beverage. Fortunately for him, he wasn’t home to see this premature grandmother meltdown.
That was two years ago. Today I reacted with grace and maturity. When I came out of the office, the girls all parted and became quiet as Annie and I passed them. When my daughter wasn’t looking, I turned around and stuck my tongue out at them all*, and whispered, “Old lady? Who’s an old lady now?”
* In truth I did not stick my tongue out. I simply smiled at the girls, but the tongue thing was the fantasy that was playing in my mind as I walked away.