My daughter, Jen, took this photo when she was about ten years old.
That means I would have been about thirty years old, and that this was about thirty years ago.
I still fully expect this woman to be looking back at me when I look in the mirror. I am always surprised when she’s not. “Oh…”, I think. “It’s you.” I forgot.
Someone said, and I believe it to be true, that we are always the same age inside.
Inside, I’m about thirty-five.
Outside is a different story.
I’m a small person with a decent smile and big eyes. Those traits gave me two advantages for much of my life: I looked young for my age, and I was cute.
I didn’t appreciate either, for a long time. As a teenager, there is no advantage – at least none apparent to that teenager – to looking like a twelve-year-old. As a young mother in her twenties and thirties, no advantage to looking like a teenager. The cute factor kept me from being taken seriously, I thought. I was a serious thinker back then.
I didn’t realize I actually used these traits to my advantage, until they no longer worked.
It takes you by surprise, age.
I prepared to enter a bar, I.D. card out and ready, only to be waved past without a glance. Oh. When did that change?
I smiled nicely up at a police officer when he stopped me for a tail light out, and got only a gruff, “Get ‘er fixed Ma’am” in response. Oh.
The time when, as a waitress, I approached a table, smiled, and in a we’re-all-in-this-together tone said, “Okay, have you decided what you’d like to order?” The looks they exchanged as they scrambled to make choices told me clearly we were not “all in this together” but rather that they saw me as a parent or a teacher who was demanding a decision. Oh.
The time when a car full of young boys approached me as I was walking down the road: my hair was long and didn’t show the gray in back; I am small and narrow-hipped; their tone and comments told me they clearly thought I was their age. As they drove up and stopped, I set my face in a mild smile, prepared to kindly say, “I’m old enough to be your mother.” They took a quick look. Their grins turned to looks of horror and disgust as they judged, I’m guessing, that I was old enough to be their grandmother. The boy in the center leaned toward the driver and said, “RUN!” The driver gave a little nod and floored it. The car zoomed away. Oh-oh.
I get it. I’m surprised, too.
Last week, a young waiter offered me the senior menu. I feigned shock and insult, but thought I was good-humored in letting him know I was not old enough for the senior menu. Two days later, trying to impress me with his memory, he said, “So, you prefer to not be offered the senior menu, right?”
Yesterday, a man came into the store where I work. He’s my age or a bit older. He doesn’t live here on Beaver Island year around, but has a cabin here, and spends a good deal of time here in warm weather. I’ve known him for thirty years. When I was the morning waitress at the Shamrock, he was a regular customer. I’ve run into him in the shops and stores, or at the beach. I’ve waited on him when he’s come into the hardware. It’s nice to see familiar faces, and I gave him a friendly greeting, which he returned, with a smile.
“How’s your daughter?”, he then asked.
I have two daughters.
“Oh…you know, the one who used to work at the Shamrock…Cindy!”
Cindy. That would be me.
I’ve just aged into the mother of my younger self.