I’ve written before about being mistaken as my kids’ grandmother instead of mother. When it’s a kid that does it, I don’t get mad. After all, I seem to recall as a high school sophomore thinking the college-aged kids must be really mature and have their life all planned out as I served them post-parting-hangover food. Obviously, one’s own age and experiences plays a role in such perceptions.
An older gentleman who had a “grandpa” like status in my childhood had two sayings he was fond of: “Hair and brains don’t mix” and “Age ain’t nothin’ but mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” Yes, he was bald as a cue-ball and a very fun-loving young-at-heart kind of soul. He may have missed a few lessons on grammar and proper language, but he was spot-on about the role of context and perspective.
So while the context of aging is different for children, it really is all about perspective. It’s about how you perceive the value of aging and the aged. At least that’s what I’m reminding myself these days.
Last week I was offered the senior citizen discount on my cup of coffee.
I’m 44. Which, no matter how you do the math is a long ways from the “varies by location” age requirement for a senior discount. (Who knew Arby’s was only 55! Woot, 11 more years, baby!) And while I certainly don’t have the skin of a “senior”, I do have the hair color of one. So I can understand how the woman at the till may have quickly glanced in my direction, saw gray hair, and gave me the discount. But what was interesting was her reaction to my reaction.
“Only $1.07? Really?” I asked as I put back the second bill and sorted through some change.
“Yep. That’s the price with the senior citizen discount,” she said while straightening the stack of ones in the till, assessing the potential for a line behind me, and seeing if the other barista was filling my cup yet. In other words, even when I questioned her about the price, she didn’t really look at me.
Have you ever done that? Looked at someone and not really saw them; instead saw them via the context you had already created by your perspective? I’m assuming if you’ve seen any John Hughes’ films, you know how this can play out.
I’m not complaining that the barista was so focused on speeding me through the line that I saved a few cents on my cup of black coffee. Heck, thank you. And I’m not sure I’m actually even really complaining about being mistaken as someone in their 50s or 60s, since if my appearance really distressed me, I could try finding a hair color product that doesn’t bother my health issues.
I guess what I am complaining about is that I had forgotten. I had forgotten how folks create an identity for me based on their context and their perspective. My complaint isn’t that they do it because such behavior is a fully human one. My complaint is that it is always such a shock to be reminded that this is what happens to all of us, all the time. After all, I only think of my hair color when I look in a mirror. The other 23.75 hours in my day is spent thinking about more important things. But my hair color is an easy way to try to judge me, to create a context for who and what I am, based on someone’s perspective on aging. I’m not sure I like people taking the easiest route to decide what to think about me. And yet, I don’t have much to complain about. What about the people with disabilities, or 200 extra pounds, or religious garb, or birthmarks, or whatever. It’s always the easy route we take to create a context for someone and then fill in the details with our own perspectives.
Thinking about such things happening, as well as how I do it myself, makes me a tad agitated.
However, I’m sure a nice cup of coffee can sooth my nerves. At least until the jitters start.