Senior Moment

I was in a local restaurant where you go thru a small cafeteria line to choose your entree and sides. With my lunch on my tray, I walked up to the cashier to pay. The woman behind the counter looked and me and asked, “Are you a senior?”

I’m not. At least, I don’t think I am.

Lots of thoughts flashed thru my head. Do I look old enough to be a “senior?” Is that good or bad? How old do you have to be to get the Senior Discount? (Which, by the way, I was too flustered to ask.) If I said yes, would she card me?

“No,” I replied to her. “But I’m getting close.” I laughed. She didn’t.

My thoughts continued: What makes me look like a senior? My hair isn’t very gray. Have those little lines around my mouth, the ones I’m really starting to hate, gotten to the point of making me look old? I wasn’t offended but surprised. And curious. What had propelled me into possible senior-hood?

This was a new one for me. I’ve spent most of my years being mistaken as younger than my age. For many years that was annoying—as a kid I wanted to be seen as older than I was— like most kids, I think. The constant bid for bigger and better and all the things we thought another year would afford us.

Most annoying was the fact I was small and therefore quite a bit shorter than my same-age friends. This was okay until we started going to amusement parks and Six Flags together. Outside many rides would be a wooden figure with a measuring stick on it and a sign saying “You must be this tall to ride.” My friends were all tall enough to ride. I was still WAY shorter then they and so, NO, I was not tall enough to ride. Being short and small suddenly stopped being cute and fun for me.

But then things flipped again and in adulthood, being viewed as younger than my age was flattering. My husband and I got married at 24 and both had baby faces. On our honeymoon, I was sure people thought we were twelve.

I remember the first time it seemed I had crossed that line from young to . . . what? Mature? I was standing in a little market/deli in the town where I had gone to college. I had been out of school for about 5 years so was in my late 20s. The aisles in the store were narrow so passing another person took some turning and squeezing. A young man, clearly a college student, walked up behind me. I was blocking his way and politely he said, “Excuse me, Ma’am.“

I turned around, looking, wondering where she was. Where was the Ma’am who was in the way?

Oh. That was me. I had must become a Ma’am.

That was a bit jarring. I had clearly made some sort of leap. Or maybe he was just from the South and had learned to refer to any woman older than him as Ma’am. One could hope.

Today propelled me once again into new era of my life, the one where I might be perceived as a Senior. I have to admit, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Based on the thoughts swirling through my head at the register, ambivalent.

I am 57 years old. So it’s conceivable that by some measures I’m a senior. I think part of my surprise comes from the fact I haven’t designated myself as a Senior yet. In my mind, seniorhood starts at 60 at the earliest. (Though AARP clearly thinks it is 50 since that’s when I started receiving never-ending solicitations from them.) Why 60? I have no idea. It’s a notion I wasn’t even aware was in my head.

For all my jitteriness about possibly being as senior, part of me got pretty excited. Senior discounts? Hell yeah! I’m all for that. If it’ll save me money on lunch, I don’t feel so bad about it.

Chris Chandler