September 20, 2018

Guest Column: When did I become a ma’am?

By Karen Sturtevant

As I approach the half-century mark, I can’t help but spend a bit of time reflecting on my experiences of wandering along my life’s path. My, how time does indeed fly. A coworker recently remarked, “The days go slow, but the years pass so quickly.” She was right.

If we are parents, one way we mark the passage of time is when we marvel at our offspring, remembering their first steps and day one of kindergarten then wondering how she got from there to a college campus in a blink of an eye. My 6-foot tall, handsome nephew Ben starts university in the fall. To me, he will always be the 3-year-old, tiny toddler. We count our wedding anniversaries (or divorces), the number of years we’ve lived in the same house, decades of employment, therapy and diets, career changes, gaining of friends, passing of family.

I’m finding that things once thought silly and stupid are now acceptable. When did that shift happen? Programmed radio stations have changed from rock to talk. An exciting Saturday night means cuddling up with my rescue pup and reading a good book. Who needs to go out? I pay more attention to remedies for achy joints and Sunday morning commentaries. And, when did that age spot appear? It looks like Mickey Mouse ears. Bird watching was for old people, but I now notice the songbirds in the morning and saw an owl take flight just the other day. By the way, when did the print on everything get so small?

When I was a growing up, middle age meant being a gray-haired grandmother with apron fastened and lard at the ready just in case a batch of homemade donuts were needed. Fifty was frumpy. Fifty was, well, old. If 40 is the new 30, is 50 the new 40? Does it all really matter anyway? Full disclosure: I wear an apron (with cute images of cocoa and cappuccino in fancy cups.)

The world is a different place than it was when my grandmother and mother turned 50. We are more skeptical, less trusting. Our schedules are stacked, our eyes heavy. We’re pulled this way and that and find it hard to say no. At this age, if we’re on the right track, we have evolved as individuals, as citizens of the world. We’re more concerned with happenings in the Middle East than with what shoes go with what scarf. We watch our 401(K) balance with the same intensity we once used in obsessing over celebrity gossip. We know that beauty magazines make us feel ugly and the new mascara being peddled by the latest Barbie doll won’t fix our real life problems. We pay attention to supermarket flyers, stock up on bulk sugar and glass cleaner and make room for extra paper towels because they were “on sale.” Instead of stepping on the overturned alien-looking beetle, I now right it and watch as it goes on its merry way. We pretend we know how our new laptop and smartphone work. We have privileged person’s problems, and aren’t we fortunate for that?

Recently a trip to my post office box yielded a surprise of sorts … I was approved for membership in the AARP! The letter was accompanied with an embossed name card of my very own. Was I ready to admit this was the year I turn 50? My social media newsfeed now tempts me with eye creams and skin tightening ointments. The checkout person now calls me, “ma’am.” Me, a ma’am?

When I was younger, I often thought it took a confident woman to go out in the world with no make-up, hair piled in a messy rat’s nest and attire fit more for the dump than public scrutiny. On any given day, when social norms don’t deem it necessary for matching earrings and belt, I am comfortable in ripped jeans, oversized sweatshirts and sport wild, askew hair. Ironed pants, not necessary. Matching socks be damned. At 50, those unwritten rules are no longer a priority to me. Naps and good coffee are.

What is important is not the newest green accessory or coolest e-gadget (although nice), but the way we treat one another, the lens in which we see the differences, the possibilities of each person, each situation. I like to think I am a better and caring person in my older todays than my younger yesterdays. I am surely not the superhero my dog thinks I am, but I’m trying. Imagine a world where respect, honesty and manners were the rules, not exceptions. That’s the place I wish for in my next 50 years.

Whether a person leans far left or is flung right, deep down, when the multiple layers that make our complexities are peeled back, we have common needs: to be heard, respected, valued, safe, loved. At 5 or 50, we share more traits than we realize. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could embrace and appreciate one another rather than warring in hopes of being the last one standing and dying with the most toys?

As I power walk toward the next half of the century mark, I hope I will continue to grow into a person who sees the light in others, stifles judgment and gives the benefit of the doubt. It’s an everyday challenge, but I think I’m up to it. After all, I am a member of the AARP and have the card to prove it, even if it is being used as a bookmark for those wild Saturday nights.

Karen Sturtevant lives in Williston.

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