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At the pharmacy last week, the cashier asked if I qualified for the senior’s discount.

I’m 38.

I was so unprepared for the question that I completely missed it:

Over 50? If so you get a discount,” said the cashier.

“No thanks, I don’t need anything else. I’ll just get these,” I replied.

“No, I mean…”, the cashier pauses awkwardly and looks at me, as the intent of her question dawns on me.  “I have to ask,” she whispers meekly.

As I left the store with my six and three year-old in tow a number of thoughts went through my mind:

I guess I look tired today…

Maybe she wasn’t paying attention?

Do women my age REALLY look that old to teenagers?

Already?

Did she think I was their grandmother?

Sigh.

As a note, I will now remember 38 as one of those aging crossroads: the year I was both carded at the liquor store and asked if I was a senior citizen.

Louise_Hayes_newcropJust so we can all have a visual, that’s me on the left, make-up free. The photo was taken exactly a year ago and is still accurate.

It was an odd moment for me.

And while I don’t want to give it more importance than it deserves, I’m still thinking on it a week later.

And I HATE that.

Because I KNOW it shouldn’t matter.

But I also know it’s naïve to think that how people perceive you based on physical appearance doesn’t matter – especially for women.

From early on I remember commercials on television where women, with authority, sold make-up products declaring “Grow old gracefully? Not me!”

Even earlier than that, I remember all the Disney mothers mainly by their absence.

While I first thought this had to do with making the story scarier for children (ie: fairy tales are in part about letting kids deal with fear in safe space and the mother being dead is pretty scary for a young child), I later came to wonder if it also had to do with the writers of fairy tales feeling those women served little purpose after they’d given birth.

I came across that depressing concept when I was doing my Masters’ Degree in Political Science in my mid-twenties. It wasn’t about Disney, but rather a paper I wrote on early 20th Century French Canadian literature where mothers also have an alarmingly high mortality rate. Indeed, I discovered that in almost half the cases looked at by various academics, women already married at the beginning of these novels die or otherwise disappear by the end. Later 20th Century efforts to give women voice then in part revolted against the earlier depictions of mother figures in these novels by again killing mom.

Moving beyond any mommy complex I might have from all this, there is then also the fact that all of pop culture is obsessed with youth and never growing up.

Music break for applicable Canadian content:

Which all comes back to me now as a 38 mother dealing with aging and how I feel about my own appearance.

Like anyone, my feelings on that come with all the baggage assembled in life until now.

I remember:

  • My mother’s tale about the other mother from my younger brother’s kindergarten class who, upon meeting her, declared, “You can’t be Alex’s mother! She’s ancient! Because she waited FOREVER before having Alex’s MUCH OLDER sister and then again waited YEARS before having Alex!”
  • The photographer on family vacation who managed to give flat-chested 13-year-old me cleavage. I think the photo is still framed at my parent’s house and the story is still told about the photographic genius involved in making THAT happen.
  • First being called “ma’am” at 16 (by a 13 year-old boy at the wading pool I worked at who was then eager to describe his gang-like life and how he wasn’t a virgin).
  • Being the youngest beach lifeguard in Ottawa at 17 and wishing I was old enough to club with the others. And my female coworker – the guard with the dolphin tattoo on her hip who was sleeping with the captain of the Ottawa U basketball (or maybe football) team (but he was totally hot) who felt the need to tell me there was really no reason for us to try to talk/be social because I was way too young to “get” her.
  • Being continually carded for movies because I was underage. It took three tries before I finally got to see Pulp Fiction in theatres.
  • The first time I was referred to as “Alex’s older sister” when lifeguarding (he was 3.5 years younger and swam too, but never lifeguarded).
  • Being the “oldest” swimmer on the team when I swam varsity at 26 during grad school and the coach treating me differently as a result (asking me to watch the others during beach training and expecting me to put expenses for trips on my credit card because he was “all maxed out”).
  • My sister-in-law telling me at a family wedding eight years ago that I was leaving it a bit late to have kids.
  • Hearing that I was “too young and inexperienced” for a job I was interested in and qualified for two years ago.
  • Being asked if I qualified for the senior’s discount last week.

So here’s the moment where this post is supposed to morph into some sort of sunshine and lollipops “Hey, it’s okay!” conclusion.

Links to source

But I don’t really think it is okay.

I’m fine with how I look and where I am in life. And I like to think that the reason all those above moments are so memorable to me is because I was so surprised when they happened.

I’d like to live in a world where experience or competence trump physical appearance. I try to view and treat people with these lenses where possible. I know many others who do as well.

But experience teaches me that many don’t. And so while I’d love to live in the world I describe above, until that happens, I still live here. And so it matters.

That said, for all the above WTF?! moments I’ve had, I’ve also had any number of equally wonderful ones that show those I’m speaking to truly believe age is just a number, we all learn from one another, and that life at every stage can be wonderful.

Many of these come from my active involvement with the alumni association for my university (Go Ravens!). Through that, I get a lot of opportunities to spend time with students and those experiences are wholly fulfilling. I’ve recently met with students keen to learn from my experience and keen to teach me about theirs. Those interactions show the value of all ages and experiences.

My other experience that drives home the lessened importance of age and celebration of all life stages is blogging.

This past weekend, I attended BConnected, which is Canada’s Digital Influencer & Business Social Media Conference. It’s my second year attending and is a chance to meet and catch up with the bloggers I interact with online in real life. This year reinforced for me that the blogging community embodies the fact that opportunity and enthusiasm with life happens at every stage. I also LOVE that the Saturday party gave me a chance to dance AND included the Time Warp.

So what are your thoughts on aging? Matters? Or pfft? What do I have in store? I wanna know.

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