I was walking the dog the other day and passed a young man in a baseball cap working in a neighbor’s yard. He looked up, smiled, and called, “Good afternoon, Ma’am!” I smiled and waved back, but inside I was shrieking, “Ma’am?! Ma’am?! I’m not a Ma’am!”
I look in the mirror and I don’t see a Ma’am. Next year I will be fifty, so chronologically, I am firmly in Ma’am territory, like it or not. Why did his respectful greeting bother me so much? I’m not one of those women contemplating Botox. My biggest worry when it comes to aging is that my knees will keep me from running or I won’t have the energy for my ever expanding garden habit. Age isn’t such a bad thing. I’m looking forward to less responsibility and more time in the hammock.
But I don’t want to be a Ma’am. Ma’ams are not sexy. They are not fun. They are not hip, interesting, or exciting. They wear cardigan sweaters, let their hair go gray, and cart around a few extra pounds. Ma’ams drive too slow on the highway and grumble over the check-out person who forgets to give them the extra ten cents off per pound on their ground beef. They complain about kids today and resent school taxes, pierced eyebrows, and loud music.
Perhaps I am affronted by the reference because being referred to as Ma’am reminds me that I am past my prime, fighting the inevitable creaks and pains and pounds more every day. I’m surprised by my age. I look at my face in the mirror and don’t see the years unless I’m not wearing my contacts and lean in close to be sure my eyeliner is lining my eyes and not my cheek bones. I’m startled by the tiny crosshatch marks and obvious wrinkles. Where did they come from?
Sometimes when I see a picture of myself I cringe at how old I look. How did that happen? How could I possibly look that old? Certainly, I don’t feel that old. I find myself talking to a thirty-something mom and thinking of her as my age only to be startled out of that assumption when she doesn’t understand a reference I make about the 1980s, she having only been a toddler at the time.
Maybe it’s denial; this insistence that I am not old enough to be considered a Ma’am. More and more I find myself ducking out of pictures not wanting any more documentation that I am aging. I even vainly untag less than flattering pictures of myself on Facebook. If there isn’t any photographic evidence, I haven’t aged. I’m fooling no one I know, but it’s the principle of the matter. I’m not old. And I’m certainly nobody’s Ma’am.
When I reached my late thirties, a friend explained to me that we were becoming invisible. She said that teenagers, young adults, and men younger than sixty didn’t see us anymore. We were no threat and held no potential as a sexual being. Therefore, they looked right through us. We could be classified henceforth as middle-age mom.