I spent a lot of time looking at my hands this past week. I don’t know when they started looking so old. The skin is thin and the veins are always visible and if I extend my fingers out fully, there are thousands of tiny little wrinkles. The hands don’t match how I think of myself.
I got a card from my mom and she had written on the back of the envelope:
I burst into tears when I saw it. Why? Because she had articulated some of that bad feeling I was having about my birthday. She doesn’t think of herself as old enough to be the mother of a forty year old. Where does time go?
At a recent women’s luncheon, a woman in her eighties made some remark. A woman in her thirties sitting next to me whispered, “Oh! Aren’t they so cute?!”
I wondered what the older woman would think of being called cute. I bet she still thinks of herself in much the same way she did when she was younger. Don’t get me wrong, she knows her body is old and doesn’t work as well anymore. But the woman inside – that woman is the same. But we don’t see her. We just see the old woman. And we call her cute. Which undermines everything she has to say. Whether we meant to do that or not.
Maybe this is what I’ve been afraid of. That people will stop seeing me. That maybe they already have. Maybe I’m just the middle-aged white woman, which means whatever they’ve categorized that as in their head. I’m not a woman that has scaled mountains, ridden down small waterfalls, competed in collegiate co-ed roller hockey, built a kiln from scratch, given birth at home, preached sermons, won awards, created puzzles, stretched my horizons. A woman who married her high school sweetheart and made it work against all odds.
For some reason, turning 40 scared me. I truly didn’t expect it to. And, really, if people are dismissing me as a middle-aged white woman, they’ve been dismissing me as something or the other my whole life. I can strongly remember being distrusted or belittled by bank officials and employers when I was in my late teens and early twenties. It really didn’t matter who I was. My age was all that mattered.
Are we all just too busy to take the time to step out of our stereotyping habits? I had a serendipitous moment when I read this great blog post about being a black woman in a place where people don’t expect to see black women. The author expressed the desire to be seen for who she is, to be more than “the only black person in the room.”
I realized that was a bit of my concern, although on a much different scale, when I watched the older ladies at that meeting and I pondered getting older myself. I don’t want to be just the mom. Or just the old woman. I don’t want to be filed away as some stereotype. I want people to see me. To get to know me. And I’m afraid that people dismiss you more and more, the older you get.