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It happened. I always knew this day would come. Someone asked me this question:
“Are you their grandmother?”
I always imagined my reaction would go something like this:
“Bitch, let me slap you,”
…or at least a really evil look. This was surprisingly a non-event.
I was at Starbucks. The twenty-something in line behind me noticed my adorable 4-year olds weaving around my legs as I waited for the barista to take my order for three hundred-dollar elixir of life with a side of carboliscious pastry.
“How cute are they?!”
I smiled at her, thinking “don’t let her be a talker. I just want to snort coffee, give my kids a blueberry scone and duct tape them to a chair in the food court so I can zone out on my phone.”
Twenty-something (let’s just call her Brittani, with an “I”) studied me for a moment, hesitated and asked:
Are you their grandmother?
I didn’t call her names. My earrings stayed on. I didn’t spill my latte on her crop top and make it look like an accident (I so could have gotten away with this). I kept my dignity, looked her in the eye and said “I’m their mom”. Then I braced myself for the avalanche of apologies.
Of course Brittani apologized to Madagascar and back. Madagascar is far away from pretty much everywhere, so I want to be clear that there was a whole lot of apologizing going on. I smiled in a way that said “I’m not going to run over you with my car” but without saying “it’s cool that you called me old”.
It is what it is. I wasn’t thrilled with the grandma question but it didn’t ruin my day. I didn’t order an extra scone or engage in Ben & Jerry therapy. Most women in their forties and fifties aren’t parenting small kids. I get that.
I think I look pretty good. I think I look good without having to add “for my age” to the end of the sentence. That said, I’m probably past the point where I’m mistaken for a thirtysomething. Well…maybe late thirties on a very good day. I had on running clothes and a baseball cap when I was asked the grandma question. I thought I looked hip and fit. Maybe I needed some makeup or something.
I‘m in a unique position – I’m walking in sort of a no-man’s land between cultures (I’m an American living abroad). I’m forty-seven and among my British friends, I am the older mum, no getting around that, but there isn’t a generation gap. These women generally know about cool stuff, like Van Halen with David Lee Roth and Aqua Net hairspray.
But, put me in the mix with preschool mommies within the community of Americans living in this little corner of England. I’m the odd mom out. We frequent a playground popular with a crop of American mommies who’ve started their families young. I like this playground because it’s near our house and I’m entertained by the fashion mistakes I see there. There should be a size limit when wearing sweats with “Juicy” stamped on your butt.
I’m not just in a different place in life than theses young playground moms; I’m in a different generation (the generation where it’s tacky to sew glittery words on your ass). Occasionally I’m forced in to small talk with the young playground mommies, although I try to avoid it. I don’t like talking to them because they treat me with the deference of someone much older (which I am). One of them actually called me ma’am. Yuck, right?
None of the playground mommies has asked the grandmother question (yet) but even though our same aged kids are sharing the same monkey bars, we don’t have much in common. I can’t complain about their deferential treatment because I find myself talking to them in the polite but condescending way you treat a 14 year old who thinks they’re a grownup.
My family stands out because we’re a transracial family (my kids are Chinese). No matter how hip my clothes are or how much concealer I use, I’m still an older mom. And when I say hip clothes, please know I will never stoop to the juicy booty sweats with Uggs. I have my standards. But, our family does stand out.
I’ve learned standing out means curiosity which leads to “can I ask you…” The concept of “maybe I shouldn’t ask that” is out of fashion. I can accept “are you the grandmother” but is that going to be followed by “well, exactly how old are you?” Where do you draw the line for casual questions?
When I was 13, a waitress mistook me for my dad’s wife. I was 5’7 and mature looking, although my youth became obvious when I opened my pie hole. Thirteen year-old me thought it was super-cool to look older (although I was grossed out that someone thought I was married to my dad). Forty-seven year-old me see things a little differently. Looking older is no longer super-cool. I’d probably kiss a bartender on the lips if I got carded when ordering a beer. And, if someone mistook me for being married to my dad today, I’d totally pretend to be the trophy wife.
Funny how stuff comes full circle.
I’ve made it through my first “are you the grandmother.” I hope it won’t become a habit, but what if it does? I can’t control what questions someone decides to ask and getting twisted about a question I don’t like doesn’t make me feel better. Chasing preschoolers at my age has enough built-in challenges. Scrunching up my face to give dirty looks is just gonna make more wrinkles…and no one likes that.
This post was originally featured on Daddy Fishkins.