Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Age as a Function of AARP Invites.

I used to say when someone asked my age that I was old enough to run for president. Sometimes these days when someone asks my age, I tell them I have had two AARP invitations. To begin with I can't always remember the exact number of years, it isn't something that comes up on a daily basis. I caught myself the other day saying I was a year younger than I was. But this has happened at prior moments in my life usually in mid-decade. I would stumble with first the decade, then would remember the decade, but not the exact number of other years. I used to laugh and if he was there, turn to ask my husband who would provide the correct number. I honestly think most recently it was simply that the number had just changed- sort of like writing the wrong year on things in January. But then we come back to stating my age as a function of how many AARP invites I have received.

Some people will know exactly how old I am with my last birthday from that mention. Others will not have a clue, or possibly assume a much older age. I don't mind those in the same age range knowing exactly, but to those younger, I have become a bit shy [defensive and ready to take a little offense] about what will come next when I state an exact age.

And before you say it, yes, I know the one about the number just being a number and the thing that counts is how I feel, think, act and how I function- and I believe it too. And I have heard the one about how I don't look that old and its variations and the moment of shock that registers in people's eyes. And that is just it; if someone much younger asks my age and I tell them, why do they feel shocked and suddenly feel the need to say something reassuring about it? Do they feel that I need reassuring? Or are they reassuring themselves? I am no different than the moment before when they didn't know. But in that moment things change.

There are times when in simply being part of a group where the rest are much younger, without being asked for a number, I am looked to for guidance as if I would automatically know what to do just on account of age. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, but almost always I don't mind admitting when I don't and asking the questions that it takes to find out. Asking questions and admitting I don't know is the easy part. And that is an advantage of this age- that most of the time I am not focused on what others are thinking of me. And honestly, I don't mind that part where they assume I should be in the group leader mode. It is nice to have "kids" conclude that I might be the one to look to for leadership. It is a nice change from the years that my son and presumably his cohort group felt that I was from "back in the day" and wouldn't know what they had to deal with in the now.

But there is a distinct other group that believes that my time has passed, that I have nothing to contribute, that my perspectives are useless because they couldn't possibly apply- that I am too old to have anything of value. There are times when there is an attempt to push me to the sidelines. I resent and resist that. I want to stamp my foot and demand that I be given the same chance to make a contribution. I can stand and fall on my own without someone stopping me before I begin -on account of a number.

Age discrimination is real and it is based on hearing the numbers and our resulting expectations about what that means. I have grown a bit defensive and I don't like that feeling one bit. I don't want to have to think about the "what others must think of me" questions. I have always believed that the young should be judged capable-not on age, but on their abilities, their quality of thought and the way they handle responsibilities. It is wrong to judge them on age; so then why is it ok for them to judge someone ... with two AARP invitations?

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