This is the title of the second episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and yes, I checked, I’m not that much of a fanatic – okay, I kind of already knew, but that’s only because it was the second episode). I have always loved this episode, for two sort of counterpoint reasons. The first reason is that in this episode, Mary Richards (the title character) gets called “ma’am” – as opposed to “miss” – for the first time in her life and it totally freaks her out that someone thinks she’s old enough to be addressed this way. When I was much younger, I found this hilarious.
The second reason is that, when I was younger, of course it never bothered me when people thought I was older than I was, and I waited for the day when it would, just kind of curiously. People called me “ma’am” all of the time, even in my early 20s (granted these were usually 15-year-old boys, but still, it got me pretty used to the term). Then I hit about Mary’s character’s age, and it still didn’t bug me. I watched that episode not very long ago, and I kind of laughed. I figured age really didn’t mean much to me, at least not yet, and I was pretty proud of myself.
But, dear readers, I must confess to you that ‘Today I Am A Ma’am.’ And the catalyst for this transformation was a new hair stylist.
I don’t think the age of my ex-hair stylist is really relevant, like it was a comparison thing, but just in case, she was probably in her 50s (or at least looked it). When I came for my appointment today, I met this new person for the first time (I found her via recommendation from a stranger working in a store – ladies, men too, but especially ladies, if you’re ever looking for a new hair stylist and having no luck, find someone whose hair you love, even if it is a complete stranger, and ask them where they get it done – you will never offend or embarrass, pretty much the best compliment you can give someone is ‘I love your hair so much that I want mine done like it, too!’). That being a really long parenthetical statement, I’m starting fresh.
So I met my new stylist for the first time, gave her a brief once-over (super-cute, Betty Page-esque), judged her to be my age or a little younger, sat down in the chair and promptly started looking only at myself and, more specifically, my hair. I mean, that’s what you do when you’re getting your hair done, especially by someone new when (as well recommended as they are), well, they’re new and you’re nervous as crap that they’re going to somehow render your hair un-fixable (mine is damned long, and while I know it needs to be cut to stay healthy, I’m always worried that the stylist is going to cut off five inches that it took me forever to grow). I was more and more nervous, and less and less focused on her, and more and more focused on my hair, because the way she was cutting it looked like she was taking a lot off.
But I trusted and didn’t say anything.
She was great, she told me about her husband, and how the gal in the place across the hall had done some chemical peels on her and she loved the results, things that led me to believe I was correct in – or at least not question – my assumption about her age.
She finished up my hair, and let me tell you, trust can be a good thing, because it looks amazing! There are a few things I would like to be a little different and tweaked, but as we were talking afterward, she explained to me – without me having to ask, no less – why she cut it the way she did, and why she couldn’t do E-X-A-C-T-L-Y what I had requested, because of my hair’s length and texture (which my stylist of ten years never did, maybe if she had, I wouldn’t have left her – blessing in disguise). Oh, and her pricing is so good. Hair is one of those things where I usually feel you get what you pay for – if you’re only going to shell out 25 bucks, your hair will reflect that. I honestly feel like I got way more than I paid for. I made up for it by tipping well, and the more I look at my hair and love it, the more I wish that I had tipped her even better (which means a great deal when money is as scarce as it is to me), but I’ll make up for it next time.
Wow. Huge digression, even for me! It’s ’cause I’m so excited about my hair!!!
So. Her next client hadn’t arrived yet, and we get to talking, this time face-to-face. And I’m thinking, Wow, she looks pretty young. And the more we talk, the younger I think she looks. But we’ve talked only about “grown-up” things, and she seems really, really mature – which is much harder to do when you spend a couple of hours talking to someone in person than when you communicate with them online or even via telephone. Generally something gives you away.
What gave this girl away (and yes, I will henceforth refer to her as a “girl,” not demeaningly, but because by my metric she still is one, as far as years – certainly not in perspective or maturity) – was the fact that we were talking about our moms and their take on wanting grandchildren – oy, different post, one day, perhaps – and she told me she said to her mom, “Mom, we haven’t been married that long, I just turned 21.”
I think I literally had to hold my chin to keep it from dropping (hope she didn’t notice!). And after that, taking a good look at her, I would absolutely say that she looks her age, or even younger.
But it made me think about a couple of things. First, when it comes to something like a hair stylist, I completely have the potential to be an age bigot. Doctors and such, I actually sometimes prefer that they’re younger, because they don’t have that think-they-know-everything, jaded, won’t listen to the patients attitude that some, okay, in my experience, many older (especially male – I know that this is stereotyping, but it also happens to be true, and besides, I totally make up for it in my – I think – third post ever, way back in March, because my 62-year-old male doctor is the best, smartest, most open-minded man ever, and even though we have our moments, I wrote a post entirely dedicated to him and how wonderful he is) doctors have acquired or been taught over time. The one exception being me and psychiatrists, because I am one hell of a complicated case, and even my primary doc agrees that I need someone who has been in the shrink game for a long time and knows everything there is to know.
But, back to my potential age bigotry. If I had known straight off that this girl was barely 21, honestly, I’m not sure what I would have done. I might have gone to her anyway, or I might have said to myself, Not nearly enough experience in the field, not at that young, and I might have kept looking for someone else. Which would have been a huge mistake, after looking at my hair more and more, and loving it more and more, and the interaction I had with her, and how much I adore her already!
The other thing I thought about are the places which I frequent, and the average estimated age of the people who work at these places. With rare exceptions, I would guess that they’re younger than me by, let’s say a usual ballpark of three to nine years (big ballpark, I know). This never bothered me, especially now that it’s summer and they’re taking on a lot of “summer help,” usually high school/college aged. Plus it isn’t as though the product lines are too young for me, it’s just that retail doesn’t pay well, and that’s another place you get what you pay for – not that young can’t be good, but let’s just say that, on the balance, I know from what I speak.
And I thought about how I cannot remember the last time anyone called me “miss,” even people considerably older than I, how ma’am just insidiously took over from an occasional term used by kids as the default term used by everyone.
I don’t know, maybe it’s some kind of training, politeness, respect kind of thing that all “associates” are taught now. I mean, I’m not old, and I know it (I know I’m slightly ambiguous about my age here, but according to modern estimates, I am not even a third of the way through life yet). I don’t think I look even as old as I am (close to it, but not quite there), and I have had people tell me as much, even people who aren’t related to me or trying to sell me something. In fact, now that I am no longer a nanny and don’t have two children in tow, I think I automatically look considerably younger. ;)
But those two children, whom I met when they were just days old and took care of from babydom on, are now eight and eleven. . . The latter will enter middle school next “Fall” (people still say Fall, but for goodness sake, they start in August anymore!). Yes, I took them on young, but that alone will make you feel your age.
Okay, enough is enough! What have we learned today?
Moral of the story: I am far more “age-conscious,” though not necessarily concerned about aging (yet) than I ever before realized (at least I am today). Also, I absolutely should not write when I’m hyped up and on a deadline, because it leads to major digressions and parentheticals, and minor editing time. Oh well. Lessons learned (maybe). ;)
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