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How It Feels to Be Ma’amed

Perception and reality in daily life for women over 50


It’s official. I’m old. I take to Facebook to post the humiliating news: “A girl on the subway just offered me her seat.”  I hashtag it #WorseThanBeingMa’amed. Seeking quick sympathy, I tell my twentysomething son what I’ve just posted. “Facebook is dead,” he says. “It’s just for old people.”

Well OK, that’s not exactly what he says. I’ve raised him to be more polite. What he actually says is, “Facebook is popular with your demographic.”  He works in digital advertising so he knows a lot about stuff like that. Last week, when I mentioned I enjoyed reading humor writer Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker, he smiled a bit patronizingly and said, “Of course you do. That’s your demographic.”

Taking A Stand on Ageism

He’s young. He doesn’t get it yet. Luckily, all my old-demographic, close friends on Facebook do — i.e. the 1,327 strangers I’ve never met. “I’m so sorry to hear that,” says Jodi, a woman who, from her profile picture, looks at least 20 years my junior, which immediately makes me suspicious. Is she being solicitous about my being offered the girl’s subway seat — or smug?  She adds, “Not quite sure how I would have responded. What did you say?”

I tell her that after I wiped the look of horror from my face, I thanked the girl politely and told her I was fine standing. Really. That walker she assumes I need? Not to worry. It comes with factory-equipped, anti-lock brakes.

I must look more decrepit that I realize. I can’t tell. The five-watt light bulb over the bathroom mirror is dim and great for hiding wrinkles. It also hides household dirt, so you don’t need to clean so often. Sometimes I think, why even bother? It’ll just come back again.

Marilyn, another Facebook friend I don’t know IRL (that stands for In Real Life) posts this about subway girl: “I’m the same age as you, and I would love it if someone did that for me.” Liar.

Rivka, a girl I don’t remember, but who swears we went to high school together 40 years ago, points out, “Hah! It’s really bad when we’re grateful for it.”

Stan confides: “I got on the bus a couple of months ago and the driver asked, ‘Senior?’ Felt like the exact opposite of getting carded at 30.”

Age Is Just a Number

Oh, right. Carded. That dreaded rite of teenage passage is now so remote it seems quaint.  Like getting whistled, cat-called and hooted at by construction workers. In my feminist youth, I burned with indignation. Then I reached my 40s, the decade when women start to turn invisible. Time dampened my flame. When a few guys in hard hats still harassed me for old time’s sake, I realized all I felt was … relieved.

My friend Debbi attempts to be helpful about the subway seat offer. She posts: “Maybe she had one of those ‘do something nice for someone’ school assignments and you just happened to be the recipient.”  Nice try, Debbi.

“It’s much worse when the person offering you the seat is actually older than you,” Marilyn points out.

“Not to brag,” Charis chimes in, “but I got asked if I was pregnant till the age of 54. It would have been a compliment, except I was just fat.”

I tell myself it’s really no big deal. So what if a girl offered me her seat? After all, we’re visiting Boston. It’s overrun with college kids. No one’s a day over 22, so anyone past 27 looks middle-aged. After two days, I begin to wonder what exactly it is they do to citizens once they reach 30.

Show Your Cards

Except this is what happens to me next: We line up for the Pixar animation exhibit at the Museum of Science. The 12-year-old behind the counter takes my money, hands me a ticket and says, “Here you go, ma’am.” He doesn’t make eye contact. My ticket is stamped: “Admit One Senior.”

This takes carding to a whole new unwelcome level.

I feel as if I’ve just been branded “Now You’re Irrelevant.”

It reminds me how one nanosecond after I turned 50, a membership package from AARP arrived in the mailbox. I told my husband, “The CIA would have found Bin Laden a whole lot faster if they’d just asked the folks at AARP.”

I return to Facebook to whine about this latest assault on my vanity.  “You know, when someone offers me a subway seat, I always take it,” Marilyn says. “I make it a policy to reinforce the gallantry of the Millennials.”

Okay. Point taken. My son offers his seat to older people, too. He makes me proud.

Maybe it’s time to pull myself up by my orthopedic bootstraps and embrace the senior fare discount.

But I’m still not taking that subway seat.

Here’s what else I won’t do yet: shop at Chico’s, binge-watch Golden Girls or yell “Get off my lawn” at the neighbor’s kids. I’ll wear sensible shoes if I must. But as God is my witness, I will never eat dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon. Because demographically speaking, the death spiral starts with the Early Bird Special.

By Liane Kupferberg Carter
Liane Kupferberg Carter is a writer, journalist and autism advocate. Her articles and essays have been published in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Parents Magazine, Scary Mommy and Brain, Child. She is also the author of Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2016).

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