“How old ARE you??”
“You have KIDS??”
“Wow, I never would have guessed.”
At this International Women’s conference, they have decided to group youth (high school) and young adults (19 through 35 years old) together into a social group they call YAYAs (Youth And Young Adults). This means that I am technically a young adult, and that my assigned social group includes everyone from 14 through 35.
This is fine in the concrete sense that I enjoy hanging out with people of most any age. I do have some theoretical issues with the arrangements, but I am going to let those go for the time being and maybe I’ll come back to them after the conference is over and I’ve seen how the arrangement carries itself out.
Right now, I am thinking about these young people I am hanging out with. They were surprised to learn I will be turning 30 in May – they did not think I was so old. They were surprised to learn I am a mother – one young woman said, “Wow, I totally never would have thought you were a mother. Seriously.”
I think she meant this as a compliment, but it was a painful thing for me to hear. I am not often away from my children for several days at a time. This has been a personally intense and painful month for me, and I think as a result I find myself missing my kids more. I want to be associated with them, both because they’re good kids in their own right and I like being around them, but also because there is something elemental and physical about being their mother. When someone is shocked that motherhood is another role I carry, it feels like an painful twang across that physical connection I feel with my children all the time.
This has me thinking back to when I graduated with my Ph.D. almost two years ago. I threw myself a big (big!) party. Personal friends I invited to the party, most of them parents from my children’s schools who I saw and talked with almost every day, were surprised to learn I was in school, and even more so to learn that I would be getting a Ph.D. and not a B.A. Academic friends I invited to the party were surprised to learn I had a house, a husband, children, and a vast personal life beyond our department.
And from there, I think back to my own teen years, when I looked older than I was and spoke with more authority and clarity than was apparently expected of someone my age.
Why are we not all just people yet?
Last week I wrote about bodies, and how we react to and talk about people’s bodies in ways that are not always kind, even when we mean it to be. The same goes for age.
Just because you or I or someone else entirely do not always fit into the fat part of the bell curve of what “someone” is “supposed” to be doing at a given age is no reason to go around pointing it out and being shocked by it. If you are surprised by or interested in what someone is doing, ask about it, without any reference to their age! It’s an unnecessary deviation and will only cause your conversational partner to wince and attempt to find a polite response. (Or, if they’re feeling cranky, an impolite one.)