Aging

On Saturday, I took Evan to get a haircut. When he was much, much littler, I did his haircuts myself, but there came a point when he obviously needed more than one length of hair – and it was past my skill level to do. I talked to him a lot beforehand about how the barber would use the “bee” to cut his hair (Evan called clippers “the bee” because of the buzzing sound), and then we’d go get ice cream. That first time, he sat motionless and silent in the chair – which is pretty perfect for giving a toddler a haircut, I imagine. He was so nervous that he wouldn’t answer any questions or even look at the stylist. But, he survived, we got ice cream, and a tradition was born: a trip to the barber is always followed by ice cream.

So this past Saturday, we went to the grocery store after Evan’s haircut. I’d hoped that they’d have an ice cream counter, but it turned out to just be a little soft serve machine, and it was empty. I let Evan pick out a carton of ice cream (he went for plain chocolate, is this really my son?) and some waffle cones to take home. In the checkout, the cashier asked Evan how old he was. She joked that he was older than her, since she was only two. I asked Evan how old he thought she really was, since it’s always interesting to hear his guesses. Instead he asked her how old she was.

While we walked out to the car I tried explaining that in our culture, we don’t ask grownups how old they are. It isn’t considered a nice thing to do. You can ask kids how old they are; Evan is constantly being asked how old he is, so this makes sense to him. But I was coming up short with a reason for our anti-age-disclosure sentiment. I told him that in Korea, it’s important to know how old a person is, because you treat people differently if they’re older than you. In America, we never ask adults their age.

I thought about it on the drive home – is it part of our fear of aging? Is it some mystical sense that giving another person this piece of truth about ourselves will allow them some power over us? Is it a twisted form of modesty or humility? I’ve always assumed it’s meant to avoid embarrassment over being old, or being seen as old, which supports the “fear of aging” theory. Then, of course, I wonder why we’re so set on stopping the aging process, on remaining young and “whole” and all that. Personally, I think age is nothing to be ashamed of. Time goes by for all of us. Why is 20 better than 40? I’m glad to be done with 20, because so many wonderful things have happened in my life since then. I’m excited to be approaching 30. And by 40, I’ll have had years of a lovely marriage and of watching my kids grow up. Right now, I see no reason to be embarrassed by getting older.

But that’s just what I think. What about you?

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11 Comments on “Aging”

  1. Deborah says:

    I think it’s sad. I know my mom won’t mention her age at work for fear of how she’ll be treated. It was bad enough when she stopped dying her hair and let some of the grey show. So in the workplace I understand why people don’t want to mention age (they’re considered washed up or inexperienced depending on the context) but in general I’m not sure why. I think our society has a lot of age prejudices and I think it’s only going to get worse with social security issues and the problem of replacement levels at an all time low. I really think the next big problem our country will see will revolve around generation strife.
    My name is Deborah, and I’m 25.

    • Mika says:

      That’s an aspect I hadn’t considered – that age is a definite factor in the workforce, and with quickly-changing methods and technologies in use, older employees are perceived as outdated and out-of-touch with what’s current. Jarom and I have talked a lot lately about the rapid pace of news and technological advances, and I think this ties in. When things are developing and changing so quickly, we assume that only the young can keep up.

  2. Jarom says:

    I’m not sure it is modesty or fear of getting old, I think it is vanity. Personally, I feel like I work in a profession where grey hair is taken as a sign of respect. Granted, the law is a pretty conservative field, but I think that people associate age with experience and in turn associate experience with competence. For that reason, I don’t plan on dying my hair when it starts to grey out.

    But is that any better? In this case, I’m basically letting my grey show because it suits my vanity.

    • Mika says:

      But you’re talking about a field that has historically been male-dominated. I think very few women are going to think, “I’m going to let my hair go grey, because it shows people that I’m experienced!” If anything, men become more respectable as they age – women less so. Loss of fertility and whatnot.

      Also, you are going to look great with grey hair.

  3. Jenny says:

    When I visited my parents over Christmas, we went to church with them and about a million people asked my how old I was after stating that “You can’t be old enough to have two kids! How old are you?” It was a weird moment of people-who-knew-me-as-a-child assuming that it wouldn’t bother me to be asked how old I was. And while honestly, it didn’t it was a little strange. As adults, we are not used to being asked our age.

    Have you noticed that among married couples with small children the how-old-are-you question seems to take the form of “what year did you graduate from high school?” I’m younger than a lot of the moms I hang out with, and there is invariably a smile and a slight eye-roll when they realize I am between five and seven years younger than they are, followed by comments about how I’m “so young” or “a baby.” I’m not going to pretend that these comments don’t make me grumpy. It turns out if I’m a baby, I’m a baby with babies, because I have two kids.

    Perhaps we don’t mention age for fear of judgment. We don’t want to be too old, but neither do we want to be too young. I don’t think that anyone wants to be the brunt of rude comments, and age is an area in which we as an American culture just haven’t figured how to be polite. I mean, haven’t you ever thoughtlessly labeled someone’s behavior as “they’re just really young”? I know I have. I mean, we’re all a little bit judge-y of other people, no matter how much we would prefer not to be.

    By the way, I’m 27.

    • Mika says:

      I was friends with a mom who was about 6 years older than me, and I idolized her. I’m still not sure how much of it was her personality and natural grace, and how much of it was the fact that she was a little farther ahead of me in life – so she seemed to have things figured out a little more than I did. I hope she didn’t see me as a baby!

      Also, when we lived near BYU campus, I’d run into groups of students being “wild” (as much as BYU students are ever wild) and think, I’m glad I’m not that young anymore. So I definitely know what you mean about labeling behavior as “young.”

      Not that my opinion makes any difference in the matter, but I think it’s okay for you to have two kids at 27.

  4. Jim says:

    Asking someone how old they are is so much easier than getting to actually know what kind of person they are. Age is an instant categorizational tool, a way to stereotype and reject (rarely accept) others based on a mostly unreliable measure. When people ask my age, which I readily give them, they are nearly always surprised that I am not as young in years as they thought. Does that mean something tremendous about me? I don’t think so. Just that my physical appearance doesn’t match their perception of what “someone my age looks like.”

    I would like to offer a different question for people to ask, instead of “how old are you?” How about asking “how smart are you?” To that, I could always reply “Smart enough not to try and answer your question.”

    My name is Jim, and I am 61 years old.

    • Mika says:

      I never have anyone ask me my age. The last time I remember someone asking was at a very small birthday dinner for a friend, when I asked the birthday girl how old SHE was. I guess I’m not in many settings where people care how old I am. Being a stay-at-home mom, most of the people I run into are other moms, who really just care how old my kids are – and if mine are a little older than theirs, I suddenly seem sagacious. Maybe I should find more mom friends with younger kids…

  5. Kendy says:

    I recently found someone with almost my exact take on my age and situation right now:


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