Having recently had another birthday, I have been contemplating the advantages to growing old. One of my favorite things about officially being an old lady is that I can get away with asking questions, giving advice, and pointing out truths that I would never have dreamed of saying out loud a few years back, particularly to young people. For instance, when a childhood friend of my son turned up at my son’s wedding with a drop-dead gorgeous woman on his arm, I asked him (in front of her) if this woman was a date or a girlfriend. (Why not? I wanted to know.) He replied that she was sort of a “date-girlfriend” and she flashed an extremely pleased (celebrity-caliber) smile.
Last week I went to hear my younger son DJ as the warm-up act for a band (that includes several of his friends) visiting from Portland. I have known these homegrown guys in the band since they were about four years old. They sounded great, by-the-way. I went to the show early to say hello to the guys and to visit with my son. One of the guys in the band, I’ll call him Brad, came over to me as soon as I arrived and gave me a warm hug. We talked for a few minutes before I asked him, “Brad, are you smoking? I smell tobacco on your clothes.” He replied that yes he did smoke cigarettes. “You have to quit,” I said. “That’s a terrible thing to do to your body and your health. Quit now because it gets harder to quit the longer you smoke.” Brad claimed he knows all that and then he said he needs to get more motivated to quit. “Here’s your motivation,” I told Brad, feeling like I was working with Marlon Brando on using the Stanislavsky Method of acting (“your motivation in this scene, Marlon, is that you have no patience for that simpering, condescending Blanche Dubois”). “Think of all those beautiful women with long legs, thick ponytails, and big tits who will not sleep with you because you smoke. Let those tits be your motivation, Brad. Think: ‘cigarettes or tits?’ That should do it.” Old ladies get to say this stuff.
On a recent visit to Berkeley, I was walking down the street when I came upon a man tangled up in the web of some type of complicated baby-carrier (back in the day we called it a “snugli”) while precariously balancing a fretting baby in one hand. I stopped walking and said, “You look like you could use some help. What do you want me to do?” I thought for a moment he might start crying. Instead he thanked me and asked me to please take the baby, which I did. I rocked her in my arms for a moment and she settled down and drifted into blissful sleep. “Do you have children?” he asked me. “They’re all grown up,” I told him. He was lying on the ground and pretty much trussed up in the baby-carrier like a goat ready to be placed on a spit for roasting. He had put himself in a dangerous situation because I certainly could have run off with his baby and she would have been about to enter kindergarten by the time her father disentangled himself from that baby-carrier and came after me. Fortunately for him, I have no interest in acquiring a free baby, even if she glowed with a luminous rose and golden aura like a fairytale princess (which she did; she was a beautiful baby, about two months old). “Did that contraption come with an instruction manual?” I asked him. Then, assuming my best old lady authoritative tone, I talked the hog-tied father out of his predicament, suggesting which strap to put over his right shoulder and how to get his legs out of the lower part of the harness, and basically explaining to him where the baby fits into one of those things. “That’s an extremely intricate device,” I finally said. “You should get a simpler one to use when you’re on your own and need to maneuver without two or three other people (preferably piano movers), a winch, a dolly, and a pulley.” We successfully managed to get him free of his bondage and into the baby-carrier correctly, with all the straps clicked shut. Then he took the baby-girl from me and put her into the contraption where she immediately began to fret again. I could probably have carried her more comfortably slung in my handbag. I bid the dad adieu. “Don’t try to go to the bathroom until you get home with her,” I recommended. He looked terrified. “Be a man. Hold it,” I commanded.
When I see a woman in the grocery story berating a wailing child, my white hair gives me permission to say to her, “It’s tough being a mom, isn’t it?” She agrees. “But you know you could try harder,” I say. The child stops carrying on and stares at me with large round eyes while the mom blushes furiously. “Get some rest,” I tell her, “you’ll be a better mommy when you aren’t tired and stressed. Get a babysitter and take some time to yourself. Get a massage.” She nods, close to tears. Could have gone another way. She could have decked me for giving unwanted parenting advice. That’s a touchy subject. But I’m an old lady so don’t sass me.
At the gym, when a musclebound tattooed hunk of a man comes over to show me how to use the biceps curl machine, I know he isn’t giving me workout tips because he’s coming on to me. He’s just being a nice guy. How much simpler life is this way. I can get away with wearing cheap blue and pink sunglasses, I can get a senior discount on senior day at Kohl’s (15% off on Wednesdays), I can tell people about something I read in AARP Magazine, and I have the ability to impress people simply by informing them that I don’t take any medications or that my father is still alive and well.
As an old lady, I can tell young men that they need to pull their pants up and wear a belt, compliment young women on their appearance (hair, boots, accessories, smile), and inform the person in line behind me at the grocery store that white bread is toxic and they should take it back and buy whole grain instead. I can force strangers at parties to look at pictures of my son’s wedding. I can correct misbehaving children I don’t know when they act up in public. I can be smug over the fact that I put three children through college. When asked to call out what we are thankful for in synagogue, I can say “my new low-flush toilets.” I can tell the man in the hardware store that he has no business giving his children Oreos at ten in the morning (and he will regret it in about 15 minutes when they get grisly on the sugar rush). I can excuse myself from boring parties early and say I have to go to bed. I can refuse to watch violent movies even if they won the Academy Award for best picture. I can take seaweed snacks to potluck dinners. I can wear leggings to formal events (nylons are for the birds). I can wear a dress to the gym. I don’t have to justify my changing allegiances to different football teams based on who is playing on them which season. (My children make fun of me for this and fail to understand my logic or remember which teams I have cheered for consistently, but phoo to them, I am old, I enjoy football as I wish.) I even have a secret super power – when I smile at people as if I know the secret of life and it’s good news then they always smile back.
I probably look older than I actually am because of my white hair, but in old lady currency that gives me extra clout, which I will take (no hair dye for me). So watch out because I’m a crazy strong, crazy wise old lady and I’m workin’ it.
This is me at a 49ers game during the last season at Candlestick.
I root for all the Cali teams and I don't care who makes fun of me for it.