Miss Invisibility

Last week, while we were on vacation, my young adult niece jokingly told me she doesn’t think she’ll live past 30.

Now, I think her comment was mostly aimed at inspiring shock, but I think there’s a little bit of truth in it – as in, she can’t imagine what it’ll be like to be 30, which seems half-way to dead to her.  I mean, she’s just echoing her grandparents’ generation, in which youngsters vowed to never trust anyone over 30.

And she made me think, because I’m decidedly over 30. Way over.

And then I was reading this book during our trip, and a middle-aged character described herself as reaching the age of invisibility – she’s there, but no one notices. She’s not young and beautiful anymore, and she doesn’t inspire the awe that the longevity of senescence does. She’s just…there.

That’s how I feel much of the time these days.

Not that I was ever a raving beauty. And I’ve certainly not reached hag stage (unless you talk with my teen-age daughter.) But I’m definitely feeling invisible.

The week before vacation, I had a bunch of errands to run. And one of these was partaking of a sale at a well-known store that specializes in ladies’ unmentionables, if you know what I mean. Victoria’s Secret, if you don’t.

I’m definitely not the VS type – maybe if I were, I wouldn’t be so invisible. But they do have really nice underwear that is a particularly good buy when they’re on sale. So I dashed in there between trips to Old Navy and Bath and Body Works to grab the 5 for $26.50 panties.

I was the store’s sole customer that Monday night. I wandered for a bit, looking for the aforementioned panties. All I saw wherever I looked were various other items of lingerie at ever-increasing price points. Not a salesperson in sight.

Finally, I happened upon a couple of VS clerks near the PINK merchandise , deep in a discussion about the finer distinctions between 54th Street Grill and Bar and Chili’s. I cleared my throat and looked appealingly toward them. Nothing.

In another room, I found another young clerk, humming to herself as she straightened out a table of thongs (not the sandal kind.) She never looked my way as I, the store’s only customer, walked past on my way to the table of 5-for-$26.50 panties I’d finally spotted.

For a good 10 minutes, I pondered my choices – patterned or plain? Hip-huggers or high-waisted? Regular bikini or low-rise bikini? No one bothered me.

Finally, selection made, I headed for the cash register. A tall blond in her early 20s glided over. Never making eye contact, she asked me if I’d found everything I was looking for. I assured her I had. Then she asked – again, never looking at me – whether anyone had helped me.

“Not a flipping person” was what I wanted to say.

“Nope” was what I ended up responding.  And that sealed my fate as an invisible person as Miss Congeniality put my receipt in my little pink-striped bag and pushed it toward me.

It might not be all bad, this invisibility thing. Today, I saw a young woman, the daughter of an acquaintance, in a store with her new husband – the one she dumped her previous husband for. For some reason – I just like watching train wrecks, OK? – I wanted to know what they were buying. So I began perusing the items on their aisle. And they never noticed me. Never even looked my way. It was awesome.

So, yeah. Middle age sucks in so many ways. Stuff is starting to sag. I will never, ever be able to eat an entire medium pepperoni pizza ever again. I have to measure everything I ingest – even my wine – in order to attempt to maintain my weight. Don’t even get me started on why it is always SO FLIPPING HOT in here.

But this invisibility thing…I definitely could use this to my advantage. Stay tuned.

How old am I, anyway?

In my mind, I feel about 25 – a little more confident than I was at 20, able to legally buy booze, past the point of being rated negatively because of my age by my car insurer.

But I look in the mirror and realize that I need to use a nighttime moisturizer with Retinol, that if I move my head to the right or left the wrinkles show on my neck, that there’s a ginormous about of gray underneath the top layer of my brown hair.

Still, if I keep to my own kind – and by that I mean mostly 40-somethings and older, I can feel pretty good about myself. In my zumba class, for example, I’m  on the young side and feel downright lithe.

But two days a week, I’m in my graduate classes. This year I’m surrounded heavily by folks in their 20s, some not even a full year out of undergrad. And it’s rough, I tell you.

One day, another middle-aged classmate and I were walking to our cars after class with a young woman in our cohort. We both went to the University of Missouri in the 1980s, so we were comparing years. He was there from 1984 to 1987.

“Aw, we just missed each other,” I said. “I was a freshman in fall 1987.”

And then our young friend piped up. “I was just 2 in 1987,” she said.

Pow. Like a punch to the gut.

“Gee,” I said, “I guess I could be your mother if I had been a teen mom.”
“Yep,” she said happily. “Guess so.”

Now, when I was her age, I didn’t like to point out to my older coworkers that in fact I was not born at the time of the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. I didn’t want to remind anyone of my youth.

These days, though, I guess youngsters don’t mind everyone knowing they’re, well, young. Also these days, I use terms like, “Now, when I was your age…” and words like, “youngsters,” all the time.

This same younger classmate and I worked on a group assignment during our first semester of the social work program. We were assigned to put together a presentation on the treatment of the LGBTQI community in the United States. During our planning session, I brought up the case of Brandon Teena and the film, “Boys Don’t Cry.” I was going on and on about it when I realized my friend had a look of confusion on her face.

“That sounds interesting,” she said, before asking how to spell Brandon Teena’s name.

“You remember the movie, right? Hilary Swank was in it…” my voice trailed off as I realized she had no idea what I was talking about.

“What year was that?” she asked.

I said it was in the late 1990s. “Oh, that explains it,” she said. “I was probably about 13 or 14.”

And I was a mother of two when that movie came out.

Hey, people can’t help when they’re born. I know that. And I never want to be the person who considers it a character flaw if a coworker or what have you isn’t as old as I am and thus hasn’t lived through the world events that I have. You all know some older person who constantly reminds you that you didn’t know how bad it was during the Depression, etc.

Still, I just feel this kind of thing – me trying to relate something from my life to someone much younger who has no clue what I’m talking about – happens more and more.

In another class this spring, we ended up having a discussion of the Affordable Care Act and birth control pills and mandates and what have you. And one particularly impassioned classmate said she was just so tired of all the fuss about birth control. “I mean, it’s been around since the ‘70s,” she said.

 “Actually,” I said, “it was the 1960s when birth control pills became available.”

“Well, whatever,” she said. “It was a long time ago.”

Yeah, I guess it does seem like a long time ago when you were born in 1990.

So I think, like many older people, I will just start keeping my mouth shut lest I sound irrelevant. Like the afternoon that I was struggling with a statistics assignment on Excel and I blurted out, “Geez, I haven’t taken statistics since 1988.”

And I looked around and realized, yup. No other student in my class was even born in 1988.

Vanity schmanity

I don’t have a lot of physical assets to be proud of.

No flowing blonde hair, no piercing eyes, no model-worthy legs.

And since I’ve had kids, whatever I had has gone south. Literally, in some cases.

But I always had my eyesight. Yeah, good eyesight can’t get you a Hollywood deal or turn many heads, but it can help you avoid getting creamed by a semi and aid in spotting a small spider from a football field away.

That’s right. I don’t mean to brag, but I was that good.

My whole childhood, I was the only one in our family of five who didn’t need glasses. And of course, I didn’t appreciate what I had while I had it. I always longed for glasses. I thought they’d make me look smarter.

Well, not so much, I found out in my 20s, when my move to Kansas City, a place I’d never lived, revealed my own myopia. As a young reporter, I had trouble in the pre-GPS years reading street signs until I was practically on top of them. In a new place, you can’t go by old landmarks. And you can’t rely on old eyes, apparently.

Still, my eyes weren’t as bad as some. I rarely wore my glasses except to drive. Never needed them to use my computer, or cook, or read. As I moved through my 30s, in fact, my eyesight actually improved. It was awesome! While everyone around me succumbed to presbyopia, I was all single-vision Tina Fey glasses.

I hit 40, and I still could see like a 30 year old. Smug a little? You betcha.

And then my classes started this fall, and something changed. I needed my regular glasses to see the PowerPoint presentations my professors gave every week, but I couldn’t leave them on to look at my notebook. If I needed to see my watch, I had to take off my regular glasses. Sometimes I couldn’t even see what was on my fork if it was too close to my face.

My ophthalmologist just smiled knowingly when I described my problem.  “Presbyopia,” he said. “You need bi-focals. It just happens with age.”

That is so the wrong thing to tell a woman. Age is just a number, right? Well, tell that to my eyes. But, in their defense, my distance vision hasn’t changed for years.

I balked at the graduated lenses – part vanity, part economy.

And then tonight, while I waited for a prescription to be filled at the drugstore, I strolled around and happened onto an end cap with reading glasses. I looked at them. A 10 spot could get you two pairs. I picked up a pair of tortoiseshell 1.25+ glasses and tried them on. Then I picked up a bottle of Triaminic from a nearby shelf.

Wow. I can’t describe the feeling. It was like taking off a pair of permanently smudged glasses and replacing them with perfect  lenses. I took off the readers and slipped my regular glasses back on.

Blurriness. Then off with those and on with the readers. Ahhh. Clarity.

I walked down the aisle, testing the readers against my regular glasses. I just wanted to read everything I could get my hands on. The world was crystal clear! At least from about 12 inches away.

Sold. I took the deal and now own two pairs.

OK. On to the SAS shoes.

Me and my middle-aged brain

I knew it was going to happen one day. Frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened long before now.

I hurried my kids out the door to a soccer game that wasn’t even scheduled.

Well, that’s not entirely true. That game, the one we showed up to, was scheduled, all right. But my kid wasn’t a part of the team warming up to play.

So confusing. I know. I’m living it. But let me explain…

I looked at my calendar last week and realized that Maggie had a soccer game at 10 a.m. Saturday, the same time Tom had a basketball game at a different venue. And Matt was out of commission, since he had a daylong board meeting. Grandparents were out of the question for various reasons, and I couldn’t be two places at once.

So we asked our friends who coach Tom’s basketball team if I could drop off Tom at 9 a.m. on the way to Maggie’s game. They said sure, and we were set.

On Saturday morning, everything went like clockwork. We dropped off Tom and headed to the soccer place with enough time to spare that I stopped for gas and a cup of coffee. I dropped Maggie off at the door and found a parking spot, then Joe and I went inside for the game.

Maggie was sitting on the bleachers, looking a little lost. I saw some girls from her team kicking a ball around, waiting for the current game to end, so I told her to go warm up. Joe and I sat there talking, but I could feel someone watching me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a parent wearing the same team T-shirt I was staring at me. I didn’t recognize him, but it’s not like I’m close with any of these soccer parents.

A little background: Maggie played on this team two years ago. It was her first girls-only team, and it wasn’t the greatest experience. She only played in fall and decided to go back to her co-ed rec team, which caused a mini-uproar on the team she left. Some parents told my husband and me that we were doing our FIFTH GRADER a disservice by not forcing her to play on this competitive team, to which we just smiled sweetly and secretly flipped them off in our minds.

So when the guy kept staring, I figured he knew all about that history and wondered why Maggie was back on the team. And for the record, she’s only playing on this team to get some touches on the ball before her school’s spring soccer season begins.

And this particular club has two teams with the same name playing in this league. They just split up their regular team for the 6v6 season. Maybe, I thought, Maggie’s team was playing the other team from her club.

Anywho, a few minutes later, Maggie came back. She looked confused.

“Mom,” she said, “none of these girls are on my team.”

I looked back at the gaggle of blonde, pony-tailed girls dribbling the ball. They all looked the same to me. Except there were perhaps too many blonds. Maggie’s team has a few brunettes.

“Hmmm,” I said. “Maybe your team is playing the other team from your club, you know? I’ll bet that’s it. Go ask the coach.”

So she did, and he came over, smiling kindly.

“Maggie’s got a game at 7 a.m. tomorrow,” he said. “But if she wants to play today, we can use her. We might have someone missing.”

I could feel my face turning red. I looked at Maggie, and she shook her head.

I thanked him and told him I must have read the schedule wrong. Then we walked the long walk in front of the bleachers toward the facility’s exit. I could feel all the parental eyes on me.

Right then I knew who would be bringing Maggie to her 7 a.m. game, and it sure has heck wasn’t going to be me. And I started casting about for a way, any way, that I could blame Matt for this. There had to be a way, but I couldn’t see a clear one.

So we piled into the Suburban and drove to Tom’s basketball game, which just had started. I laughed about the soccer screw-up with my friends there. One said I could still blame Matt because he should have corrected me when I insisted there was a soccer game on Saturday, but I thought that was stretching it a little.

Later that day, when Matt got home from his meeting, I told him all about it. He told me that if I had a Blackberry, I could put all the times and places I needed to be in my electronic calendar, and that would solve my problem. But I reminded him that I still would have had the wrong date and time in there, so what was the good of that?

I didn’t have it in my calendar,” he said smugly.

I stared at him. “Why didn’t you tell me, then?” I asked.

“Because I knew you’d get mad and tell me I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “So I didn’t think I should tell you.”

 So it was his fault. I knew it.