When does it happen? Are there signals? How do you know when it happens to you? Does something change about you and mark you forever? What makes other people know it’s your time?
I’m talking about when someone call you “ma’am” for the first time, well someone other than a member of the military. It shocked me when it started happening to me. I was in my early twenties and suddenly teenagers, not that much younger than I, were calling me (shudder) “ma’am”. I was appalled! I would check the mirror for wrinkles and signs of rampant aging! Why on earth were these people, less than a decade my junior, calling me that hideous term reserved for people that were really old, like my mother?
For years I cringed (internally and externally) when I was called “ma’am”. But gradually, as I aged, I no longer cringed. Instead I began to kind of accept it. Not because I suddenly looked “that old” (I’m often told I look 8 to 10 years younger than I am by people for whom there is no benefit in lying to me), but just because I seemed to have reached that point in my life. I had made peace with it I suppose. A recent event made me realize that I not only accept it, but I except it. What was this momentous event? I shall tell you.
I had to go to Walmart the other evening. While in the toy department, a young man, in his late teens (I would estimate) felt it appropriate to bounce a basketball repeatedly and loudly through the aisles of the toy department store while shouting (repeatedly) "I gots da rock!" Upon my first encounter face to face encounter w/this youth I said, "Yes, it looks very nice sitting on top of your neck." This caused a nearby man in his 30s (?) to laugh uproariously, and nearly fall over when the youth did not get that I was implying he had a rock for a head. The youth continued to bounce the ball through the store (it was loud and echoed). Then, as I waited in line to pay, I was again treated to the sound (from the next lane) of the basketball being slammed into the floor and the "I gots da rock" verbalization. After few rounds of this noise. After watching other patrons roll their eyes and sigh and mutter about they wished he would quit. After hearing the cashier beg Jesus to make it stop, I said, "I’ve got this.” Then I very loudly said in my best “mom” voice, “IF YOU BOUNCE THAT ROCK ONE MORE TIME I WILL SHOVE IT SOMEWHERE SO YOU GOTS IT FOREVER!" My statement was accompanied by dead silence. Then I heard cussing from the youth. He then rounded the corner to my lane, with a look of anger on his face, his girlfried (?) following nervously behind him, he took a step toward me. I put my arms out to my sides in a "bring it" gesture, and said, "Yeah! What!?" He stopped short, held his hands up in surrender and said, "Uhm, nothing ma'am, nothing." Walked back to his lane and we did not hear anymore bouncing. The cashier asked if she could be my bestie.
It was at the moment the youth called me “ma’am”, that I realized I liked to be called “ma’am”. I accepted it. I owned it. I expected it. I no longer think of being called ma’am as a sign that I am “really old”. I think of it as a sign of respect, one that I have earned by no longer be an inexperienced teen myself. I especially expect it from ill behaved punks at Walmart!