The Ten Steps of Grieving When You're Mistaken for Your 60-Year-Old Mother

I was feeling pretty good about myself until a woman came over and thought I was my kids' grandmother instead of their mom.
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Shira Rose
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I was feeling pretty good about myself until a woman came over and thought I was my kids' grandmother instead of their mom.

Last week, I went to a wedding. I got all dressed up, pinned some hair back, penciled on a bunch of eye liner, some mascara, and even some purple eye shadow graced my lids before our family piled into the car. 

We got there just in time for the bedeken (when the groom puts the veil on the bride's face at a Jewish wedding) and I semi-stuffed some crudité into my mouth, because traffic makes me hungry and that was the only option other than vodka. 

The bride walked down the aisle with her parents and I cried (wedding crying is the best crying).

So after the chupah my kids got some snacks and I sat down with them at a little table while everyone was shmoozing. I didn't know a lot of people at the wedding so things were quiet. Then I saw a lady I had met a couple weeks before and she walked over to the table to say hi. Here's how it went...

"Hi!" She said with a smile, "I don't know if you remember me. I met you about two years ago in the States with Rabbi So-and-so..." 

I looked at this woman, knowing full well she wasn't talking about me (I had just met her for the first time two weeks ago, not two years ago), and knowing exactly who she was talking about... 

"That's my mother," I cut in. She looked puzzled. Then embarrassed.

"Oh! You look so much like her...all dressed up!" 

Oy. Was she trying to make this sound better? Because she had just mistaken me for a grandmother. 

When I was introduced to this woman two weeks earlier, much of our conversation had been about how she'd happened to meet my mom in Washington DC a couple years back, and now she thought I was my mother. 

My mom is a beautiful woman, but she is 30 years older than I am. And I know my twenties are almost over, but did I really look like I was pushing 60?

Suddenly, and let me be really dramatic for a minute, my world was just collapsing. Walls were shattering. Self esteem was crumbling. Pretty feelings were flying out the window. Just a minute ago I was feeling a little shy and maybe a little bored, but at least I felt attractive. Now I suddenly felt embarrassed and ashamed of everything. Everything! 

What was wrong? Was it my hair? Was it too wavy? Did it look frizzy? Was it my glasses? Did they make me look like an old library lady? Was it my dress? My post baby body? The fact that I was wearing flats instead of heels? WHAT?! 

Maybe it was the purple eye shadow. I never should have gone with the purple eye shadow. It must have brought out the tired bags under my eyes from not having a full night sleep in over a year (if you're going for the tired, dark circles under your eyes look, nursing babies are great for that). Or maybe she was just crazy. That's what my friends said when I told them the story. 

Now, I'm sure what I should have done was giggle and smile at such a silly, funny, even heartwarming mistake. Instead, since my heart was broken instead of warmed, I did this thing that I do when I'm uncomfortable, and I cut off eye contact with this woman and started to feel kinda sick. 

I looked down at my little plate of hor d'oeuvres and took a bite so I would look busy and not have to engage in conversation with this lady anymore. The food tasted horrible. The chicken was now too salty, too dry, too grotesque... kinda like me.

On the drive home I tried to talk out my feelings with my sweet husband, who was able to look at this like it was, a ridiculous mistake, and laugh. "She's either crazy or blind," he said. 

But I couldn't laugh. And instead of crying I closed up, got cold, sarcastic, and kinda mean, blaming my husband for not telling me that I looked pretty when we left the house. 

It took a while for me to snap out of my funk. My sister-in-law helped later that night when I looked at her and said, "How old do I look?" 

She considered my sullen face seriously and said, "22, but tired." 

When I got home and told my mom the story she cracked up laughing and was thrilled. "That's the best compliment I've had in a year!"

Angry selfie of me from the night I was mistaken for my mother.

Angry selfie of me from the night I was mistaken for my mother.

So why am I talking about all this? I guess one of the reasons is because I'm still a little embarrassed and posting the story publicly is a good way to look humiliation in the face and say, "HA!" 

Why else? Because one comment tore me to shreds. A little mistake ruined my night and put me in a seriously terrible mood -- one of those moods where your eyes feel heavy from misery. 

First of all, she wasn't even saying something inherently insulting. If she had actually been speaking to my mother everything would have been totally fine and normal. 

It's not like she came over to me, took a look at my face and said, "You look old tonight." 

Second of all, deep down, maybe not even that deep, I know I don't look 60. So why did someone else's mistake shake me up so much? Because it made me question my own view of myself. 

If someone had come up to me and said, "You need to sit up straight," I would have been insulted and embarrassed, but not shocked, not humiliated, because I know my posture needs work, it's no secret to me. 

This felt like the world has been talking about me behind my back for years and finally came out with this truth I've been naively oblivious to: I look old. A brand new insecurity I didn't even know I was supposed to have.

That moment when your positive view of yourself is shaken. What a horrible moment that is. Whether it comes from an actual insult, a mistake, an observation, a whatever. So what can we do to combat this destruction? Here are ten things I came up with.

1. Talk to the friends that make you feel good about yourself. \Let them give you compliments and listen to them kvetch about their own insecurities, because a shared experience is an easier experience.

2. Insult the person who insulted you, behind their back. I know this sounds horrible and very petty, but it helped me feel better. This may make me a very bad person.

3. Feel your negative feelings. Here's four options to start with: angry, sad, scared, ashamed. You may feel a combo of all four. I felt all of these from being mistaken for my mother. Say them out loud and talk about why you're feeling what you're feeling -- it helps a lot.

4. Think about whatever it was that changed your view of yourself. Consider if it's worth feeling terrible about yourself, or if you should just go back to feeling good, despite what someone said, or thought, or whatever. Make the positive feelings even stronger so they can take a hit.

5. Figure out if there's anything else bothering you. For me, it was that the woman didn't remember ME! At all! I had met her two weeks ago and she didn't recognize me. I had been forgotten and that hurt. 

6. Laugh about it. One of the most helpful things that happened was when I sent a good friend a moody selfie and said, "Do I look 60?" And she responded, "LOL you look so angry. Don't worry, you don't look a day over fifty-nine."

7. Go to sleep. Take a shower. Rub some nice smelling lotion or oil all over your body and remind yourself that you're worth loving. Drive this one home. Every day.

8. Take some amino acids (you can ask me about these).

9. Resist the temptation to eat ice cream out of the carton to comfort yourself (or anything else if you're not hungry), because it will taste good and might make you feel better for a couple minutes, but after that it will make probably make you will feel worse.

10. Think about how you'd like your daughter (even if you don't have a daughter) to feel about herself. Then try to feel like that. If not for you, then for her.