The week before the Christmas break, I picked up my daughter from school at noon, as is my usual habit. Just before running out the door, I popped into the office to say hello to the ladies. They’re a friendly bunch, and I always make a point of making small talk whenever I see them.
As I inched past the side door, Mrs. T. the school Directrice, as they are called in Montessori, came out from behind her desk and eyed me quizzically.
She folded her arms across her chest, cocked her head to one side and said in a slow drawl, “Ms. Williams, can I ask you a personal question?”
Oh God, no, I thought, not the dreaded PERSONAL QUESTION! And besides, who says, “Can I ask you a personal question?” in an office filled with people that you do not know personally?! The Directrice of my children’s Montessori school, that’s who.
The look on Mrs. T’s face indicated that it was something she had wanted to ask me for awhile, and yet she still seemed to hesitate. Oh shit, I thought, what could it possibly be?
“Um, sure,” I replied. She began,
“So the other day when I was completing the guarantor portion of your passport I noticed that you and your husband’s birth years are vastly different.”
“Yes,” I replied. “That’s correct.”
“Are you sure? Because I’m positive that it must be a typo!”
“No typo,” I reassured her. “It’s accurate.”
“I see; because YOU CERTAINLY DON’T LOOK YOUR AGE!” she shouted hysterically.
I blushed, and managed a thank you, which I always feel lame doing because, well, I suck at compliments. Also, I’m still unsure *if* being told you look young is supposed be taken as a compliment. [Thanks Mom?]
A moment passed as the ladies and I stood there in awkward silence -- them grinning, me squirming. I took note of the way their eyes compartmentalized and categorized the parts of my person that apparently dared to defy age.
Mrs. C, the office administrator, who let’s face it, is the muscle in this predominately female environment looked at me with her usual stern face.
“Is everything ok Ms. C?” I squeaked.
“Oh yes, fine” she managed between pursed lips, which is her version of smiling.
And she continued to give me the hard stare as she lowered her chin and squinted at me behind her reading glasses.
“So, that you means that you must have had your daughters when you were XX?” Mrs. T continued.
“Yes, that is correct.”
“Wow!” she blurted, as she moved her folded arms to scratch her head, rub her face and smile.
“So, I uh, would have had, you know, LOTS MORE CHILDREN if I had help around the house,” I offered, as if I had to justify having more babies because I looked so damn young. Then I scooped up my 3-year-old and scrambled out of the office, feeling 3 sets of eyes boring holes into the back of my neck.
When I got to the car, I quickly buckled my daughter into her booster seat while screeching to my husband.
"Mrs. T noticed the age difference on our passports and freaked out because apparently I look *so* young.”
“I see," he laughed.
We both knew that wasn't the only thing she was going on about. Not only do I supposedly look young, but my husband is waaaaay younger than me. Which means I’m waaaaay older than him. We're 10 years apart in age. Also, we don’t share the same race. Man, have we got stories to tell!
I honestly don’t care, and perhaps I would care more if I felt it actually “meant” something. When my husband and I started dating -- we met at work -- my Mother sent me a variety of newspaper clippings, one of which was an Ann Landers story about why a particular May-December romance didn’t work out.
Recently she said, “I hope Djen continues to treat you well when you are much older.” I laughed. Apparently I am a candidate for spousal abuse because my huzza is younger?
As I get older it kind of bums me out that such a premium is placed on women’s age. Older dudes in similarly constructed relationships aren’t nearly as relentlessly scrutinized.
That said, I usually don’t go around telling people how old I am because I’m not that invested in my age, and frankly I’m not sure why it matters. Plus the crazy thing about people knowing my age is that after their mouths drop, you can actually see the wheels spinning as they work out the math. Reactions are never subtle.
So while I don't think dating or marrying someone older or younger than is an issue, I haven't quite mastered how to respond to questions, when asked. There's a lot of awkward silence mostly. Any other cradle-robbers out there have suggestions?