Friday, January 17, 2014

What Makes a Girl Into a Ma'am

It's hard to remember when I became a "ma'am."

In my mind, I'm still that green twenty-one-year-old girl dressing beyond her years in heels, silk blouse, and a pencil skirt, all in an attempt to up the intimidation factor as she walked into her first college class to teach students a mere three years younger than her.

In those early days, I lived and worked as an adult yet was always uncomfortable with the authority of that role since most of my students were my age or older. It was as if I were playing at being an adult, a usurper who claimed the throne of authority and adulthood without any rights to lay such a claim.

While I wasn't looking, that age gap kept widening into an unleapable chasm until the authority that comes with age finally caught up with me.  The funny thing?  It still feels false.

I have three children who call me mommy, but some days, I don't think myself old enough to be a mother of three. I am a wife of thirteen years, but I look across the room and still feel the heart flutters of one just starting to date her beloved.

And then there are the teenagers and college students--all of whom call me ma'am.  All of them.

I fear losing my ability to be relevant since most young people around me don't understand my references to things that happened in the 90s.  The bag phone the size of a thick phone book that cost my parents $20 a month for 20 minutes makes them shake their heads and laugh nervous.  AT&T calling cards for phoning family out of state or country and lower rates per minute for specific calling hours are alien notions as well.  Yesterday, I had to explain what it meant to be a "cad" after I used the label to describe someone in a movie.

I have to reign in my shock as the downy-chinned boy about to be married speaks stiffly to me with complete respect, much as I still speak to those twice my age.  It is still odd to be reverenced and feared as some sage being when I am the one still reverencing those older than I.

Suddenly, I am the ma'am who is perceived as so very different from the younger generation.  Since my actions are less than spontaneous, since I am laden with everything required to be responsible for a family of five, surely, since I must be home routinely before 8 pm because of children's bedtimes, I have become something other than they are.

But in my mind, I keep wondering when I'll ever feel grown up.  When will I ever feel like I deserve to be considered an authority figure?  When will I ever feel like I have arrived at being an adult?

This past Monday, I asked a woman just shy of eighty years if she felt any different than she did at forty.  As I expected, she spoke of age's wear and tear on the body, but stated her mind, her thoughts, what made her who she is--this had not changed.

Perhaps this is what God intended from the beginning--eternity where we always are who we are.  Sin just messed that plan up so that our bodies deteriorate while we, ourselves, remain the same person within that shell, its added lines and wrinkles belying that constant status.
The only thing that seems to change is my perception of age.  65 no longer looks ancient.  40?  Still a youth.

Yes, those who can't remember a time before email look up to me and think "old."  But I look in the mirror and think "Yep.  Still young."

Photos: Amelia and I at Christmas with my family; my birthday gift from my brother and sister in love--earrings crafted by a deaf group in Africa.

1 comment:

  1. This is so true and strange. We are at least 10 years older than most of the Marines (and their wives) in Johnathan's battalion and I have been ma'am since day one. I used to fuss - "Just call me, Liza!" - but, I'm beginning to understand that they are doing it as a sign of genuine respect (for Johnathan, partly) and I take it as a compliment. Whether I feel like a "ma'am" or not :)