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My Adult Son Thinks I’m Old

By Sheila Grinell May 12, 2023 Mindset

We were hiking up a hill in my neighborhood after dinner. Night had fallen, but porchlights on nearby houses and a lone streetlamp lit the way. Michael, my son, said, “You know, Mom, you shouldn’t be doing this.”

“Why not? I’m sure-footed.” Although I couldn’t have kept up with him if he hadn’t slowed down for me, I felt strong and capable. I had been taking a late evening stroll for decades, with or without a dog leash in my hand, and I had no intention of stopping.

“Oh, I know. But an older woman alone at night? You should be careful.” He sounded conciliatory but firm.

Not What I Wanted to Hear

“I’m always careful,” I said, a little miffed, knowing my neighborhood to be safe, and disliking his presumption. My mind zoomed to the first time someone had treated me like an “old woman.”

Years ago, I was climbing up the subway stairs in New York when it began to rain. As I struggled to open an umbrella while dragging my suitcase, a middle-aged man offered to help. I rejected him outright, thinking gray hair should not imply incapacity. I realized at that moment that people were going to slot me into the “old” category whether I liked it or not.

Evidently, my Michael did so, too. He should know better. Hadn’t we recently climbed to the top of Stone Mountain together?

Another Little Shock

Shortly after my son flew home to Atlanta, something happened, a minor thing, really, but it forced me to review my stance. The classical radio station played a piece by Herschel; the host mentioned that not only was the man a celebrated musician, but he was also the father of modern astronomy, having discovered Uranus, among other feats of science.

My brain flipped to another classical musician also known for his science, what was his name? What was his name? It’s taking a while, but… Ah, Borodin!

Then the question that had been bothering me all day popped into my head: someone had asked about a secondary character in a novel I wrote, and I couldn’t pull the character’s name out of my gray matter. If I could recall Borodin, shouldn’t I be able to retrieve the woman’s name, given a little more time?

I could remember what she did in the story, why she did it, and even what she wore at critical junctures. I sensed her name began with an “H” but wasn’t Helen. Surely, the correct name would emerge; after all, I’d invented her.

Waiting, Waiting . . .

The evening of the following day, I gave up and opened the file. Her name was Hope. Of course.

Is it time, I wondered, to consider myself “old”? Most of my friends tell me they don’t care about the label; they simply go about their business. When they see their loose, wrinkled skin in the mirror, they don’t recognize the image as essential to themselves. They only worry about age when a doctor asks.

I am 70-something and healthy, yet I bridle when my son tells his mother to be careful. He’s right that a mugger might consider me easy prey; but I might be capable of running away faster than a younger woman in heels.

The Rub

I’ve always had a problem being relegated to a category, any category. As a girl, I studied math, even after being told “no boy will ever like you.” As a young woman, I chose nonprofit work although it would never make me rich. I married a man less educated than I, but who understood and supported me wholeheartedly. I launched a new career in my 60s, for goodness’s sake, despite the prejudice in the field.

Author Sandra Butler likes to say, “I’m not elderly. I’m not a senior. I’m not in my golden years. I’m just old.” She insists no one should make assumptions about her tastes and capabilities based on her appearance or actuarial tables. I agree, and I want my son to understand that stereotypes don’t apply to his mother.

But maybe they do. If I can forget Hope Caldwell’s name, what else am I missing?

My Real Problem

Getting old is so unpredictable! I want to think I can hike to the top of Stone Mountain with Michael for another decade. But I am a realist, and I won’t buy a plane ticket to Atlanta more than six months in advance. Getting old is like being a new mom: you learn to adjust one day at a time. If only the way were clearer… The end is all too clear.

When my son says things like “you shouldn’t walk alone at night,” I should just shut up and remember that he means well. When he is my age, he’ll see for himself that the “old man” category won’t do him much good.

May he reach my age, and exceed it, with his spirit intact.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you been thinking about adjustments to your routine you might need to make because of your age? What might those adjustments look like? What do you say to people who appear to consider you old and frail, when you feel anything but?

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Nancy Van Landingham

I totally related to her. I totally understand her. I am 80. I hike, bike and swim … well, I don’t enjoy water, but I hope you hike, bike and swim. Things are changing for me though. My children are miles away … I see them once a year. Women my age are not available (?) … I dunno … I quilt too … I am busy … but I want to hike with people who are not afraid of my age …

Vickey

I completely agree with you. I am tired of being told I shouldn’t do something because of of my age, I just do it in my own time and way.

Mary Linstroth

The author’s son was concerned for his mother’s safety, hiking at night. What’s wrong with that? It says love to me.
Offering help of any kind, to anyone needing it, should never be a bad idea…… ever.

R Linda

Agree, well said.

Rosemary Dill

I agree with you. I see people in their eighties who get so little attention from their adult children that it makes me sad. Neither of my children live in my state, but they keep in touch at least weekly.

Lisa

Agree!!!

Linda

I am disappointed that she would rudely reject help from a person who was just being kind and offering to help. When struggling with umbrella and suitcase I would hope someone would offer to help me regardless of my age. Courtesy is always appreciated.

Felicia G

I get what she means. I’m fiercely independent and I don’t like appearing helpless. I understand being courteous. But something about that condescending poor old dear attitude people get just irks me.

Bella

They mean well……… I tell myself that also. The hardest part for me is that no one seems to have any expectations of me now. I have to do that totally for myself, stay motivated to be physically fit, keep studying new and difficult subject matter and trying new things. I think successful aging requires a strong mind to just keep going – even when our dear friends and loved ones think it is unlikely that we can still do that. Surprise surprise. i can.

teresa

that’s why it’s good to hang around with age within tens year range of your age. also with like minded people. you know we all have trouble at every age in some way or another. either you are too young or too old.

Lillian Santiago

The way things are these days he may not have been referring to your age-perhaps? Anyway our kids and others do mean well, and other things like being physically fit are up to me.

Eowyn

The author is being overly sensitive, interpreting what her son and the “middle aged man” said and did as slights instead of kindness. Women of any age should exercise caution hiking alone, especially at night. Like it or not, the plain fact is that 70+-years-old *is* old, but there’s nothing wrong or insulting about that. The author should take satisfaction in being a fit and active elderly woman, instead of looking for insults in her interactions with others.

Nancy Van Landingham

Ohmygosh. You are so judgemental

I am almost 71 and I know it’s a number but I feel as long as my body will carry me, I won’t stop being active just because my numerical says one thing and my mind body and soul says another! Long live us old folk!

Aneita Chase

She is right.

Ton

Eowyn, I respectfully disagree with your summation of her response from her son. I do agree that as we age we certainly need to take more precaution. But you telling someone what they SHOULD take satisfaction in is to negate one’s feelings. Her article shows that she’s come to realize her limitations and realities that come with her age. It’s ok to not like it initially or be taken aback and accept to the changes of getting older. I can wholeheartedly relate to her still feeling empowered, then the switch of realizing “I just can’t do some the things I did when I was younger.” That does not mean I’m not grateful for every single one of the 65 years I’ve been blessed with. My son is extremely supportive of me traveling solo and pursuing other goals I have. However he’s quick to point out realities and lovingly encourages me to to take precautions due to my age. Sometimes all it takes is not remembering a word or a person’s name or something else to remind me that things are NOT the same. I accept it but embracing all these changes that come with the gift of getting older is a process.

Lkr

I agree with the author- the problem is not the offer of help but the assumption of infirmity. Not all 70 year olds are physically old.

Rose

How about the fear of loss? My son freaked when I went to work in another country. He had travelled abroad, but I was all alone. He visited and saw I was safe, sadly he died of COVID 2 yrs later. Our children some times fear for us, the same as we feared for them when they were young.

Linda

So sorry for your loss

Rose

I tell my older friend to use the GPS to drive to new places. Refuses and gets lost, Pride ? Can’t teach an old dog new tricks – because they don’t want to. I’m 70 and try new things, new ways and always welcome the help or advice. Geesh get out of your own head.

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The Author

Toward the end of her 40-year career as a creator of science museums, Sheila Grinell began a “second act” as a novelist. Her debut, Appetite, appeared in 2016, and her second novel, The Contract, in 2019. She writes a monthly newsletter and engages with readers on social media.

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