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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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My son’s would have given me the same advice at 40/50 or 60 something – I agree with some of the other comments, it says love to me…. Nothing to do with old age!


Ha Ha, my twins think anyone over 15 is old!! I accepted it years ago and just could not care less. When I recently injured my meniscus (knee) I used a cane for a week and then the jokes really came. They even played with it pretending to be old.

I hope that everyone has the privilege of getting “old”. So many die young, I cannot complain. I just hope to get older and older. I keep moving, I am financially strong, what the heck do I care about adjectives???

As a final thought, the sun is how old??? So, we are not really old, humans just don’t live that long.

Have fun, take your walks, live……………

Jane Parkhurst

I understand both sides of this coin. I am a member of the older population. There are simply some situations a single woman should not put herself in, regardless of age. Hiking alone at night falls into that category. There are just too many crazies around.
I have learned to either ignore comments or not engage in a conversation about certain topics with my daughter or son, especially as relates to my abilities. They both live hundreds of miles away from me, and while they are quick to suggest I not do something, they are slow to offer to pay to have it done for me.
In any event, although I am 70+, I still work full time, take care of a 4 bedroom house, including the yard, and am very active in my church and other volunteer opportunities. When it’s my time to slow down, the good Lord will let me know. Until then, I am too busy to stress over it. P.S. I too may forget a name, but have learned to work around it.
Be well all –


I can’t agree with the other two comments – that she’s being rude or over-sensitive. I find myself vacillating between the two feelings myself, but still haven’t found a balance. And I try to remember that only age will enlighten younger folks – no explanation from me will ever hit home. I agree that “old” should not be insulting, but in the USA age is certainly not revered and often results in dismissive behavior by younger adults.

Cynthia Lewis

This lady’s responses caused me to mention this – 1. The man asking if he could help you was just asking if he could help you. He didn’t mean you were OLD and needed help. 2. Walking alone at night is dangerous for any woman. Fact. For women 5 yrs old – 99. You son was not implying you were old and helpless. That was your projection onto him. Older people often are very sensitive about their age. That makes us overreact at times.

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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