Thursday, October 26, 2006

Getting In Touch With My Inner Ma'am, or 40 Is The New Black

Although to my ears it sounds like someone else talking when I say this, I am turning 40 on Saturday. Once when I was teaching an autobiography workshop to retired folks, a gal wrote a piece about her 40th birthday party; the theme had been Death. Her friends dressed in black and rented a hearse to take her out for Scorpion Bowls. Instead of finding this macabre or even funny, I was simply confused. I asked her why death was the theme of her party. Perhaps she thought I was a bit dense, but she was nice enough to hide it. "Oh, you know," she said, "Forty and death just go together like peas in a pod."

Okay. That was a long time ago. These days, for $3.95 any Hollywood gossip magazine is happy to tell you that 40 is the new 30. (Or, if you are fortunate enough to know my in-laws, they will tell you just because they're sweet. Thanks! :)) And I certainly don't feel 40, whatever it's supposed to feel like. I have a few gray hairs, but they're balanced by my girlish breakouts. I have laugh lines, but no furrow between my brows, and for that distinction I am proud. I feel a bit stiff when I stand up suddenly, but I can still dance like a chicken in front of other people on Friday afternoons.

But I can't kid myself. Even five years ago, I got carded in dim restaurants. (Yes, yes, very dim, okay, you've made your point.) My college students were often wide-eyed with shock when I revealed my age. (Of course, anything over 30 is probably hard for them to get their minds around.) But lately, I have been counting, and the tally cannot be ignored: the ratio of "Ma'ams" to "Misses" is now running about 10 to 1. Gulp. It's official: I'm a Ma'am.

You might argue that people are just being polite, deferential to a customer. Sure, sure. But you don't "Ma'am" someone unless you are reasonably certain of their demographic. No 2o-year-old in three tank tops with a Bedazzled cell phone and a wad of gum gets "Ma'am"-ed. At least I don't think so. What does a "Ma'am" look like? Does she wear sweats all the time? Figure lipstick is too time-consuming to reapply? Always have circles under her eyes? Need a Wonderbra but keeps forgetting to buy one? Doesn't know the correct hair products?

Probably my "Ma'am-ness" is a composite of these things and more. The "more" might partially include, let's say, pushing a stroller. With a baby in it. Whose face is covered in Cheddar Bunny dust. I wonder, though, if...and this is kind of creepy if I think about it too long...a Ma'am also has a certain look on her face. A certain expression in her eye, a certain way she smiles. Or doesn't smile, because she's too tired or distracted to remember what was funny. A certain quality that reveals to the world: "I am Ma'am; hear me roar. I eat non-Ma'ams like you for breakfast. Now out of my way so I can go take a nap."

Then I have moments where I know being a "Ma'am" doesn't complete me. For instance, it is almost Halloween. Halloween may be my favorite time of year. As a child, it fell just three days after my birthday, giving the impression that the whole town had finally gotten the news and would be lining up at their front doors to shower me with candy--how did they know it's exactly what I wanted? I continued trick-or-treating until I was 16 years old (that year I dressed as a baby) and, although I was short, could no longer withstand the withering comments. Having to give up this annual event seemed cruel and unnecessary punishment for something I couldn't control.

Jarrah has been getting very excited about Halloween. She doesn't exactly know that, but she knows there's something in the air. Our neighbors have pumpkin lights out, and she points to them every time we leave the house and exclaims, "Dzeh-zeh!" (Your guess is as good as mine.) She touches each real pumpkin she sees, marveling that something she'd never noticed before is suddenly everywhere. She points frantically at the black cats and witches that hang in every establishment she frequents. And while she's still refusing to try on the perfectly adorable Tigger costume I bought her, she delights in carrying her plastic pumpkin candy holder around the house, full of pilfered electronic devices.

There's only one person more excited about Halloween than Jarrah. Today on the car radio they played "Thriller," which puts me in a mood that might only be understandable if you also graduated from highschool in 1984. I did my best to drive safely while performing the monster moves from the Michael Jackson video. And in the rear view mirror, I spied Jarrah, jazz hands aloft, doing them right along with me. I got tears in my eyes, Readers. Truly.

Now, In This, Our Year Of Becoming A Ma'am, I am able to reclaim my rightful place on the doorsteps of southern California, dressed in a wig and feather boa, looking as un-Ma'am-like as I can be. In fact, I'm realizing that I might not have an inner Ma'am at all, just an outer Ma'am.

And the birthday? The theme is going to be Life, baby. My darling husband, under heavy threat of copious guilt, has planned some surprises for me (and to give you an idea how special that is, the last time he surprised me we got engaged.) I am tantalized by tiny hints from my near and dear that fun is in store. But I want to thank my friend Cheri for giving me some valuable perspective on birthdays recently. I don't know what's going to happen, but I feel uncommonly serene. Whatever it is, I'm going to be all about the love and appreciation. I'll keep you posted.


Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

Oh fine! First you make coffee shoot out of my nose in the morning, and then you make Chardonnay shoot of out my nose in the evening! As I read, I was thinking that this was your best post ever, and then I got to the hyperlink (read: icing on the cake)! Happy, Happy Birthday, Dear, Dear Sam!!! For me, who had her first kid in 1984 and still tried to learn to moonwalk, don one sparkly white glove and celebrate!!! Now, I'm going to be up all night pondering "Dzeh-zeh." In fact, I'm officially on a hunger strike until we agree that I've got the right answer! Okay, maybe not a hunger strike. But I promise to think about it during the night when the hot flashes keep me awake. XOXOXO to you Birthday Girl!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Ma'am,

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the Auntie Mame of Ma'ams!!! ;)

Best, Gail

P.S. Take it from someone on the far side of forty - you never feel your age in your head (your body, sometimes), always get a shock walking by a mirror, and yes, what they say is true : "You're only as old as you feel."

Anonymous said...


I also thought this was your best and funniest post ever, perhaps because I also turned 40 this year and could relate to so much of it!

Happy, happy birthday!!


Alleen said...

Oh yes, this post definitely resonates with me - a fellow Class of '84 graduate!! I'm right behind you hitting the big 4-0 in December. Problems is, I've been called Ma'am for quite some time now - ugh...

I can't wait to hear what surprises you have in store!

Anonymous said...

Oh Sam,

This is the best one yet! Let's hear it for all of us 4-0's!

Can't wait to celebrate with you!



Anonymous said...

Welcome to the Club, Ma'am. Have a happy birthday, too.

Everyone wishes they could be 40, ya know. ;)

Teresa said...


Happy Halloween!! And happy Tuesday three days after your b'day.

I hope the day was great. What other surprises did David have in store for you?

Hey, I just realized something: Sam rhymes with Ma'am. So that's something cool about being a Ma'am AND a Sam, right? Maybe?

In Alabama, Ma'am comes a lot sooner & more often. "Miss" just isn't used too often unless one is a teacher--even when one has a PhD.

Thank you, ma'am, for the good times & I hope to hear from you soon.


Anonymous said...

I loved this post!!

Anonymous said...

From a fellow Ma'am...

I never get carded at South Beach anymore.

I still get pimples (just closer to my wrinkles).

The supermarket cashier doesn't question my alcohol purchases.

Middle age is closer than mid-twenties.

Stiffness is as familiar as freckles once used to be.

I can only kid myself for so long that those "golden" highlights aren't gray hairs.

But who gives a freakin' 4$)%&$#(*$&%$*#&%*)#&!!! - The alternative to getting older is death.

Here is a hefty toast to loving every gray hair, wrinkle, saggy baggy, Ma'am-like attribute I won't acknowledge. And I won't get carded when I order this margarita :)


Kim said...

*Sigh* I got called ma'am by some kid in the grocery store the other day. And if I had told him that I actually graduated in '99 and am not even 30 yet, he probably would have just informed me that I am still old enough to be his mother. I don't think it's us--I think it's them. They are getting younger and younger, don't you think?!

I hope you had a WONDERFUL birthday!

Jenn said...

Happiest of Birthdays Sam! 2006 has been a wonderful year for you and your family. THe numbers are just numbers... your state of mind is what counts for your "real" age.

Big hugs for what I hope was an amazing day last weekend!