I’m Really Bad At Acting My Age

I read all those posts about what women over a certain age shouldn’t do—wear message t-shirts or leopard prints, for example—and promptly ignore them. I have a great collection of t-shirts (including a Deadpool one) and leopard-print flats and a leopard-print bathing suit. If I stay away from a style of clothing, it’s because I don’t like it (the “cold shoulder” look comes to mind).

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m really bad at acting my age. My main problem is that I don’t know what age I am. I mean, I can remember what year I was born and do the math. But fortunately, everyone else seems confused about my age too.

For a long time, I was often mistaken for younger than I am, which is a good problem to have. The first time someone called me “ma’am,” I had to look around and see who was standing behind me. It turns out the greeter was just a southerner who had been brought up to use “ma’am” as a polite form of address for any woman with any kind of authority. I was a cashier, so I had the power of exact change to wield.

I’ve also been disconcerted when trying to buy a drink. Once I was in a bar and asked for a beer. The server asked for my ID, but the goggle-eyed look I gave her earned me a hasty “never mind.” I did have my hair in braids that day, but I was well into my 20s at the time.

And I know that cashiers in supermarkets are required to ask for ID even if the beer-buyer looks to be 90, but I still find it puzzling. “I have underwear that’s old enough to drink,” I tell them, mentally adding, “and if you don’t believe me, I’ll show it to you.”

Now, however, that doesn’t happen. To the younger generation, I am evidently a crone. Once I was in a tiny accident—it barely knocked the “I” off my Saturn Ion—but the other motorist seemed in quite a tizzy that I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I assured the young man again and again that I was fine. I may have seemed a bit disoriented because I couldn’t find a pen and paper to take down his insurance info. But he kept insisting that I go to the emergency room to be checked out because, as he put it, “You’re elderly.”

At the time, I was 52.

I admit that I have not aged well. My apparent age is not helped by the fact that, after two back operations, I now sometimes walk with a cane. And I haven’t bothered to get my hair done since long before the pandemic.

But in my head, I am 35, tops. I’ve been told that everyone’s mind stops picturing them getting older at some point and forever after thinks they’ll look that way. I expect to see myself in the mirror looking 35, and am always disappointed when I don’t.

This is different from having an inner child, which for a long time I didn’t believe I had. Turns out that was because my inner child is an inner teen. She’s an outlet for all the things I never did as a repressed adolescent—painting my nails, flirting, spending money on ridiculous trinkets. Sometimes I let her out to have her fun for a while, but then I have to put her in a mental box and sit on the lid.

One needs only so many Deadpool t-shirts, after all.

About the author

Janet Coburn is an editor and writer who lives in Beavercreek, OH.

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