I have forgiven but not forgotten the senior who, a few weeks ago, asked me what grade I was in, in a tone clearly indicating her conviction that I must be at least two grades below her. With prayers, I smothered my immediate impulse to make a face like a sleep paralysis hag and bellow, “DO I LOOK SO YOUNG NOW?” Instead, like one of Jane Austen’s more polite heroines, I attempted to answer her as sweetly and blandly as possible, and life went on. But I have not forgotten.
I don’t know whether it’s that I have a baby face or that I act like a bug-eyed idiot fresh out of the juvenile hall or both, but whatever the reason, much to my chagrin and confusion, it’s been a recurring theme of my penultimate semester at Providence College that I should be mistaken for being younger than I am. I’ve been informed that I should be flattered when this happens, but I have not yet managed to be. I was even informed by some ghoul who, like my roommate, had clearly been watching a lot of Law and Order: SVU that I should be “extra happy” if people think I’m younger than I am because of how highly youth is valued in women. But after all, as the old man on the porch says in It’s a Wonderful Life, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people!” Maybe I’ll be flattered if, in five or ten years, my age is still underestimated, but here and now I still think wistfully of the one gray hair I found a few years ago and fondly anticipate being middle-aged.
Happily, there’s some evidence that I was born for middle age, or at least for what I imagine middle age to be. I’ve always been behind by months or years on pop culture and am unlikely to catch up soon; I don’t really check the internet—a phrase my much savvier younger sister has informed me is “weird” (“You don’t ‘check the internet’ like you check your email!”). I don’t know what’s on the New York Times bestseller list, but I do know what books I’m going to give my children to read. I recently spent the weekend fixing a table I found on the side of the road—we’re talking sanding, stripping paint, sanding again, staining, and staining again. Today I think maybe I’ll hang up a picture or two. It’s the high life for me and my baby face.