Thank You, Ma’am

If you’re a woman of a certain age, you probably remember the first time someone called you “ma’am”. Maybe you can’t recall the exact date, time, location or culprit, but you do remember the feeling. Suddenly you were aware that you’d officially crossed over from the youthful world of “miss” to the more sedate land of “ma’am”.

It can be shocking when we are faced with someone else’s perception of us.

For me, it was a teenaged boy who uttered the word. Probably he was a bagger at a grocery store or a busboy. I can’t recall the details, but I remember thinking, once the initial shock wore off: Ma’am? Who do you think you’re talking to, buster?

The poor lad had no idea his attempt to be polite was so offensive to me.

I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent moment for men. It might be the first time they’re addressed as “sir” or “mister” instead of “dude” or “man”.

Since that defining moment, I’ve been referred to as “ma’am” many times. I no longer get offended. I realize it’s the natural progression of life.

Lately, though, an interesting phenomenon has been occurring: People are starting to call me “miss” again. Granted, they are mainly elderly gentlemen attempting to be complimentary.

I also had the surreal experience of being carded while buying a bottle of wine at a liquor store recently. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I said point blank to the young clerk, “Seriously? Is this some kind of marketing ploy to get middle-aged women to keep coming back?” He gave me a confused smile, but said nothing.

It just goes to show you that life has a way of coming full circle.

Entering Midlife

On May 3 I turned 46 years old. Unless I live to be 92, my life is more than half over. Such a sobering thought prompts one to examine one’s life. For me, this turns into an inventory of my major accomplishments thus far:

  • Four beautiful sons
  • A 20 year, mostly happy, marriage
  • Multiple college degrees
  • A solid position in my current profession
  • Dear and amazing friends
  • Homeowner
  • Certified yoga instructor
  • Certified Reiki Master
  • Trips to the Bahamas, Ireland, London, Rome
  • Pretty perennial gardens

As I review the list, I can’t help but ask: Is that all I’ve got so far?

I thought I would have accomplished more by now. Still on my bucket list is a summer in Europe, a beach house, writing and publishing a novel that people actually want to read. There’s the hot air balloon ride over Napa Valley, the business I’d start if I could just figure out what. And always the fantasy of being debt free, financially free, just plain, damn FREE. Permeating it all is a nagging feeling that I’m not quite living the life I’m supposed to, that there is something still missing.

My lamenting is quickly met by a harsh Inner Judge who admonishes: Quiturbitchin and be grateful for what you have.

I hate that judge sometimes. She just doesn’t get it. I am grateful for what I have, but according to Maslow I’m supposed to want to self-actualize. It’s the only way a human being can reach his or her full potential.

This must be how midlife crises begin, with an examination of The Road Not Taken, followed by an Inner Judge assault for daring to be so shallow as to want, dare I say it, MORE.

Inner Judge: There are people starving, desperate, oppressed, and imprisoned in this world and you’re whining about a beach house and self-actualizing and wanting MORE? Quiturbitchin!

Looking back, there were failures, of course. Poor choices made. Regrets. Most midlifers have them.

We are born, we live, we die. As many of us get closer to The End we realize that we’ve been living on auto-pilot, going through motions, doing what was expected of us by others rather than following our inner callings. Suddenly it seems so obvious that we should have done more of the things we wanted and less of what we didn’t. That we shouldn’t have been so afraid.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be grateful for what we have or demean our accomplishments, however small and insignificant they may seem at times. Duties and obligations to family, friends, work, and the human beings some of us bring into this world are real and they matter. There is much to be said for finding joy in the simple things, with taking pleasure in the moment. A beautiful sunset, a family gathering, a baby’s smile, a grandmother’s reminiscing — all have deep meaning.

At the same time, there is nothing wrong, selfish or ungrateful in asking ourselves: Am I selling myself short? If so, why? And what am I going to do about it?