Imagine this: You’re going to lunch with your boss in hopes of impressing him with your past work. You arrive at the restaurant with him and are eager to demonstrate your competence. You are directed toward a table and as you sit down, the waiter hands you both menus. But she hands you something else with the menu: a coloring book, complete with crayons. You’re 30-something, your boss is 50-something and this waiter is 20-something. But in the eyes of this 20-something, you’re ten and you need an activity to keep you occupied while the 50-something has his meal. So much for impressing your boss.
This is a true story. My dad, a newspaper editor, went to lunch with a reporter and brought home something more to report than just the average meeting. The poor woman, silenced by the shame of being misidentified as a teenager, sat frozen across from him as the coloring book and crayons were delicately placed in front of her. What was she supposed to do?
Since I started school a year late, I have always been at least a year, if not more, older than my classmates. I’ve spent my life being older. But my age has always seemed so irrelevant to me because I’ve never been able to claim any connection to it. When I was 13 and my family went to museums where kids 10 and under went free, the teller behind the desk automatically provided me with that free ticket. When I was 18 and I went to a movie with some friends, I paid $5 less than my friends because the person in the booth assumed that I fit the 16-and-under price. And even now, at 20, I’m given kids’ menus left and right, as if my whole life were dedicated to the search for the perfect chicken tenders and macaroni and cheese.
So what is the relationship between age and propriety? Because people think I am younger, I can easily get away with behavior associated with younger ages like coloring at a dinner table, paying less for admission and eating less than gourmet food. That said, I have caught many a 50-year-old eyeing my chicken tenders with envy and living vicariously through my culinary delight. But, of course, it would be heavily frowned upon for a 50-year-old to chow down on some chicken tenders at a restaurant where there are more age-appropriate options on the menu; only steak and potatoes for him. As a kid who sticks out her tongue to norms and standards, I say “bleeeehhhh” to your notions of propriety. We would all be happier if we could operate with more slack on the leash of decorum that holds us back. Eat what you want.
There are many options to reckon with when you are mistaken as younger. Anger is always an option and a sense of frustration can always be developed in response to someone misunderstanding who you are. But, in this case, I choose laughter. I choose humor because that’s what connects people of all ages and of all backgrounds and what universally makes us see the truth in the most meaningful and powerful way. Laughter is an innate ability, something we can all do regardless of how young or how old we are.
So, to that poor woman who was at lunch with her boss, here’s what I would do: smile, laugh, correct the waiter and get down to business. You’ve got some serious coloring to do.
Grace Smith is a sophomore in the College. If a Tree Falls appears every other Tuesday.
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