When I Became a Madam


by Leah Peterson
© 2003 Leah Peterson
All Rights Reserved
Originally published on Writer’s Monthly

WORDS OVERHEARD AT THE COFFEE SHOP:

Girls, maybe 15 years old.

Ms. Tight Red Blouse talking to Ms. White-and-Lacy Top and Ms. Blue with Belly-Showing Shirt: ‘I already know what I want. Do you? Ok… like, I’ll talk to the lady. It’ll be easier.’ And then to Ms. Unnamed Barista who is probably 25: ‘Hey, Ma’am? We’d like a grande vanilla chai and two grande non-fat mochas?’ Ms. Red is speaking slowly and deliberately, so as not to confuse Old Barista Lady.

She and her friends have checked their faces and hair and adjusted their clothing pretty much without ceasing since getting in line. I wonder if they do it always. Constantly. How tired they must be.

What does it feel like to be 15 and have no concept of age? When did age 25 turn into a ‘ma’am’? And how great is that to feel cooler than everyone else in the room!

Remember when you were the cool young person at the family reunion? So cool it was hard to stay in the same room with the old fogies or the stupid young children. So cool you had to look cool even while you slept on the living room floor in the sleeping bag just in case one of the older cousins brought home a cute friend of the opposite sex.  So cool you couldn’t possibly take part in the family talent show without making fun of yourself and everyone else.  So cool you had to make up stories of how un-cool your parents were just to compete with the other made up stories your cousins had about their parents.  So cool you would stay lonely outside and peel bark off twigs instead of go inside and play cards with your grandparents like you wanted to.

My grandparents have all passed on. God bless. That makes me the ‘old people’ but not the ‘really old people’ since my parents are still alive. But as soon as they go, I’m going to be moving up to that level. I hope it’s a long time coming. Not just because I actually like my parents and would like to have more time with them but because I don’t want to be a ‘really old person.’

I want my kids to take part in the talent show in front of my parents and their cousins even though they make fun of themselves and me. When I see my kids peeling bark, I’ll leave them alone after asking them a mere 20 times to come in and hang out with those other un-cool old people and me. I hope my kids have some really awful stories to compete with their cousins about how mean I am (even if they are mostly true, in their case….)

The other night I heard my boys talking about ‘when they grow up.’ My oldest, 14, had started the conversation off with something I couldn’t hear. My almost 11 year old replied with ‘Well, that’s nothin’. When I’m that age, I’m going to have my own business, millions of dollars, have my own racecars, like twenty of them and my own speedboat! I’m gunna have some Harleys, too!’ My youngest son, age 9, said, ‘I just want my own food machines like they have at the hotels. I could eat chips, candy or drinks whenever I wanted.’

Obviously, whatever my oldest had started out with was seriously lacking in strength. I knew the other boys must have outdone him when he suddenly changed the subject with a punch in his younger brother’s arm. And then I thought to myself, ‘How is it possible that I have aged enough to have kids this old? My little guy is planning a Hotel Empire, for goodness’ sakes!’

How did I turn into a ma’am? Last time I checked the mirror I swear I was only 19 or so. But somehow, I’ve traveled over that bridge into adulthood. I’ll be eighty and it will still take me by surprise when the bagger at the grocery store asks me, ‘Paper or plastic, ma’am?’

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