“You’re not that old, are you?”
That’s what many people used to say back when Clairol and I kept my graying hair a medium shade of blonde. When I decided to help the environment, and possibly myself, by reducing my use of chemicals, I quit cold turkey and wore my hair au naturel. After that, no one questioned my age. I no longer had to ask for the senior discount – my qualification was obvious.
My older cousin who still colored her hair tried to convince me to do the same. “It would make the color in your face look so much better,” she said. But she failed to change my mind. I accepted the fact that people rarely doubted my age after my hair reverted to gray, but the shocker came after changing dentists.
My dental appointment fell on a hot coastal North Carolina day and the air-conditioned office felt good. After I sat in the examination chair, the twenty-something assistant asked, “Would you like a blanket?”
She held up a blanket appropriate for a cold January night, but not a July afternoon. I had never before been offered a blanket in a doctor’s office.
“No, thank you,” I said.
“It’s really cold in here. Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” I may look old to you, I thought, but even at the advanced age of 61, my blood still circulates. And if you think it’s cold in here, why don’t you adjust the thermostat? She put the blanket away.
“Would you like a pillow?” she asked as she tilted the chair back.
First a blanket, now a pillow. Was I supposed to take a nap? I have poor posture and often walk with my head forward, so maybe she thought I would be more comfortable with a pillow. I declined the offer.
Today’s session would be a long one with the dentist doing prep work for a crown. My mind had wandered by the time the novocaine took effect and the thirty-something dentist started working. When she stopped and said something to me, I did not hear her. Great, I thought, now she thinks I can’t hear.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“You can relax your jaw. Sometimes people get a cramp when their jaw has been in this position too long.”
My jaw felt fine, and I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Anyone can get a cramp, so she probably says that to everyone. As she leaned over to resume work, I noticed her impeccably applied makeup. Maybe I needed to pay more attention to my appearance.
A short while later, she stopped again and asked if I needed a bathroom break.
“I’m okay,” I said. I knew I had done nothing to give her that impression. What was going on? Did this “forever young” baby boomer really look that old and decrepit? Did I have the mouth of a much older person? I still had all my teeth. Okay, I’m getting my second crown, but the roots are still mine. Doesn’t that count?
A half hour later, she repeated the bathroom question. I resisted the urge to inform her that many of us sixty-something geriatrics can last more than an hour between bathroom visits and just repeated my “no” answer.
When everything was done, the assistant raised the chair back and cautioned, “Take your time getting up. You were lying back quite a while.”
I turned my head to hide my smile. What if I jumped up, pretended to faint, and fell to the floor? Probably not a good idea. They would not find the prank funny, and they had the power to make me pay later.
That evening, I described the incident to my friends, some of whom went to the same dentist. Initially, the office comments amused me, but the more I thought about them, the more annoyed I became. The office staff had good intentions, but if they uttered a condescending remark next time, I would consider it my duty to educate them on what the new sixty-somethings were like.
For my next appointment, I chose a brighter colored outfit for a more youthful look. Remembering the dentist’s perfect makeup, I took extra time applying mine. As I drove to the office, I mentally rehearsed the speech I would deliver if any age disparaging remarks were uttered:
I didn’t say anything last time I was here, but I think you need to know that we aging baby boomers are not like our elders. Many of us live in this area and we are not on the verge of disintegration. When my husband and I dock our sailboat, I’m still the one who jumps off the boat onto the pier, dock line in hand. Many of us are still capable of riding bikes with only two wheels. We have no need for Depends or unusually frequent bathroom breaks. If we need to use the bathroom, we will tell you. Our blood still circulates to help regulate body temperature. Those of us who are “temperature challenged” have mastered the art of dressing in layers. I’m sure you mean well, but please don’t assume my gray hair means I need special treatment. OK?
I made my entrance affecting my best “energetic and perky” demeanor, settled into the exam chair, and waited for my cue that never came. Was it my changed appearance, or had they learned of a patient’s annoyance via our small town gossip mill? All I know is, I’ve had several appointments since then, and I’ve never again been offered a blanket, a pillow, or a bathroom break. If such offers do come again, I have an edifying speech all ready to go.