by Ginger Keller Gannaway
When visiting a fellow teacher’s high school classroom last week, I overheard a student tell her friend, “I hate those old teachers.” The teen answered, “They shouldn’t let them keep teaching.” Then the first girl noticed my old self in the back of the room and apologetically added, “Just the ones with grey hairs, ya know.” (I’ve dyed my hair for eleven years.)
Teens. So entertaining. So hip and quick and yet so slow. They have razor sharp radar for any kind of prejudice except ageism.
Of course, we over-sixty folks are quick to judge as well: “My new doctor is twelve!” “My grandson is addicted to his phone.” “See those tattoos all over our waitress?”
Ageism is relative.
My favorite part about teaching teenagers is their funny, honest spitfire comments:
“Miss, your skirt got a stain from your hippy days,” or “Did the Civil War happen before or after you went to college?”
Our youth-obsessed culture may have persuaded me to dye my hair and update my 1970’s wardrobe; however, do I not now judge my 90-year-old dad who lives with us?
His grunts, sighs, belches, moans, and creaks annoy me almost as much as the messes he leaves in the bathroom. How does someone grunge-up the sink, mirror, countertop and floor just by brushing his teeth? But the worst part is the adult diaper crap. Seeing him shuffle to and from the bathroom in his pull-ups makes me dread my own scary future. It makes me want to hide out on a remote island alone where I leave my bungalow only to sit in my cozy backyard and listen to birds, watch squirrels, read a book and forget I’m wearing Pampers.
Dad-guilt consumes me when I complain. He’s trying hard not to annoy us. He apologizes when we spend six hours at the VA clinic. He’s learning to take the short bus to the senior center for bridge lessons, and each night he says, “Good night, sweet princess” before he goes off to bed.
Still the saying “We all turn into our parents” never sounded so ominous. I worry and I pray and I warn my husband, “If you die before my dad, I will kill you!”
I tell my head to stop judging Dad the way teens judge “those teachers with grey hair.” My heart thumps “Be patient. Be kind” but my bratty brain answers, “Damnit! Dad’s fresh sheets got another poop smear down the middle.”
I need to change my heart’s chant to, “Be real. Be strong’” because one day my three sons might say, “Damn! Mom tried covering her bald spot with a Magic Marker again.”