Laura Lippman | Longreads | May 2019 | 16 minutes (4,090 words)
My daughter was 10 days old the first time I was asked if I were her grandmother.
It was the second week of an unseasonably early Baltimore heat wave and I had managed to maneuver her stroller across my neighborhood’s bumpy, narrow sidewalks to my favorite coffee shop. Almost nine years later, I still remember the one spot on our street where the juxtaposition of a tree planter and a set of rowhouse steps made it physically impossible to push a stroller through at any angle. One either had to lift the stroller a foot in the air or bump it over the curb into the street, a solution I figured out only after much grunting and angling. By the time I arrived at the coffee shop, I was sweaty and unkempt.
A young man peered into the stroller, then glanced at my face: “Oh, are you her grandmother?” Only three days earlier, a woman had seen me boarding a plane with my newborn, eyed me approvingly and whispered: “You look amazing!” An unearned compliment — my daughter didn’t come out of my body and my body’s not that great, anyway — but I had been happy to take it. I’m not dumb. I knew the grandmother question would be asked again and again, and that compliments would be rare.
I tried out a simple, direct reply, the one I use to this day: “No, I’m her mother, but I am old enough to be her grandmother, so it’s understandable that you would ask.”
I thought my answer generous. But in the years since my daughter was born, I have discovered that people who ask rude questions feel terribly affronted if you say anything that implies they have just asked a rude question.
“But I’ve seen that baby with a young couple,” the man said. “Out and about in the neighborhood.”
“I don’t think so.”
“No, I absolutely have,” he insisted. “She’s been going around with a young couple.”
I let it go. I live in a city that, year in and year out, has a startlingly high teenage pregnancy rate, and consequently a high number of young grandmothers, some of whom end up raising their grandchildren. I’d be proud to be one of those women. But I am not. I’m just an old mom and I’m cool with that. Say a word or a phrase often enough, and it loses its power. I’m an old mom. I’m 60. I’m a 60-year-old woman with a third-grader. I am old. I am 60. I am old. I am old. I am old.
“You don’t look old to me,” my daughter has said on more than one occasion. “You could be in your 40s, your 30s, you could be in college, you could be in high school.”
Uber drivers say something similar, but at least I know why they’re blowing smoke up my ass. I’m not sure what my daughter wants, but she’s been eyeing the American Girl Doll spaceship, which lists at $449.99 on eBay. Good luck with that, honey. Mama’s got money, but she’s not crazy.