When I told Dan about my recent experience shopping at Costco observing old ladies and the way they interact with children, he said, “Yeah. It sounds like they’re a lot like people, only older.” His observation is correct. They are a lot like people but with their advanced age comes a sort of magnification of what I would categorize as typical responses to stimuli.
The elderly ladies I crossed paths with at Costco could be sorted into 3 basic categories, The Shocked, The Chagrinned and The Perpetual Grandma. Of course there were several women who seemed completely uninterested in me or my family but I will not discuss them here.
First, The Easily Shocked. The Easily Shocked sort of walk around minding their own business. They have shopping to do and samples to taste and they seem to be concentrating very hard on the tasks at hand. Then suddenly for apparently no reason one of my children will momentarily raise his voice, giggle loudly or move quickly within the visual range of The Easily Shocked. She will flinch visibly and step away from the action. Her wide eyes and raised eyebrows will signal alarm and you will get the feeling from her facial expression that she has never seen a child before or at least cannot remember it.
When I come across one of The Easily Shocked, I wonder if my child-rearing years will ever be so far behind me that I will actually find the spastic antics of children startling or troubling to behold. At the moment I can’t imagine it. They have me well trained and desensitized. I feel sorry for these women because they seem genuinely troubled by the presence of these strange, loud small people and they likely encounter them far more often than they’d like, especially if they venture to places like the free food sample mecca of the grocery world.
The second type, The Chagrinned, can also be called The Judgmental or The Perpetual Disciplinarian. These are women who walk down the aisle with one squinty eye directed at your children. They know that young people are up to no good and would like nothing better than to see your children misbehave so they can show their most ardent disapproval. Usually this disapproval is shown through head shaking, angry or disgusted expressions and body language. Every once in a while, one of The Chagrinned will make a nasty comment either to you or to the world in general about the lack of discipline, the obnoxious behavior or your general lack of parenting skills and care for the world at large. I do not like running into these women because although my children are practically perfect in every way, they’re still children and I’m a mother who probably deserves some of their criticism but doesn’t want to hear it. I think it would be painful to carry around a face with such a sour expression all the time.
Now luckily in my experience, the members of the last category, The Perpetual Grandma, far outnumber the women of the first two. I love these women. These are women who whether they’ve ever had children of their own or not were born to love and care for them. These women are amused and delighted by most everything your children do and often tell them so. They watch your kids from across the store, trying to make eye contact with them. They smile a lot and ask questions. “How old are you honey? Did your mom buy you a hot dog? How lucky!?”
I met two of these women as I was loading my car last week. They were in their seventies and were getting out of their car right next to Magoo’s open van door. They talked to him sweetly as I loaded the groceries and as I closed up the car, they offered to return my cart for me so I wouldn’t have to deal with a cart and a little one at the same time. Little kind acts like this make me smile and help make my life just a little easier. As I watched them walk away, I thought, “I want to be like that when I grow up.”