So I’m walking through one of my favorite shopping haunts during my lunch break, still looking for that perfect pair of black pants, when I notice that the handicapped stall in the row of changing rooms is available.
Now, I don’t have a handicapped sticker in my car, and I don’t list any handicaps on the medical/personal forms I fill out. But, in the absence of a truly handicapped person, if the disabled stall is available, I’ll generally use it. They are more spacious, and since I recently wrenched my back and the warranty on my right knee appears to have expired, I like having a little more room to move about. So I gathered up my items from my shopping cart and headed in.
“Ma’am! Ma’am!” A somewhat breathless Young Mother with a baby in her cart and a toddler in tow charged toward me. “I HAVE to have that room! And the clerk SAID I could use it! I have CHILDREN!”
I looked around. No one else in sight. No “Please.” No “May I?” No “Would it be all right if…?” I have my many faults, but I am usually excruciatingly polite, and I become somewhat peeved at others who are not. (Which means I am peeved a LOT these days.) But I also remember what it was like to wrangle toddlers, so I decided not to make a fuss. I sighed, said nothing, backed out of the stall and headed for another door.
“YOU OLD HAG!” she hissed at my back, and then banged her cart into the stall.
I was, well, startled. And I thought (in no particular order):
1. With that kind of impulse control, I wish her a lot of luck in her marriage. (And what was she teaching that toddler?)
2. For someone staring 60 in the face, I’ve always thought I look okay. Sure, I’ve been trying to lose weight since I was, oh, EIGHT, but I think I dress well. I color my hair and get a mani-pedi once a month. I exfoliate and floss. My elbows aren’t grubby, and I scrub behind my ears. I still experiment with makeup, and I have an appointment next week for a facial special I found on Groupon. You know, I don’t scare young children. The Spouse still says I’m still cute. I haven’t cracked any mirrors. The point is, I try to keep up. But apparently my efforts at hiding from the Age Fairy have been somewhat unsuccessful.
3. The Young Mother now joins the Young Lions at my workplace (you know, the 20- or 30-somethings who are always throwing their elbows around, trying to move up that ladder) as part of the growing crowd that thinks I am not worth the space I take up.
And, after I thought about it for the rest of the day, I realized that the Young Mother and the Young Lions are, well, WRONG. It all reminded me of one of my favorite poems:
“Think as I think,” said a man,
“Or you are abominably wicked;
“You are a toad.”
And after I had thought of it,
I said, “I will, then, be a toad.”
— Steven Crane (author of “The Red Badge of Courage”)
So, I decided, I will, then, be a hag. Are you horrified? Ready to hit the delete key? Well, hear me out first…
We hags (and our sisters the crones, witches, Medusas, old bags and the like) are the embodiment of society’s millennia-old fear of menopausal women. I mean, we’ve ceased being fertile, and (baring a few well-kept-up celebrities who have access to and the means for plastic surgery) most of us are not exactly pin-up material. Really, what good are we?
Plenty. The very workplace where I am regularly undervalued by my male peers also has a fondness for employees with something we call “institutional memory.” You know, those people who can remember where the bodies are buried, what the sacred cows are/have been, which member of the Board of Trustees doesn’t like ice in his ice water, who got fired when and why, which reporters have burned us in the past and those who have treated us fairly. And, baby, do I have institutional memory — and not just at my institution. I remember LOTS of things, and, fortunately for me, I’ve managed learned a few things from all that I remember. I now know the difference between an inconvenience and a catastrophe. I’m better at spotting the polished brass masquerading as solid gold. I no longer suffer fools AT ALL. I’ve been able to save my offspring a lot of grief, when they’ve been willing to listen, with what I remember and what I have learned about life.
If you haven’t noticed, hags, my dears, are hot. (Anybody taken a good look at Julie Christie lately? I wanted to look like her when I was 20 — and I STILL want to look like her.) Women writers abound who have debunked the hag myth and who have expressed it much better that I can. (I’m now looking for my old copy of Clara Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With the Wolves for a little pick-me-up.) Masterpiece Theatre is on its second iteration of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple dramas. Interesting television/movie hags are legion. (I nearly wept when “Judging Amy” ended because I could no longer be regularly inspired by the fabulous Tyne Daly. And what would Harry Potter have been without Maggie Smith? Do I even need to mention Helen Mirren?) A growing collection of hag humor is available (Hallmark’s Maxine and Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck are quick examples). We are no longer being relegated to the attic or the ice floes.
I’ve been a Young Mother, and a Young Lioness, and a lot of other things during my life. Been there, done that to death, ready to move on. No, weighing the facts and the realities, I will, then, be a hag.
Care to join me? It’ll be a HagFest!