Opinion

Charles: Mirror, mirror

I wish this wasn’t true: if you live long enough, you’ll undoubtedly become one of the people you used to make fun of.

Remember when you were a kid and you swore you would never be like your parents? So how old were you when you first heard your mother’s or father’s voice come flying out of your mouth? Need more evidence?

If you have children, be honest. Weren’t you a better parent before you had kids? Maybe you weren’t planning on being Ward and June Cleaver, but chances are you were quite critical of the people in your circle who had children before you. Their children were whiny, bratty, had way too many toys, got away with murder (in the form of meltdowns and temper tantrums), were way overscheduled, and you just knew you would do a better job.

Then you started raising your own.

Come to Jesus time. Weren’t your kids also whiny, bratty, had way too many toys (my own house still looks like a sad cross between Toys R Us and Hoarders, and the “child” is now in college), got away with those especially heinous meltdowns and temper tantrums and were way overscheduled (hello dance, piano, voice, gymnastics, skating, t-ball, baton-twirling lessons)?

Or maybe you’re older, and your little birds have permanently flown the nest. But we baby boomers are not like the greatest generation, are we? Sure, they had it really hard, a couple of World Wars, the Great Depression, all the different civil rights movements, rapid changes all the time.

How many times can we listen to the stories of all their aches and pains?

Oh wait, better check ourselves. After a certain age — and we know who we are — the simple question of “how are you” becomes the opening salvo in a comparison contest of who hurts the most, has had the last injury, ailment, etc., and the latest medication. Those commercials about every new medication for your latest malady aren’t aimed at Gen X or millennials. They’re for people like you — and me.

On the few occasions a year I get to sit down with my sisters, we devote the first few minutes to “old lady talk” — as in where does it hurt, how long has it been there, what are we doing about it, will it ever end? And then we move on. If not, we become those people who never, ever stop complaining and comparing. And we still want to be able to make fun of those people. After all, we only have a few more years, before we become them.

If we actually allowed ourselves to make fun of our own foibles, maybe we could stop spending so much time judging each other.

The glory of the internet has for the last couple of decades allowed us to sit in judgment of every other person on earth.

Kid go missing? It’s the parents’ fault for not keeping a close enough eye. Parent holding on to a backpack leash so their speedy toddler doesn’t dash away? Why are you treating your kid like a dog?

Teenagers getting drunk or high? All kids experiment, because they have bad parents. Not my kid. Until it is, and you realize your kid is one of the “all.”

Truth be told, we like to sit in judgment of people and situations we know nothing about. When we hear about people being pulled over and arrested, we automatically assume that person was guilty of something. That is, until it’s us, or someone we know, getting pulled over.

Why can’t we recognize ourselves in each other?

Someone once wrote drivers always think the other drivers going faster than him/her are crazy and the ones going slower are idiots. Well, yeah.

We also think everyone who disagrees with us is just plain wrong. We double down on our opinions, even when we are shown evidence to the contrary.

Why is it so hard to say, I stand corrected?

Because we’re human. And we can’t (or refuse to) recognize our mirror images. We all want to think of ourselves as good people. And we all want to make fun of the ones who are so different from us.

Except.

One day, as we age (if we’re granted that luxury), we women of a certain age may one day wake up and decide it’s perfectly fine to wear a housecoat and slippers to run out to the store or on a day of errands. One day, gentlemen of sartorial splendor, you will decide that black socks and sandals are a good look, along with wearing your pants about waist high.

A couple of years before we were married, my husband told me a story about seeing an elderly couple walking, with the woman using a walker. As she made her way slowly, the husband turned around and yelled “C’mon!” My husband was horrified as he told this story, but after 21 years of marital bliss, it now sounds like a story coming from our future selves.

So when we’re out for a walk and I hold his hand to keep him from charging ahead (I walk too slow, he says), I remember that story and laugh to myself.

Whenever I see older couples in strange, sometimes matching outfits, I poke my better half, laugh, and then say, “us.” He rolls his eyes in denial. But I know what’s coming.

Time to check that mirror. Hey, that’s us!

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