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I Feel Old: The 1st Time Someone Called Me Ma’am

Recently, I ran into a local grocery store that I love—well, used to love.  Everyone there is always so pleasant and courteous.  Needless to say, it caught me off guard when the young man who was bagging my groceries asked, “Ma’am, would you prefer paper or plastic?”

Whom was he addressing?

The cashier caught my eye.  “He wants to know if you want paper or plastic.”

Wait a minute—I was this ma’am?

“Uhhh…plaper, I mean paper, please,” I managed to choke out before I fumbled with my keys, only to drop both my wallet and keys in tandem.

When did I become ma’am?  Isn’t this the same grocery store that carded me just six months ago when I purchased a bottle of wine?

My work spouse is quick to point out that THAT was much more ridiculous. Gee, thanks. What’s a work spouse, you ask? Why, it’s a topic for another time when I’m not so steamed about my moniker.

Ma’am is the lady who works in the office, ma’am is the lady who has a lot of cats and smells like mothballs, ma’am is the lady who contorts her face when you ask her the simplest question, ma’am is the lady who has a lot of rules and certain ways of doing things, ma’am is…me?  Seriously?

Sure, I don’t look like a teenager—in fact, I didn’t look like a teenager when I WAS a teenager—but that doesn’t throw me into the opposite category of ma’am and all it connotes. After all, I just can’t imagine that ma’am runs her own company, embraces new technology, loves a challenge.

“I am not ma’am!” I wanted to scream. I am, I am, I am…what?

When I think of ma’am, I think of the 50’s; I think of a term as outdated as LOL and OMG are modern. I think of women who were dependent on men, women who ran households, women who didn’t have choices about who they were and what they wanted to be, women who flew under the radar, undervalued. But, I love running my household; it’s my choice to run my household. I also love my other choices: running a business and volunteering in the community.

Hey, I get it now.

I’m ma’am with benefits.

I wanted to warn my children not to fling this pejorative at their friends’ moms. I wanted to run back to the grocery store to tell that young whippersnapper that I’m not ma’am, and that I want paper in the plastic bags and that I want my eggs packaged separately and to please run a sub-total of the items I bought for a work event.

Stephanie Schaeffer Silverman is publisher of Your Teen Magazine.

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