The other night I had dinner out with two friends -- like me, mothers of young children, though we knew each other Before All That -- who live a couple of towns away. Family schedules can make it tough to find an evening we're all available, but we make it happen every couple of months. This time we met at Bopha's Stir Crazy, a Cambodian restaurant which, Cape Cod/southeastern Massachusetts readers, you should absolutely visit if you haven't. (Note to self: remember this place when next lamenting the relative lack of really good, fairly casual, not-American-pub-food restaurants on the Cape, as compared to the Pioneer Valley from whence I moved, which has a giddy and delicious abundance thereof and which I sometimes heartily miss.) (Another note to self: who the hell uses "from whence" and "thereof" in casual writing?)
Anyway one of my friends arrived a few minutes late. Sitting down, she said she'd just come from the garden center, where she'd had to exchange one kind of hose for another, and that it had taken much longer than she'd thought it would because the cashier didn't know how to conduct the transaction, got the register all muddled up, had to call a manager over, etc., etc. Evidently the cashier behaved very rudely, as well. My mild-mannered, good-natured friend eventually said to her, "hey, there's no need to be that way with me. I didn't mess up the register," and that the cashier, while still gritting her teeth, at least knocked off the overt snippiness.
We all agreed that ten years ago -- even five -- none of us would've likely said anything, however justified. There's something about... what, turning 40? being somebody's mother? ... that has kicked in, and we just don't put up with stuff like that any more.
Looking at the menu, we thought about getting three different entrees to share. "Actually, I'd like to have that to myself," my friend said. Fair enough. If a mommy gets a night out with her friends, the last thing she should have is someone taking unwelcome bites of her dinner. Another thing we're not going to feel sheepish about. There are lots of things like this. I won't share popcorn at the movies. I never liked to, but I won't fake it any more. I want it all myself, and I want to eat it with my tongue, like a frog, if frogs ate popcorn. It's a small thing, but it makes me happy.
So we're feeling changes in our sense of self as we move into middle adulthood. But it's not just about rude strangers and popcorn. Although I still worry about it sometimes, if I'm perfectly honest I have to say I care less and less about whether people in general like me or not. I've realized that the things people might not like about me are really unlikely to change, at this stage of the game. I am who I am. There are six billion people on the planet to choose your friends from... don't choose me, if you don't want to. It's okay. We're both better off. Peace.
(My inner puppy would like to interject at this point that none of this means I'm not a likeable person or a good friend, and that you'd probably like me if we met. OK, puppy. Back in your crate now.)
However, I must not be all grown up yet because I'm still taking crap from people in doctors' offices. For example, take my recent annual ob-gyn appointments. The medical assistant who does the initial stuff -- weight, blood pressure, asking if anything's changed since last time, saying "you can get undressed, the doctor will be with you shortly" -- has become pointedly unfriendly to me. She didn't smile, didn't respond when spoken to, didn't look at me or call me by name. It is weird and unpleasant, and I was really taken aback by it. I have been a patient of this practice (is that the dumbest home page ever? No links!) for ten years now, through two pregnancies and various other bumps in the road that I won't bore you with (you're welcome). That assistant has been there for many of those years, herself, and she hasn't always been such a sourpuss. Something has distinctly changed. I have to wonder, and I'm tempted to ask her, "did I do something to piss you off? or is there just something uncomfortable up your ass?" -- because I don't deserve that.
But I haven't, and I probably won't, because 1) I would probably word it just like that, and become Part of the Problem; and 2) it's very hard to find a new doctor, and I'd hate to burn that bridge. There are only a few places to storm out of in high dudgeon (!) before I'd be out of local options altogether. Doctors around here have really got patients over a barrel. Still, basic civility doesn't seem like it should be too much to ask.
At any rate, this knowing who you are, and not feeling apologetic about it must be what people mean, in part, when they talk about how aging is "liberating." I suppose there's a fine line between "What you think won't hurt me because I'm OK with who I am" and "I don't care what you think because I'm kind of an asshole that way." Here's to achieving the former without coming off as the latter.