I applied for a Seniors Card the other day. I felt I was crossing a threshold but with none of the thrill of other thresholds crossed in life: getting my first period, losing my virginity, becoming a mother. Instead of pride, I had a sinking feeling. At 62 am I really a “senior”?
The name is all wrong. What boomer can relate to being a “senior”? It reminds me of senior centres where very old people play bingo. I recently cycled 280 km beside the Danube River. I lift weights in the gym. Just a few months ago I was called a worker. But once I cut paid work-hours to less than 20 a week, suddenly I am a senior. My 84-year-old mother and I can both present our Seniors Cards on public transport, at the art gallery, the museum, the zoo, the council, and to hundreds of businesses listed in the Seniors Directory and get a discount.
It is ridiculous to lump my mother and me in the same seniors’ basket – a product of the Depression and a product of the Age of Aquarius twinned in our cut-price entitlements. She is what demographers call the “old-old”. I’m what they call the “young-old”. But “young-old” won’t do either. There must be a better term. Old, older, oldish……baby boomers don’t like going there. Everyone wants to live longer; no-one wants to be old. We know some things get better with age, some things worse. It’s the ratio that is uncertain.
On the cycling holiday I avoided restaurants filled with grey-haired bus tourists and opted for cafes filled with university students. “You’re in denial,” said my grey-haired husband. I have two children in their twenties living at home. Our food bill has never been bigger. I don’t belong with the ranks of “elders” and “pensioners”. But I can hardly call myself middle-aged any more.
Can the English language that supplies us with appropriate descriptors for other stages – baby, child, teenager, adult – fail us here? Being “a woman of a certain age” sounds coy and clichéd; being “mature” makes me sound like a cheese. I quite like the idea of being an “ageing hipster”. But I’m not sure I was “hip” even when I was young. I am part of the “sandwich generation” with kids at home and an ageing parent. But in my case, I don’t (yet) feel too sandwiched.
Many revel in the title of “self-funded retiree”. But I know how much the taxpayer has contributed to my superannuation through tax concessions so I shall decline that mantle. I recoil even from simple “retiree” when as far as I’m concerned my status is in flux. “Retiree” sounds scar-y.
Is the term senior the problem or am I the problem? In wanting to run a mile from being thought of as a senior, am I being ageist? Just a tiny bit, I have to admit. I am thinking of seniors as either bingo players or silver-haired cruise ship junkies with a passion for André Rieu. I’m thinking seniors are old people with whom I have little in common.
When it comes to the generation above me, it’s easy to fall into the worst of ageist stereotyping. I know from the relationship with my mother who hates André Rieu, loves Lady Gaga, that shared values and interests between the generations count for more than chronological age.
Even so the term senior comes with unwanted baggage. It’s not dignified, it’s a cutesy euphemism. It certainly doesn’t capture the zeitgeist for those of us negotiating the tricky path from middle-age to old-age. “Older woman” might have to do. But it won’t fit neatly on the discount card.
Which brings me to question: in these straitened times should state governments extend Seniors Cards to the growing numbers of people in their early 60s who don’t remotely see themselves as seniors? Should seniors who don’t think of themselves as seniors, even though the government regards them as such, take a moral stance and pay full price when they don’t have to?
Will I leave my Seniors Card in the drawer? Probably not. I’ll hate the name. I’ll love the discounts.
How do you feel?
Coming of Age is updated every Monday.