Saturday, December 16, 2006

Senior Stereotypes and Ideas about Aging

Let’s face it: growing old is tough, and, as someone has said, "not for the weak." I’ve been dealing with aging for years, sometimes successfully, sometimes not (see my book), but occasionally I become aware of how younger people view us–and how I view myself.

The latest occasion was a holiday party for my volunteer group. It featured a great group of active, interesting senior citizens, wonderful hosts, good food, good music, lovely decorations, and good will all around. As a loner who is not good at small talk, I’m not much of a party person anyway, but what disturbed me (and I’m ashamed of my reaction) was an endless series of bingo games. That’s one of the common senior stereotypes: that seniors like to play bingo.

I realize that many seniors do enjoy bingo, or bridge, or shuffleboard, or golf, and there’s nothing wrong with these activities. No one forced me to play bingo. I left before the games ended. There was nothing wrong with the party. Was there something wrong with me? Yes.

About twenty-five years ago, I formed some ideas about aging, mainly my mother’s. I remember thinking that the residents of my mother’s midwestern retirement condo complex all looked alike: white hair, eyeglasses, walkers or canes, silver or black cars in the garage. They played bingo and bridge every week, wore dowdy clothes, and complained about a lot of "new-fangled ideas." They read mostly romance novels, if anything. They flocked to the restaurants’ Early Bird Specials. If they could afford it, they vacationed in Florida or Arizona or (later) Branson, Missouri.

I resented seniors for expecting me to give up my bus seat for them. I sometimes resented their handicapped parking placards and license plates when I had to park far away from the store.

Then a "funny" thing happened: I got old myself, retired, suffered through my husband’s final illness, and had to face reality. I am old. I look old, and I walk old (arthritis in my knees). I’m grateful to the young people who usually give up their bus seats for me. Yes, I always smile and thank them. I have a handicapped parking placard myself (my doctor says it’s dangerous for me to walk far in icy parking lots).

I've reminded myself that while it’s easy to laugh and joke about us, today’s active seniors are still doing things far beyond the usual stereotypical activities. Many of us still work or pursue valuable volunteer activities well into our seventies, eighties and nineties. Most have fascinating backgrounds and stories to tell.

Perhaps it’s not too late to help eradicate many of the stereotypes about senior citizens, including my own earlier unfair attitudes. I’d like to meet and interview non-celebrity seniors for a newspaper or other publication. Does anyone know of an opportunity for a "Seniors Columnist"? If you do, please let me know!

Copyright 2006 by Marlys Marshall Styne


daisylady said...

Perhaps you can pitch the idea of a column to your local newspaper! If not, seems like you've got a good place to write right here. :) Happy writing!

~Becca (found you from SCN)

seniorwriter said...

Becca: You're right, but that idea would be much more likely to work if I lived in a small town or even a suburb rather than in the heart of Chicago. The "Chicago Tribune" is very hard for unknowns to approach, and the number of writers here is tremendous. My blog is, indeed, a good place to write.