Monday, September 26, 2016

Invisible

It's the preschool fall festival! The children are active, adorable, plentiful. The parents, mostly thirty somethings, are handsome, healthy people. The food spread is a treat--a catered main dish and a pot luck of salads, fruit, dips and desserts. The weather is balmy and when the sun sets, it cools off to facilitate that magic end of summer feeling.

The children are treated to two bouncy houses, face painting, a balloon tying man, a bean bag toss, and the tree lined street where the old Presbyterian church houses the preschool, is blocked off for a bike riding extravaganza.

As delightful as the occasion is, I am waylaid with a darker concern: my invisibility. Yes, I am just the tag along grandma, and I am invisible.

This invisibility started years ago. I noticed it while in the company of my daughters. One of them would be noticed by a young man and I could make faces, contort, my head could spin and I wouldn't be noticed--but that was okay. I didn't want to be noticed by young men.

It then started happening in a store or at the bank, or a restaurant. I hadn't been aware of the problem until one day, my youngest daughter accompanied me to buy some running shoes. A salesman came out of nowhere. The experiment began, and sure enough the hypothesis was proven. While doing business on my own, I was invisible. When my daughter came along, I got the best service possible; I started taking her with me whenever I had important business or an important purchase.

At the preschool fall festival, the hosts greet my daughter's family, but I remain unacknowledged, standing on the periphery. Again and again.

Isn't it my fault? Shouldn't I go out of my way if I want to socialize or be involved? Yes. But I am running another experiment and I want to prove to myself I am becoming part of the forgotten demographic: older, marginalized, unnoticed people.

My son-in-law makes films. Some of those films are for his mountable speaker company. The short clips show young people skateboarding, surfing, biking.  I'm just as interested in mounting music on my kayak, but he's not interested in my subset. I tease him, "When you're ready to show an older clientele, I volunteer to be in the ocean kayak film." But he knows the surest way to kill interest and the cool factor is to use old people in his promo films.  "But we're the ones with the money to spend!" I try to reason with him.

It doesn't matter. Product success is dependent on image. The right image, the young image.

I accept that I'm invisible, but tonight, it seems harsh. I think of my friend Deb whose job it is to pay attention to old people in her work as a chaplain. She is kind and she is happy. I imagine being with her in a social situation and she is the one who walks over to the old person at a party.

I want to be more like Deb.

The preschool's tree lined street is also lined with beautiful homes. I am sitting on the curb watching my grandson and the other tykes ride their trikes, their two-wheelers with training wheels, their scooters--when I notice an older than me gentleman standing in the street. His wife is in their driveway and they're trying to pull out. The situation seems hopeless--how will he stop the speeding tykes? No one is paying attention to him, not even the parents when the man's goal is obvious. He is invisible to the children.

Jumping off the curb to help jolts me from my invisibility slump. We try to stop the big wheel traffic, but we need help. We solicit the help of other parents and only after forming a chain, is the older woman able to pull out of her driveway. In this further demonstration of invisibility, I know I will not be content to be forever invisible, but it's up to me to fight the inevitable. There's a shift in my presence--less on myself, more on others.

It's now dusk and theoretically I should be more invisible than before, but as I push the bike with training wheels towards the car, I pass a young woman who smiles and says "Hi."

She'll never know how much it meant to a woman who thought herself invisible.

Forget my invisibility--look for the other person who also feels invisible and make her visible--it may only take a smile.