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A Simple Rite of Passage

A Simple Rite of Passage
By Joni Hilton
 
I first became invisible to teenagers when I pushed a baby stroller through a mall. Suddenly I had slipped below their radar, along with my mini-van and diaper bag, forever unworthy of their notice. Oh, I could wear the current trends and highlight my hair, but it wouldn’t make a shred of difference. I was a mom now, never again to be considered cool.

This anonymity looked fairly permanent as I graduated from pushing my babies on wheels, to holding them by the hand, and finally just walking beside them to buy shoes or school supplies. To the new generation, mothers are in the same category as teachers and grandmas. We are the “they” and teenagers are the “we.” (Little do they realize, of course, that we do not envy them so much as pity them, and rather than lying  awake wondering how to impress them and fit in, we lie awake worrying about our kids becoming similar mall rats.)

When my kids went to elementary school, the anonymity continued, but with a slight twist. I stopped being Joni Hilton. I was now Richie’s mom, then Brandon’s mom, Cassidy’s mom, and finally Nicole’s mom. And I actually relished it, enjoying this new identity, and even happily responding when other moms would laugh and call out to me by those titles, rather than by my actual name. 

The role of Somebody’s Mom fit as comfortably as a well-worn jacket, plus I enjoyed seeing my kids get the focus of attention. I didn’t mind my given name fading into the mist, my importance now defined by the love and support I could give my offspring. My third son even seemed completely unaware that I had ever been anything else. One day he marched into the kitchen and said, “Mom—if that’s even your real name—”

I had no idea things could turn around so abruptly. The other day that same son, who is now home from college on break, accompanied me to the grocery store. It was about 8:30 pm, and I just needed a few things. Normally a trip like this is fairly uneventful: I swing through the produce department, maybe grab some pasta, then some paper towels, zip over to the dairy section, and finally finish at frozen foods.  I’ve been shopping here for years and know the layout so well that the employees (who also know me) rarely ask if I need any help.

But tonight it was as if every one of them was trying to be Employee of the Week. “Oh, hi,” one cheery girl said. “Out late tonight, eh? Can I help you find anything?”

Late? Late and lost? Not really. But I just smiled and said I had found everything just fine.

Another one followed me through the ice cream section and pointed out a sale on a new flavor. Had they just had a staff meeting and been told to amp up the friendliness?

And then at the checkout, the perky cashier, who has never said more than five words to me in her life, was suddenly a chatterbox, commenting on my purchases with the fascination you’d expect from a recently-arrived Martian, enthralled with the things we Earthlings eat.
Finally we were pushing the cart to the exit when it hit me. “It’s you!” I said to my son. “They’re all flirting with you!”

My son rolled his baby blue eyes. “That’s ridiculous.”

“You think so?” I said. “Not one soul has noticed me at this market until tonight. Now, suddenly I’m a celebrity and everyone’s fawning over me.”  Be a mom pushing a stroller or a grocery cart and you are stripped of all identity. But show up with a 6’3” blond guy with a slight beard, a dazzling smile, and broad shoulders, and voile!  You’re somebody.

My son denied it, but the difference was staggering. They may as well have gasped, “I didn’t know you had a handsome son my age!” And, I pointed out, “You notice all the attention came from young women, not the bagger guy or the guy loading the shelves. “

Cassidy shook his head and dismissed my theory, but I became visible again, as surely as if I had walked through a force field and materialized again before their eyes. I had to laugh. I had forgotten what life was like on the radar screen. And I know this passage won’t last forever, if it lasts even a week. He will go back to college and the eligible grocery workers will divert their attention elsewhere. I will fade once again into happy oblivion.
And then there’ll be grandkids.
 
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