Being that I was born with a round face and short stature I was always mistaken for being younger than I was. That wasn’t so bad when I was a child but when I became a teenager I began to HATE it! Imagine what it’s like to be turned down for a dream job because you look too young. Think how uncomfortable it is to be mistaken for a friend’s little sister. Even the often given compliment, “You are so mature for your age,” did not make me feel good. How mature would they really think I was when they found out my real age?
One of my worst moments was when my father took me to city hall to sign for my marriage license. Although I was already twenty-years-old in Kansas no one could get married under the age of twenty-one without parental permission. Not only was I underage, I looked like I was fourteen. The clerk probably thought I was one of those hillbillies that get married before they finish junior high school. My father was embarrassed!
My husband also had several occasions to be embarrassed. As an engaged couple we were looking for an apartment to rent. One prospective landlord told us, “I’m sorry, but we don’t take children.”
“That’s okay,” my husband answered her calmly. “We aren’t even married yet.”
“What about her?” the lady pointed her chin at me.
My husband was left speechless and bright red. He got used to the situation.
Pregnant with my first child I was already twenty-three-years old. Even though I was on a salt-free diet I had swelling and could not wear my wedding band. By this time I probably looked to be about sixteen. At the end of the pregnancy my water broke during an office visit. One of the nurses wheeled me to the hospital across the street. Another nurse from the maternity ward met us.
“What!” she exclaimed, loud enough for the whole ward to hear. “This one has no family.”
Now I was embarrassed! With a shaking voice I announced, “My husband is on his way here!” I hoped my voice was as loud as the nurse’s had been and everyone heard me.
So it went. Strangers would to be surprised that I was old enough to drive, be married, have children, learn in university, hold down a job, or almost anything I did.
Then one Shabbat, about twenty years ago, I was at a Kiddush for a Bar Mitzvah. As I was talking to the grandmother of the Bar Mitzvah boy my fifth child’s friend interrupted, asking me to pour her some juice.
“Is that your oldest?” the grandmother asked.
I laughed. “She’s not even my child!”
“You see how young you look,” a friend smiled at me. “Your oldest is ten years older than she is.”
It was true. I was nearing forty and the little girl’s mother was not even thirty. Suddenly it felt good to look younger than I am and I began to cherish all the stories.
A few years later I was talking to my oldest son, on leave from the army, in front of our grammar school.
“Teacher,” one of my English students asked. “Is that your husband?”
I laughed and my son scowled and called the girl an idiot under his breath. Truthfully, what did a nine-year-old know? However, a short time later I was on the bus to Jerusalem. A lovely woman boarded in Ofra and sat down next to me. We really had a nice conversation and after exchanging names she told me she thought she had taught my husband. I was sure she had not since my husband had not had any female teachers, except for ulpan instructors, since before we had moved to Israel. She was adamant, though, and told me the name of her student. Yes, it was my son. To say she made my day would be an understatement.
Probably the funniest story happened when I was forty-six-years-old and in a Chicago supermarket. This happened back in the days when everyone was allowed to take two suitcases on any flight. I was leaving America that evening with my husband and three of our children so I loaded my cart with ten bottles of whiskey, one for each of our suitcases. The cashier shook her head as I began placing them on her counter.
“Ma’am,” she said, “I’m going to have to ask you for some ID since you’re buying so much liquor.”
I assumed she was joking and decided to play along by smugly handing her my Israeli driver’s license. It was an international card and had both Hebrew and English on it. However the cashier turned it over and over, studying it carefully.
“Ma’am,” she told me, “you don’t have a birth date on here.”
“Let me see,” I demanded. Sure enough, there was no birth date. Apparently it was in the computer bank in Israel but that was not going to help me in a Chicago grocery store.
“Well, ma’am,” the cashier finally said. “We’ll let you by this time seeing that you’re from so far away.”There are other stories. More than once I have been mistaken for my grandchildren’s mother. I love it! I may have suffered as a teenager and young woman but middle age lasts a lot longer. I no longer have any complaints about my baby face. In fact, I am quite grateful for it. After all, it’s all from HaShem.