When I was in my teens and twenties, I developed a love for classic films, especially screwball
comedies. We’re all trying to figure out who and what we are when we’re young adults, and it occurred to
me that being a madcap heiress might be my calling. There are certainly worse role models for young
women than, say, Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby. The madcap part was easy. It simply requires
giving in to one’s impulses and requires no prerequisite skills. There was, however, one insurmountable
obstacle. To paraphrase Morrissey, I am the son (okay, daughter) and heir of… nothing in particular. So
madcap heiress was out.
I was young and kind of pretty, so I thought maybe I’d be the ingénue of my personal life
biography. Realistically, aren’t we all the ingénue of our personal biopics? However, by nature, I’m
cynical with an ironic streak a mile wide. The standard descriptors of an ingénue are words like
“guileless,” “wholesome,” and “innocent.” “Potty-mouthed” and “sarcastic” didn’t make the list. So
ingénue was out. I persevered.
In my first “grown-up” jobs, I was the youngest person in the office. I’m the youngest of a large
family, so it’s a role I know well. Youngest children are adept at keeping themselves occupied and flying
under the radar. When the desire for attention arises (as it sometimes does), we crack a few jokes and grab
the spotlight before going back to our room—I mean, office—and creating something cool. There’s
nothing wrong with being the resident comedienne. It worked for Lucille Ball.
I worked at the same job in a university for nearly ten years. Universities are strange places
because you’re constantly surrounded by people (i.e., students) who never seem to age. The faces may
change but even with graduate students, the age range generally remains firmly in the 18-30 range. I was
30 when I started there, not quite the youngest staff member but certainly not the oldest. I wasn’t Lucille
Ball, but being resident comedienne worked for me.
Since then, I’ve worked for a nonprofit, was unemployed for six months, and worked in a
bookstore before landing in yet another university gig. The thing is, now I’m one of the oldest people on
staff. I may never have been a proper ingénue, but I knew something had shifted one day a couple winters
ago while walking through downtown Cleveland on a brisk day. Coming toward me was a young guy,
likely a student. He was cute. I may be married but I’m not immune to the allure of a fine-looking human
being coming my way. The thing is, I only nominally registered the fact that he was cute. What I really
noticed was that he was only wearing jeans and a hoodie. Back in the day, I would have smiled at him,
maybe said “hello,” maybe flirted a little. Instead, without thinking, I said the first thing that came to
mind: “Young man, where is your coat?”
Yeah, I’ve become my mother.
Madcap heiress, ingénue, mother. What’s next? Crone?
Here’s one of the unsung benefits of growing up: I’m past thinking I need to fulfill a certain role
at work or anywhere else. Granted there are days I feel like I’m cycling through Mom, Lady-Who- Runs-
With-The- Cool-Looking- Dog, Office Problem-Solver, Resident Wordsmith, Swim Mom (a derivation of
the garden variety Mom, carries a stopwatch, smells of chlorine), Wife, and Insomniac Writer.
Ultimately, we’re all just ourselves. Like Whitman, I contain multitudes. And so do you.
Although you have to admit “madcap crone” has a nice ring to it.
Susan Petrone is the author of Throw Like a Woman, published by The Story Plant. The e-book of
Throw Like a Woman is on sale for $2.99 through the entire month of September 2017.