The Moving Van: Ageism

The Moving Van:  Ageism

Nicknames are something most people pick up in childhood. Mine was “Puff” (probably not the best impression to give in the late 1970s!). Dad came up with a good nickname for himself when he turned eighty.

His first name was “Van”. That, plus his initial and surname formed his official signature and framed his professional life.

Our family had a lot of fun with Dad’s first name over the years…not the least significant was “moving Van” since we moved frequently when I was a kid. Dad decided to add a line to that little joke.
Upon meeting someone for the first time, he would stick out his hand and say “Hi, my name is Van – they call me “the moving van!” Then he would pause for a second, and continue with a big smile – “at my age, at least I’m still moving!” Smiles and chuckles were the inevitable result from his new acquaintances. Plus since the joke itself was memorable, he was often introduced to others in that way.

I enjoy words, and I consider the choice of words to be important. Some words will set off my radar when they are connected to subjects I feel passionate about. At this stage of my life one of those topics is discrimination against seniors or ageism.

Most “isms” are negative. Since we all grew up in a youth-centered society, getting older is often viewed with dread — yet it is unavoidable (consider the alternative!) I feel it’s important to question and combat the negativity.

Some of the phrases we use to refer to seniors have become so common that they raise no eyebrows. Who hasn’t heard “Oh I forgot what I came in here for – I must be having a senior moment”. Very funny…with a clear connotation that increasing age causes memory loss. But how is “a senior moment” different from what my teenage son charmingly calls “a brain fart”?

It takes effort to stop using the common phrases that tend to demean old age and turn them around into positive statements. It’s not easy, but totally worth it – ageism is  everybody’s problem.   Instead of being reluctant to give one’s age, why not a proud declaration of “I’m 89 years young!” Or “I have achieved 89 years.” Children experience “growing pains”, why can’t the accumulation of knowledge over a lifetime be described as “brain pains”?

We need to work at reframing ideas about what typical “beauty” is, and what constitutes “strength and vitality”. Emphasize personal achievements and the value of experience that only comes with time.

At first glance, my Dad’s joke could imply that people in their 80s are not as sharp or active as they once were. (Stereotype!) Or even an expectation of someday not moving, (as in dying) which is kinda on the down side. (But still an essential talk to have at some point!)

However for my Dad this “joke” was a way of standing out and being memorable, so he wouldn’t feel like he was fading into “some old guy”. And I am totally OK with that!

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