Life has plenty of lessons for us, assuming you know where to look. Here's what I learned about generational differences from staffing the ticket booth at our high school track meet.
1. Power is great.
Being in charge of collecting $3 a head meant that sometimes, I didn't. I let most seniors in for free, making a joke that it was "Grandmas Get In Free Day."
2. Not everyone is a Grandma.
Calling someone who is older a "Grandma" or "Grandpa" makes a very big assumption that actually offends some people. Not everyone has kids or grandkids; some wanted children and couldn't have them, others never wanted them in the first place.
We need better words to describe people who are older that don't define them by their parenting status. And to the woman I offended, sorry about that. I've been schooled.
3. Age-based discounts are not without flaws.
So after getting an earful about how I shouldn't make assumptions, I began to wonder: Why do we give seniors a discount anyway? Sure, it's nice to show a little respect for older-people-who-may-or-may-not-be grandparents, but why not give a discount for well-behaved kids under 10? Or teenagers who leave their cellphones at home? Or people who don't litter, pick up after their dog, and never park in handicap spaces? The conventional wisdom is that older-people-who-may-or-may-not-be grandparents are living on a fixed income, and therefore we as a culture are being kind by giving them a discount. The flaw in logic here is that age alone does not determine your financial status. There were lots of people who I let in for free who could well afford the $3 and plenty more from whom we collected money who could afford it less. Are senior discounts the flip side of the age discrimination coin? If you want to be treated the same in one thing, then shouldn't we be willing to be treated the same in everything?
4. Don't judge a book by its cover.
When a big extended family of eight carrying coolers and picnic supplies told me how they had driven for three hours to watch their kid compete, I started to wave them in for free. Then the older-man-who-very-likely-was-the-Grandpa pulled out a $100 bill and insisted I take it. Being frugal is not the same as being broke. Consider me schooled, again.
5. More people than you think don't carry cash.
What's up with that? No, school track meets don't take credit cards. Yes, I know that Starbuck's does. Yes, you can pay with quarters. No, I don't feel a bit bad asking you to go back to your car to get them.
My observation is that where you fall on the carrying cash divide depends on your age. Younger people don't carry any; older-people-who-may-or-may-not-be grandparents do.
6. More people than you think leave their phones in the car.
In an effort to go green, our school did not print up the meet schedule. Instead, we taped it to the table and asked people to take a photo of it with their phones. I thought this was a brilliant, environmentally sound, idea. And again, there was an age divide in how people reacted to it. Younger people whipped out their phones and just knew what we wanted them to do. Three older-people-who-may-or-may-not-be grandparents either left their phones in the car or, in one case, asked me to show her where the camera button was on her phone. I let her in for free.
7. Morning people are good people, at any age.
I wake up with the birds and am just as chipper. I greeted attendees warmly, thanked them for supporting the meet, even asked whether they were able to park close enough so that it didn't require an Uber ride to the stadium. But some non-morning people can be grumpy. All those demands for directions to the nearest bathroom! Where can they get a cup of coffee? What time was the fog scheduled to burn off and the sun come out? While I felt very powerful (see point 1), my powers do not extend to weather prediction. Feeling blessed over not having knees that ache in the damp weather.
8. Your kids like it when you volunteer.
Teenagers are a funny lot. They have been known to walk five feet in front of you at the mall and while they constantly text their friends, they forget that they agreed to text you when they arrive safely at their destination. I'm not a super-PTA mom with a hand in everything, but I do like to show up once in a while. Both my kids took turns helping me collect money. They liked that I was there. They even thanked me for giving up my Saturday to help with their team fundraiser.
"Mom, you're not going to write about this, right?" my daughter asked. Silly girl.