I realize that in our youth-obsessed culture, a twenty-eight year-old (well, 27 and fifty weeks) is expected to giggle with girlish glee when a strange man thinks she’s young. But there is something in a solicitor saying “Are your mom and dad at home?” that gets on my nerves. The feeling that the hipster on the stoop is not part of the reality-based community, perhaps, or the fact that the question clearly dismisses me as a potential source of help to destitute orphans or environmentalists – dismisses my agency, as it were.
Therefore, I offer the following tips, fully cognizant of the fact that they rely on generalizations about what kids and teens are like versus what adults are like. In fact, some of them wouldn’t have held true for me at 14 (and I do realize I’m wearing a shirt I already owned at that age.) Regardless, please read on, charitable clipboarders of the world. Read and consider.
Observe interrupted activity. Is the woman wearing an apron or overalls? Does she have a dust-rag stuck in her pocket, or is her face or shirt covered in flour? Juvenile humans tend to have more success avoiding homely tasks such as cooking or cleaning than do the fully grown specimens, and they less often have specialized chore-clothing for these activities. If there is evidence you have interrupted the subject while reading, does the book appear to be an introductory textbook? A weighty Russian novel? Use your skills of inference.
Listen to the music. Holst art songs are more likely to belong to a twenty-eight-year-old than to a teenybopper. If it were Beyoncé, I admit that might be a poser. But in general, Miles Davis means adult, Miley Cyrus means pre-teen. Got it?
Assess bosom size. You heard me. I have it on good authority that heterosexual men are skilled in observing this area without appearing to do so. So use your peripheral vision and your judgment, and remember that while many grown women wear A-cups, not too many eleven-year-olds sport Cs.
Consider which way you want to err. I have never heard a fourteen-year-old annoyed by being thought to be grown up. I am not the only twenty-something, however, who is annoyed at being written off by people who came around to bother HER in the first place. Being thought too young to buy alcohol means you look like a young adult; being thought too young to hear a spiel on beach clean-up is a little insulting.
Do I really think this blog post will make a lick of difference? No. But I have hereby tried to meet them halfway, and I’m therefore allowed to indulge in any hijinx I may please in future. Next time I come to the door in an apron and a BUN (pigtails I can understand, but a BUN?) and get asked whether my parents are home, there will be sport.