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The Matriarch: Realizing Your Age At Work

Marcy is a school counselor at an alternative school in Illinois. Other than education and her family, her passion has always been writing.

A Shocking Realization

I have worked at Harris Alternative Education for just one year now, so my slow realization concerning my veteran status is not so egregious. For months I engaged in personal chats with colleagues, hearing comments that referred to their age. Their references to the Backstreet Boys and Hannah Montanna didn't raise a single eyebrow. Somehow, I never made the connection that their experiences with these 90's icons were the same as my children's.

Time goes on, and I am still no closer to realizing how they view me compared to how I view them. I see them as friends and colleagues with similar work goals. I'm sure they consider me the same, just in more of a grandmotherly way. We all know the people at work who are close to retirement. They give off a different vibe. They get bold. They don't care what they say or who they say it to. You know these people. Apparently, I've become one of them.

Google for old teachers.

Google for old teachers.

And after the lightning strike, came the flood

From Student to Colleague

My first inclination of the age difference was when our maintenance worker introduced himself, saying, "You're Abby's mom, right?" I smiled politely and agreed. We got to talking, and he said he was friends with her in high school. We talked some more, and we discovered I went to high school with his uncle. The friendly conversation was over, and I still didn't make any connections regarding age.

A few days later, I was working with a social worker in the building who happened to go to school with my girls. Boom! It was like a lightning strike to my head. So, there is the maintenance worker and the social worker who are the same age as my kids. And after the lightning strike, came the flood:

The part-time secretary: I was her 8th-grade reading teacher.

The Behaviorist: I was her high school English teacher

The IT guy: I was his high school counselor, and he was in my daughter's graduating class. They even went to prom together their senior year!

Another maintenance worker: I was his high school counselor, and he was also in my daughter's graduating class.

Now, I'm telling you I knew these people, but my new association with them was as colleagues. I seemed to block out my past connection to them. Realizing I was now working with several past students led me to the epiphany that I had become the Matriarch.

Me & my younger boss on her wedding day. June 2019

Me & my younger boss on her wedding day. June 2019

Your Age-Place At Work

My beautiful daughters who, apparently, could also be my co-workers.

My beautiful daughters who, apparently, could also be my co-workers.

Back to the Beginning

Thirty-two years ago, I was fresh out of college and thrilled to start my teaching career. I come from teacher-stock. My dad was a teacher, coach, school counselor, and dean for 34 years. I never wanted to be anything else. My love for teaching and now school counseling has remained constant. I guess that's why I never saw myself as that teacher. You know the one—the mature one who is a bit bossy and who carries a whole lot of opinion around daily.

The funny thing is when I worked with these people earlier in my career, I said I would never be that way. What I didn't know is I guess you don't have a choice in the matter. I think it just happens, and before you know it, you can't change it. Now, I'm making it sound like I don't like this new me. That assumption couldn't be further from the truth. I guess what I'm trying to convey is I love the freedom of saying and doing pretty much what I want absent of care. The part that troubles me is when did it happen? Where did the years go?

I met my husband at my first teaching job. He was the ultimate bachelor and kind of a wild guy. We dated on and off for about a year, keeping our business private. Although some of the people we worked with knew we were dating, many did not. So, you can imagine the reactions we received when we returned from winter break engaged. Most people were polite and congratulated us, but they were probably thinking something much different.

The first person to notice my engagement ring was the Matriarch of 1990, and the conversation went something like this:

On our anniversary this year, I woke up to flowers and a card, and I said, "Thirty years and counting!"

"Oooooo..is that an engagement ring?"


"Well, is it anyone we know?"

"Um..er...ya....it's Vince."

"VINCE! Our Vince? Oh boy! I give it six months!" And with a flip of her hand, she strolled out of the office leaving me cut to the core.

Yes, these are the comments Matriarchs make. I was devastated, but you know what, I didn't blame her for thinking it one bit. Everyone was probably thinking it. But that's the difference between the Matriarch and everyone else. The Matriarch will SAY it.

On our anniversary every year, my husband and I remind each other that we proved the Matriarch, and the masses, wrong. On our anniversary this year, I woke up to flowers and a card, as usual. For many years now, it has become my tradition to announce our achievement on this special day. This year I proclaimed: "Thirty years and counting!" Sometimes I message the Matriarch of 1990 on FaceBook and remind her of her words from so long ago, and we laugh and laugh. I can laugh now because the Matriarch of 1990 and I are one-in-the-same.

1990 -- Two years into my career and two hours into my marriage. Me dancing with my dad, my biggest role model.

1990 -- Two years into my career and two hours into my marriage. Me dancing with my dad, my biggest role model.

Wearing the Crown: Use the Power For Good

I have tried to convey we are all victims of the inevitable effects of aging. I also decided to throw some humor in to lighten the blow that we will all become the Matriarch or Patriarch someday. After the initial shock of discovering you are the oldest person at work, you need to maximize that gift. I have found many of my colleagues look to me to say what needs to be said. They want to say it, but their power to do so is still maturing. They are just Matriarchs in training. Therefore, hopefully, without offending anyone, I can fulfill my duties over the next two years before I retire. At that point, I will pass the crown and bestow the powers of the Matriarch on to the next fortunate soul.


Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on May 04, 2020:

No way I'm going to make it to 70, Paul. Congratulations! That is quite an accomplishment. Teaching is not for the weak. I will go out when I am 56 with 34 years in 2022. I have mixed feelings, but my husband has been retired for 7 years. I'm ready to do more fun stuff with him.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on May 03, 2020:

I can definitely identify with this article since I was the oldest teacher at my school in Bangkok before retirement. I retired a few months short of my 70th birthday but could have taught longer if I hadn't been forced to retire.

Jennifer Moore on May 01, 2020:

I love her too & miss her !!

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on April 29, 2020:

I just know I was scared to death of her. Love her to death now!!

Jennifer Moore on April 29, 2020:

Sometimes I still can't believe that I've been teaching for 24 years! Our staff now is soooo young, but it's great!

If she was the matriarch in 1990, then what was she when she retired?? I will NEVER get tired of hearing that story!

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on April 29, 2020:

Jane...Right!!! This is why we are friends.

Jane Henricks on April 29, 2020:

I felt this one.

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on April 28, 2020:


I love my job, but I am definitely out-numbered by the 30-somethings. It's all good! Life goes on.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 28, 2020:

Thanks for sharing your positive love and work story. I also worked with individuals who were my children's age. I think I came out of it well adjusted! I like the notion of matriarchs in training; someone has to be the trainer.

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on April 24, 2020:

I don't understand how I got here, but it is both liberating and terrifying...lol. Thanks for the comment.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 24, 2020:

Being self employed now, I have kind of missed this stage out. But, casting my mind back to my first job, I recall the older more experienced colleagues. But the shocking thing is that they were probably younger than I am now.

Marcy Bialeschki (author) from Cerro Gordo, IL on April 24, 2020:

And a strange dynamic for me, too. I just never thought about being that old lady at work...lol. Thanks for your kind words, Kyler.

Kyler J Falk from California on April 24, 2020:

There is no doubt in my mind, after reading all this, that you will wear the crown and exercise power with grace and compassion!

I might add, this is a strange dynamic I never would've even thought of had I not read this; for that, I thank you!

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