October 3, 2011

Assumptions

Normally my grocery cart is completely representative: three gallons of milk, five loaves of bread, two big blocks of cheese, four pounds of ground turkey, two dozen eggs, a bag of apples, peanut butter and pizza sauce and bananas and baby carrots and apple juice. You could make a pretty good guess about my life, seeing me in my jeans and ponytail at the grocery store at 9:00 in the morning with that cart.

But the other day, when I was running in to get just a couple of odd things and then doing a little impulse-buying, my cart looked totally different: diet Coke, bottle of wine, bag of baby spinach, two small individually-wrapped pieces of salmon, box of Dove ice cream bars, large bag of cat food, small potted plant. It was odd thinking about what kind of different guess someone would make about my life with THAT cart.

I know people sometimes assume certain things about me because of how many children I have. It's not common in our culture or in my area of the country to have so many, and sometimes I don't get a haircut for a long time and I have my hair twisted up in a clip, and no make-up on, and people are thinking, "Hm, religious sect? But she's not wearing a skirt. Catholic, maybe?" People are more likely to think (true or not) that I bake, that I homeschool, that I breastfed, that I'm good with other people's kids, that I believe in God, that I'm opposed to birth control and swearing, that I'm a Republican, that I'm possessed of cow-like patience.

This doesn't make me feel prickly: I know the signals I send out can be misleading, and I make assumptions all the time, too. For example, when I see a woman out with children, I almost inevitably make the mistake of unthinkingly assuming that the children she's with are (1) all hers and (2) all the children she has. If she has an infant, there's no reason she couldn't have several other kids in school or whatever, but I look at her and think, "Awww, I remember those days, just me and my infant firstborn!" She could be looking back at me and thinking, "Awww, I remember those days when it was just me and my 4-year-old, before I had the other eight kids!" Or, if it's when Henry is in preschool, she could be thinking, "She's not a mom, so she's probably feeling critical about the way my kids are acting up."

One reason it's fun that Henry is going to the kind of preschool where the parents have to wait outside to be let in at pick-up time is that over the course of the year I get to find out many of my misassumptions. I see a woman waiting with her little boy to pick up her daughter each day, and then one day when she's telling me about her pregnancy, I find out she has a third-grader, and this will be her second baby, and the boy and girl are a nephew and niece she's taking care of because her sister is on bedrest. Another woman is picking up her own son, but the baby girl in her arms is a child she babysits. One woman has what I think is late-in-life only child, and it turns out he's a caboose: her other children are in high school. A woman my own age turns out to be a preschooler's grandmother: she was a high-school-aged parent, and so was her son. The one guy in the group isn't a stay-at-home dad: he works second shift.


Do you ever feel like people are assuming something about you that's different than what the situation is? Have you learned a real story behind one of your own misassumptions? I love stories like that.

84 comments:

saly said...

I found out that all of our neighbors thought that I’d lost my job because suddenly I was the one getting the kids on the bus in my pajamas, and my car never left. This came up in the checkout line at the grocery store, when I was in my workout clothes and was a complete mess…of course! And I had to explain, that no…I work from home and usually don’t get showered or dressed until the kids leave for the day.

I thought that a grandmother at our school who had custody of all 3 of her grandkids had such because the mother passed away or was sick or something of that nature. I pictured a sad sad situation. Turns out the kids were taken away because the mother was driving drunk with them in the car and the grandmother had to fight tooth and nail to get custody. The mother is not really involved in their lives at all. Which I guess is also a sad sad situation, but one on a different spectrum.

Elizabeth said...

I also love this type of assumption destruction, even though it is occasionally awkward when it is directed in one's own direction. One of my friends recently told me that she didn't like me when she first met me because she felt like I was being unreasonably picky at an appetizer-event we both attended. She thought I was unreasonably pestering the restauraunt staff about the ingredients. I'm a vegetarian and she didn't know at the time. But now I have to wonder if my inquiries at restaurants are completely annoying to everyone around me? And how else would I find out if the soup has a meat base? *Cringe*

Misty said...

This is fun. I wish I did that.

Honestly, I am so wrapped up in my own life, I don't often wonder about other folks. I feel like I am scrambling so much with my own stuff, that I don't have time or energy to wonder about other people's shopping carts! I think I am missing out.

eva said...

I'm divorced, and a fairly young mom of a 6 year old. My ex husband has a live in nanny (who is male) and I live with my boyfriend of 3 years. So, my daughter basically has 4 parents, 3 of whom are men.

Her kindergarten teacher thought that my boyfriend and the nanny were a gay couple, with my boyfriend being my daughter's bio dad, and that I was the baby-sitter. She didn't know what to make of my ex, the baby's actual father.

I actually get mistaken for the sitter or nanny a lot. I look young for my age, and live in a part of the country where having a kid at 21 is not the norm. It doesn't bother me, I take it as a compliment and move on.

Beylit said...

When I was in college one of my best friends was gay and I used to go over and hang out at his dorm between the end of my day classes and the beginning of evening rehearsals. I was there pretty much every day from 4:30 to 5:30. I always showed up alone and left alone. One of our other female friends usually showed up about half an hour after I left and the two of them would go out together for the night.

The RA's assumed that the other girls was the girlfriend and I was the other woman, and it was some sort of torrid love triangle. They didn't even have a clue that the guy was actually gay.

At the end of that summer, right before he moved out of the dorm we decided to give the RA's something to talk about. I showed up dressed for a night at the club and then 20 minutes later she showed up. They were all certain it was going to be a bloody smack down. They were a little shocked when the three of us came down together and she and I had our arms around one another and both hung on him as he checked us out.

Hey if they are going to assume things I can at least make it interesting for them.

Otherwise though I am always sad to realize my assumptions tend to be correct. The 4 college aged guys renting the house next door to us when I was in high school never left the house and always had people over. We decided right off they were drug dealers. The police drug raid four months later confirmed we were right.

DomestiKook said...

Twice that stand out in my memory. Just this last year for our 8th wedding anniversary we went to a Japanese restuarant and sat at on one of those big tables where they cook/flip the food right in front of you. It was a weeekday so they weren't busy, there was one other couple sitting across from us, I couldn't hear them but my husband could. I guess they were talking aboout us and how we miust only be on our first or second date because we were so quiet and it must be awkward. Apparently "comfortable with silence" was an unfamiliar concept. WE still joke about their assumptions 6 months later.
The other time I was only 15 and was at the mall with my stepmom and two younger siblings. While she took my sister in to get shoes fitted I stayed by the fountain with my brother who was only around9 months old. I was bouncing him a little on my knees and, you kow, happy baby sounds, this old woman (70?) walks by and stops to stare. At first I thought she was just looking at the baby. She gets all huffy and says to me, "You should be ashamed! Having a baby so young, what kind of life is that poor child going to have? May God save you." Granted, we looked a LOT alike AND there was no other adult in evidence, but for serious? I needed God-saving apparently. I immediately and probably reflexively, replied, "You should be ashamed! Assuming this baby is mine and that I am irresponsible. Keep your God saving for yourself, my brother and I are perfectly fine without it."
People sometimes suck.
No, wait. People mostly suck.

Erin said...

Last week I had a box of condoms and a box of pregnancy tests in the cart at the same time. Needed to know if I was preggers before Noah left for boot camp (it wouldn't have been planned), but unwilling to become so just before he left if I wasn't already.

What it probably looked like was: irresponsible teen mom.

Nicole said...

I really like this. I'm not sure I have good stories though. But I really related to the grocery part. Now that the kids are in school I shop all by myself, but I shop right after school drop off so I still think I look like a mom, especially with all the milk, etc., in the cart.

I remember once going out after my husband got home; I think my kids were maybe 1 and 2 years old. I went to the grocery store at 7 pm and it was like an entirely different place. The after work crowd! I felt like a different person just being there.

zoot said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because my life has changes so much in the last two years, the assumptions people make of me now: That I'm a Good Cook, A Fitness Nut, A Social Leader, An All-Together Gal, are all super-complimentary and awesome but also? SO WRONG. I sometimes feel like I'm lying and want to tell people, "Oh...no. That's not me."

Before I had a lot of different assumptions about me: I had a kid at 19, divorced, tattoos, preferred Doc Martens and fishnets....and somehow I think I handled the assumptions on THOSE characteristics better because then - at least - I knew the "real" person was better than the perceived. Now I worry I'm just disappointing people. HEh.

Once again, I basically wrote a blog entry in your comments. This is why I never comment.

Anonymous said...

Last year there was a kid in my son's preschool class who I had not given much thought to at all but at the Christmas program I discovered that the kid's parents also had QUINTUPLETS after the preschool-aged child! You sometimes find out super interesting things about people that you would never guess!!

-R- said...

I took the baby grocery shopping with me just the other day and was basically following this couple with an unruly-ish 3-year-old boy around the store. They kept apologizing for him getting in my way (when he really wasn't) until I told them I had a 3-year-old boy at home. Then they seemed to calm down and stopped apologizing. I like when I'm out with the baby and people assume she's my only child.

Auntie G said...

Our son is very blond though my husband and I have brown hair. We each have sisters who were much blonder than we were, growing up, so it's amusing but at least makes sense to us. However, it was funny when we hired a very blond nanny who also looked somewhat like us. She said people assumed she was his mom all the time -- I can't say I blamed them AT ALL.

I can't wait to find out if baby #2 will also be blond...

Melospiza said...

I am loving these comments (and the post, too).

When I used to clean houses I would make up stories ALL THE TIME about the residents, few of whom I ever met. The only that I really remember now is the house where I was certain, CERTAIN, that the parents had had a daughter who died in early-to-mid teens--the vast number of photographs of her, the shrine-like way these photographs were displayed, the HUGE photo of her in a montage, with all of her elementary-age photos surrounding an enormous photo of her mid-teen--seriously, the thing was 3 x 4'--plus no obvious teen room in the house. Plus it was delightfully chilling to imagine (this was pre-child-of-my-own). Of course, it turned out that she was just off in college and her mother had remarried and moved. Overcompensation, maybe, but no tragic early death.

Karen L said...

Great topic!

My brother, then 17ish, and I, 14ish, once decided to get Sears portraits together as a surprise for our parents' Christmas present. (How thoughtful! I'm very proud of my 14-y.o. self for thinking of it. I would die and go to Heaven if my children did this for me when they are teenagers.) Anyway, the photographer did not know the situation, when it came up that the photos were for our parents: "OH you're brother and sister. Oh DEAR, I was about to suggest some very inappropriate poses." She, obviously figured we were BF and GF.

The Curmudgeon said...

Love these comments!

I actually kind of get a kick out of assumptions. Many people have a very particular version of what a lesbian "looks like", and since I don't fit it at all, I end up in a lot of conversations where I'm asked if I'm married ("Not till DOMA is repealed, but we're planning to then!") or if a male friend is my boyfriend. There's something sort of nice (though I guess a little immature on my part!) on getting to surprise people like that; I think it's good for people to get their assumptions shaken up, and it reminds me not to take anything for granted and to be as nice as I can to everyone - you never know what someone's situation is.

JeannetteLS said...

Up until I was around fifty, when I was with people in a group, often someone I did not know would say, "You must have been a cheerleader and one of those kids who did whatever you were told. Just one of those popular girls."

The way it was said sometimes was a compliment, but more often not. It angered me for my own sake, but also, by the time I hit adulthood and KNEW people who were cheerleaders, certain stereotypes were downright cruel, though people hung onto them.

If I am with people, the worse I feel, the more cheerful I TRY to be--when I am not in a situation I can easily slip out of. And when I am excited about something, I tend to be a little over the top.

However, if anyone in the group knows me, a comment like that elicits a guffaw. The only reason I was noticed in high school was when I was in a show or a musical. The popular kids did not even know my name. I never met a sporting event I cared to attend and never learned a high school cheer.

A common comment by teachers was, "Why can't you be more like your sister? SHE never rocked the boat or asked questions. She did what she was told."

My dad once told me, "You came 'out the chute' [lovely, yes] going OH YEAH? and you've been saying it ever since."

I was in my first demonstration at age 11.

People have made so many assumptions about me that I kind of learned to try with everything in me NOT to do that, not even in fun.

I wish I COULD let myself do that, though. Cause sometimes it seems fun!

Nik-Nak said...

I have to confess something and I hate this about me. I did assume something about a religious sect when I first saw your blog. (I was thinking sister wives without the actual sister wives) (Isn't that sad that the amount of children automatically leads me to mormon-thinking? I should fix that) Then I kept reading and realized you were cool as shit and pretty much the exact same as me. You are very good and honest and true about your life, and I envy that. So..you know what they say about "assume". I am the world's worst about making assumptions and I wish I didn't do that.

BUT I do love to know someone has assumed something about me and it ends up being the complete opposite. For instance, I don't wear my wedding ring and the days that I am off work and my husband is working Boo and I usually venture to town to kill some time. I had heard through the grapevine I was a 'poor single mom at such a young age'. Hehehe, so not the case.

Betsy said...

At daycare dropoff, I would always see this VERY put-together woman dropping off her son, and I assumed she was a first-time mom like me. She is always impeccably dressed (next to me in my jeans), wearing her Bluetooth headset, and just seems to always have her shit together. I found out later the boy she's dropping off is her THIRD kid, she's got 2 older girls that are in school. I later saw them at the grocery store, and witnessed the somewhat controlled chaos that I never imagined was a part of her life. I was way off the mark with her, and have SO much respect for how well she handles everything now that I know how much she's juggling.

jess said...

I used to get that "teen mom" thing all the time when I was a teenager because I had much younger siblings. Then when I was a nanny it was either people assuming I was the mom when I wasn't, or assuming (and straight out stating) that I wasn't old enough to be the baby-momma even though I was in my mid twenties. If I looked too young to have kids at that age what were the people who saw me pushing the stroller with my baby sister in it while my mom shopped thinking?!

Now I get a giggle out of the fact that we look like such a perfect little family and no one suspects that Todd and I are still only engaged, the kids are his (biologically and custody-wise), there's a crazy ex-wife in the picture who makes all of our lives interesting, and I've known all three of them for less than two years!

Cayt said...

When I was in college, all of the people in my drama class knew I was queer, and I spent a lot of time with my friend Rob, who was also queer, but somehow nobody twigged that he was, and they assumed that he was utterly in love with me and pining after me but would never get me because I was a lesbian.

Now, people see me with Michael and they assume I'm straight, which I'm not. Also, Michael and I have the same surname, so a lot of people assume we're married, which we're not.

Cayt said...

Oh, and, Swistle, I never assumed that you were religious or that you have the number of children you have due to religion, because in my experience, people who are that type of religious tend to have bible quotes or something about Jesus somewhere relatively prominently on their blogs.

People seeing me in real life, though, with my long hair, long skirts, and heterosexed relationship tend not to assume I'm a radical feminist. That makes me a little sad.

Caitlin said...

I love this post, and the comments!

Being a woman married to a male chef has provided some interesting moments. My husband and I typically go to the grocery store together, and people regularly make comments to him or me - typically older women - to the effect of how CUTE it is that he's 'doing the cooking tonight'.

IF ONLY THEY KNEW.

It's been very interesting being on this side of such assumptions, and truthfully, it's made me quite mad on more than one occasion. I don't believe there are any women out there being publicly praised for cooking for their families, and it's WOMEN (of a generation, mostly, but women of all ages have commented) who make these comments. So basically these women are perpetuating the gender stereotype and buying into it.

And as Husband has pointed out: The culinary field and restaurant business are DOMINATED by men. It's interesting that in the domestic arena it tends to be the opposite -- or at least viewed that way.

Heather said...

Ohh I have to tell you a story!

When I was 21 my older sister had four children (8, 4 and newborn twins) and I watched them while she was at university and working. One day I was walking them all to the park after school and two men from *religion that goes house to house sharing their faith* stopped me. "Excuse me, we see you are young and have children and you arent married by the look of your left hand...so we stopped you to let you know we have a program for unwed mothers that you should attend. It will teach you how to be a better mother." Oh was I FURIOUS!!! A better mother? Those children were well loved! The children were clean, wearing clean, tidy and age appropriate clothes. Shoes on, hair done etc...but maybe it was the fact I was WALKING (exercise and sunshine for the poor neglected children) them all to the park rather than plonking them in front of the tv that made me a 'bad mother'. And how dare they assume that I was an unwed mother just because I wasnt wearing a ring! I would have had to have been pregnant at 12 to be the mother to all of them. I politely (if a little snidely in tone) told them I was in fact their aunt and babysitting and walked away. The kind of ironic thing about it was my sister was unwed and between the four children were three different dads!

Linda said...

I LOVE stuff like this because I'm very aware of assumptions. I like to speculate about other people and I like to speculate about what THEY'RE speculating about ME.

I remember when I was not yet married and my then-boyfriend and I went with my mom to visit my brother in Salt Lake City. My boyfriend and I took my 1yo nephew for a walk around the university campus while my SIL was teaching a class and I overheard one man say to another, "See how young they are with that baby? It's very normal here for Mormon teens to marry and start having babies immediately." I LOLed both for the assumption and because I CAN HEAR YOU, IDIOT.

Bailey said...

I have to admit that the most recent time (that I know of) that I was incorrectly judged, I totally walked (danced) into it. My mom is gay, and does a lot of country western dancing. I had finally turned 21 and she took me to a dance to show me the ins and outs of her hobby, and we danced together quite a bit that night, laughing and having a blast. A fabulously swishy gentleman asked me if I'd like to waltz, and when I said yes he twirled me to the other side of the floor and asked me how long my mother and I had been together. As a couple. I snorted, accidently stepped on his foot, and then informed him that we'd been together my whole life, beginning when I exited her womb. He laughed, but I was mortified.

Swistle said...

Karen L- Oh, man, my brother and I did the same thing, and the photographer knew we were brother and sister but she nevertheless used a common "engagement pose": I am behind him, with my arms around his shoulders. SO MANY PEOPLE who saw the picture later in my life thought that it must be a boyfriend, I stopped displaying the picture!

Swistle said...

The Curmudgeon- YES, I feel the same way, it's a KICK!

Swistle said...

Nik-Nak- Like The Curmudgeon, I find I get a kick out of it! Like, I read that your first impression was that way, and I GRIN! Like it PLEASES me! I can't put a finger on why, it just does!

Swistle said...

Several of you are reminding me of the summer I was 17 and babysat for a small baby full-time. I used to take her out on errands with me. No one ever said anything to me, but I definitely got the impression that some people assumed she was my own baby.

Sarah Lena said...

I am CONSTANTLY doing this. When I'm home during the day (but Tony's at daycare) I envy the SAHMs who are out playing with their kids. I do the same thing if I've got Tony at home (say he's sick); I envy the women at Target who are perfectly coiffed as they sip their Starbucks with no children attached to them.

I have to constantly remind myself that the grass is always greener because of the abundance of fertilizer.

-R- said...

Oh, someone else's comment reminded me of a good one. My husband once assumed the photo on his former (female) boss's desk was of the boss's daughter. But it turns out it was the boss's partner. Thank goodness he never commented on it!

Bratling said...

My brother and sister-in-law's financial situation is one in which both of them have to work. Our contribution, along with some clothes here and there,(little girls are fun to dress!) is taking care of their two kids. We're half-raising his little girls. Because there's a family resemblance, most people who see me with them automatically assume that they're mine and then do a double take when the three-year-old calls me Aunt Laura! And if they don't hear it, they seem to think I'm a single mom, 'cause there's never a guy with us. Single, yeah. :D But Mommmy... maybe someday. For now, I'm the substitute Mommy for my nieces!

And as a side note--Bit, the three-year-old, has recently entered the terrible threes (she skipped twos entirely!). Imagine my surprise when my normally sweet, tractable child threw her first ever tantrum in the grocery store. I got such looks from other patrons and employees! That is, until I said something to the effect of that somebody obviously needed a nap! How do you deal with looks like that? I even got them one day when I called out her whole name along with the "you-get-back-here-right-now" because shew as about to run out into the street...

Bratling said...

Oh, and another for assumptions.

I helped put myself through college working as a cashier at Wal-Mart during the summers. It was tedious, hard, frustrating work, but the worst of it was the condescending remarks. People seemed to assume that because I was a Wal-Mart cashier, I was stupid and most likely didn't have a high school diploma. The most common was, "How do you like working here," with one of those condescending smiles. The looks were suddenly wiped off their faces when I told them that it was going to pay for my college textbooks!

Sarah said...

I think people often assume I'm very traditional because I have a lot of kids (and want more,) I got married and had babies so young, I don't have a job, I do all the housework and traditional female jobs around the house, etc. I think my views on a lot of things, as well as my aspirations for myself, would surprise some people. I definitely don't plan on staying home and vacuuming forever, and Jim knows that. But I'm not sure most people do.

Swistle said...

Bratling- URG, YES! I had several working-a-register jobs, and I remember once the register was acting wonky and I had to figure out someone's change in my head, which of course I can do but it takes a second since it wasn't something I was PREPARED to do. And a guy said to his wife, "Nobody knows math anymore, they just rely on their computers" in this really condescending voice, and I SO WISHED I had my math medal with me at that moment! (Or that I'd said, "Oh, I'm so glad YOU know math! YOU can tell me how much change to give you! It was $12.81 plus $8.70 plus $2.37, and you gave me $25.00! Go!")

Maggie said...

Two incidents of misjudging me. The first was when my husband and I went to buy a car. The salesman addressed his whole financial discussion to my husband who sat and listened to his entire spiel and then said "you should be talking to my wife, she handles all of our finances." Salesman was befuddled. Nice assumptions jackass.

The second was just this summer my husband and walked with our two kids and our two nieces and one nephew to the ice cream stand. They assumed we were one huge family - the way the kids fall out we would have had kids who were 8, 6, 4, and twin 2 YOs. They gave us free ice cream and asked for us to pose for a photo for their stand even after we explained we were not the parents of all of them. But free ice cream is free ice cream...

Mimi said...

What a great post, Swistle. I worried for a time that people would think I belonged to a certain religion because I had three babies in quick succession. And I do catch myself making assumptions about other moms as well, and I guess I need to always remember how different others' lives can be from my own.

Jenny Grace said...

I know my own family confuses a lot of people. With my two youngest brothers still teenagers, people generally assume that they are half siblings of a second marriage. When I was teenager sometimes I'd be walking with my babiest brother downtown, keeping an eye on him for my mom or something, and people would assume that I was a teenaged mother (even moreso with my sister, who is older still).
Out with my 27yo brother and my son, people will assume we are a couple and he is ours (which, ew).
People will think my mom is an older parent of either my son or my nephews, that my dad and I are a couple and I'm the young second marriage trophy wife.
My dad is a swingshift worker, so when I was a kid and he would do drop offs and pickups, I had teachers think he was stay-at-home, except back in those days it was more like thinking he was a shiftless loser.
And then my aunt is only 6 years younger than my mom but her children are much younger than me and my siblings (they are 4, 8, and 12), so people think my mom is their grandmother, or that my aunt is their grandmother, or...whatever it is.
So. That's a whole lot of different assumptions, right there.

Anonymous said...

Couples without children - used to assume either unable to have kids or both didn't want them. Learned that sometimes it's a case of one wanting and one not wanting and staying together anyway. Also learned it's not always the man that doesn't want.

Assumptions about me- people assume I had a happy childhood I think because of my parents professions and intact marriage. In reality their was a suicide attempt, unchecked mental illness, alcoholism and child neglect.

bunnyslippers said...

My girlfriends and I, as undergrads, used to go backcountry camping to the mountains a lot. The assumption around here (at the time, maybe not now) was that only men and lesbians like backcountry camping. Any young males we would encounter on the trails would be positively giddy at the idea that the tent up the path from them could be the setting for some real life girl on girl action.

There is nothing sadder than horny, giddy, twenty-something males hyped up on a manly, chest-thumping hiking trip trying to subtly gesture to their buddies that those girls are sharing that tent and this (watches to see that the girls aren't watching and gesture, gesture) is what they're doing tonight. (This even involved them mouthing the words 'it's true!!! i told you so!') I think they genuinely thought they would be watching live action porn.

I can't even imagine the daily bulls&*t lesbians must have to put up with. We were ready to knock a little sense into them and it was only the odd hiking weekend here and there. Really, how dumb (or deluded) do you have to be to act like that?

JCF said...

I had a good laugh last year when I was pregnant with my fourth baby. We ran into a work acquaintance of my husband's at church, along with the man's wife and two children. My other three were in Sunday School still, and the wife started telling me "Oh, once you have your baby you'll understand...etc etc" until I interrupted to tell her I had three older kids already. I know myself so well as a mom, I forget that I don't have a tattoo announcing all of my children on my forehead when they're not with me.

Guinevere said...

What the Curmudgeon said. Being in a same-sex relationship means there are inevitable (and very understandable) mistaken assumptions... even more so when both parties involved are very stereotypically "feminine". Having kids has only made this more pronounced. The times the mistaken assumption of sisters (we look nothing alike, but did change our names) has been the most fun is when the party assuming was a much older lesbian couple, who was loath to believe us even when we set the record straight, so to speak.

Other mistaken assumptions: I did not carry our first child, so when I was out and about with him as a baby I was giving him bottles, and I got SO many dirty looks (and a few comments) from passersby, as we live in a part of the country where breastfeeding is considered very much the virtuous way to feed your child. I contemplated having a big sign that said "Actually, I adopted this one, and just so you know this bottle actually contains expressed breastmilk!" Not that I think moms who formula-feed children that sprang from their loins should be given a hard time about it either!

Also, I'm very tall and thus growing up people always assumed I was much older than I actually was. This was totally useful much of the time, but sometimes led to confusion, such as when I was with a very petite friend exactly the same age as me, and we were at a grocery store buying candy, and the cashier turned to me about my friend's purchase and said, "Is it okay if she has this?" assuming that my friend was my babysitting charge (or maybe even child?). My friend was livid.

Similarly, there is one occasion that I was going out and doing something with my father, and people who had met my mother in the past assumed that I was his NEW PARTNER or possibly MISTRESS and there was a great deal of awkwardness until he clarified "Oh NOOOO, this is my fourteen year old daughter!" That is I think by far the most awkward of all the mistaken assumptions.

Relatedly, when I was a senior in college, my brother (8 years younger than me) came to visit me when he had a vacation, and people at the grocery store thought I was his mother and wished me a happy mother's day. I was totally of an age where I could have been someone's mother, but just not the mother of a teenager. :)

Guinevere said...

When our son was less than a week old he was very very soothed by going for long jaunts in the jogging stroller in the neighborhood, so I happily (and very carefully) put him in the carseat attachment and went for long, slow runs with him up. People stopped me to comment that they couldn't BELIEVE how good I looked so soon after the birth and that I was in SUCH astounding shape, blah blah. I was tempted to just take credit but did explain that I had not given birth to him so it was all a good deal less impressive than they thought, and that the mother who gave birth was in fact relaxing on the sofa with a nice book and a pastry.

HereWeGoAJen said...

I am often thought to be younger than I am (hey, I'm not complaining). It's not happening as much lately, but when I was twenty one, I was ordered down to pediatrics for my flu shot because "they do them for girls under twelve there." I suspect that people still think I am younger than I am, but as soon as I had the baby, I stopped getting comments. (Perhaps being tired all the time made me look older? Because I got a lot of nasty, "teen-mother" comments when I was pregnant. And twenty seven.)

I usually don't assume that people with lots of kids are anything, because I would like to have a lot of kids myself, even though that is not working out.

I do make a lot of assumptions here because we live in a very religious area and I tend to assume that two women wearing skirts are from that religion. I don't assume about one skirted woman alone, but if I see two, I assume. I usually find out that I am right though.

Clara said...

I'm eighteen, and people always assume that I'm devoutly religious and a Republican, just because I'm quiet and bookish and appear to be that stereotypical "good girl". It IS quite irritating because I'm an atheist, a hard-core, passionate Libertarian, very snarky, and am a fan of obscure Indie bands. When people ask about my political leanings or religion or favorite music, they always seem very surprised.

Tess said...

FUN FUN FUN!

The most common assumption made about me by far is that I have triplets, instead of 3 5-year-olds in a blended family.

Because I went to Baylor, people assume I'm religious and conservative.

Because I'm a CPA, they assume I'm detail-oriented and Type A.

As a white-looking dude with a Very Hispanic name, my ex has a lot of great stories. He once got a job by phone interview because the interviewer assumed he was bilingual. We used to get the spanish-language versions of a free local paper. Etc.

M.Amanda said...

This is interesting timing. I've been thinking about how people see me lately, especially at the doctor's office. When talking to other pregnant women in the waiting room, I've been amazed at how often they assume this is my first and are surprised when I say I have a 3yo at the sitter's. Then I realized I've been making the same assumption. If I thought it easier to have an exam without a toddler in tow, why did I think it so unlikely the other expectant mothers felt the same?

Then there are the days when I skip makeup and jewelry and non-holey/paint-splattered clothes, then go out to the grocery store with my daughter. I keep waiting for one of those rude people I hear about to take in my ringless finger, shabby clothes, and big belly and comment on poor, single women having children they can't support. It's never happened, but that's what I imagine they see.

Then there are times when I realize I do not know my coworkers at all. AT ALL. Who's married, who's gay, who has children, who has advanced degrees they've never used in a career, who leans heavily to one side politically, who was once in a gang (no lie, whoa) - I just assume what I see is all there is until some tidbit pops up in conversation. Then my mind is blown.

Anonymous said...

You make me laugh!

"Hm, religious sect? But she's not wearing a skirt.

Ohliv

M.Amanda said...

Just thought of two:
1. About 10 years ago my grandmother moved into a duplex on a cul-de-sac with two other duplexes. After a few months she whispered to me on one visit, "I think the girls on the right-side of that duplex are W-H-O-R-E-S. They come and go at odd hours and always have men there." The ladies were nurses whose shifts changes regularly and the men were (mostly) male relatives fixing what the slacker landlord wouldn't fix.

2. A year after we moved into our house an elderly neighbor started giving my husband the evil-eye each time they met. It turned out she thought my SIL, a frequent visitor, was his wife and I, the one who regularly showed him affection within view of her front window, was his mistress. She approached my SIL one day when we weren't home as SIL dropped off some boxes to store in our garage. SIL set her straight when she asked for clarification on some cryptic hints the woman started dropping that she was being betrayed. We still giggle over that one.

Superjules said...

I'm the youngest of my siblings-- younger than my sisters by 13, 12, and 7 years-- so there have been a lot of assumptions about that. People have thought that we don't all have the same parents (we do). People have thought one of my two oldest sisters was my mother or that my mother was my grandmother.
But the BEST? When I was visiting my oldest sister and we had to stop by her 12 year old's school and get some paperwork from the main office.
"So should I have her bring the form to her teacher?" my sister asked the front desk lady.
"Sure" the woman answered. And then she looked at ME and said "Is that okay with you?"
SHE THOUGHT I WAS THE TWELVE YEAR OLD.
It was the first week of school so she clearly hadn't met my sister's daughter yet BUT STILL. She thought my sister was my mother and that I was AT MOST 14 bc this was middle school.
Please keep in mind that my huge arm tattoo was clearly visible.

Joanne said...

I'm a religious NUT but nobody thinks it at first because I am also a crazy swearer and ... well, kind of a bitch in general, ha! I am pregnant with my fourth, SUPER pregnant at this stage, and I hate it when people assume it's my first. I feel like I have to tell them that it's my fourth, even though I know that it's none of their biz. I stay at home with my kids but I was 37 when I had my first and I had worked for a long time before that, I have a Masters degree, etc., and it drives me crazy when people assume that I have always been home with these kids, that I was somehow born a stay at home mom or something. Basically I am impatient with people making assumptions about me, and others, I guess.

lifeofadoctorswife said...

Well, I don't have any good ones about me making an assumption that proved wrong (although I'm sure I do it often). But I do work primarily through the computer and I always got a kick out of meeting clients or clients' employees for the first time because they would inevitably be shocked at my age. Apparently I come across as 45ish via email. (Professional and smart, I like to think.)

One women said, straight to my face, "I thought you would be ugly, fat and really old!"

I don't know what THAT says about my email interactions. Let's believe it says more about the assumER than the assumeEE in this case.

Melissa R. said...

My husband and I have 5 kids between us. We look fairly young (I had my first at 21), 4 of the kids are in college so when we go out with our remaining child we've had people assume she's an only child. I LOVE telling people that "well, no, we have FOUR in college. Yes, all at once. Yes, we're broke."

Jenny said...

My daughter is Chinese, and I've always been a little nervous that when she's throwing a tantrum in a store, someone will think I'm not her mother. That has never happened, though.

My best assumption story is about a guy I went to grad school with. He was very effeminate in manner, and very dapper, and I always assumed he was gay. One day, the secretary in the office said his fiancee Heather was coming in for a visit. I nodded agreeably and walked away thinking "Heather. That's a funny name for a man..."

Mouse said...

My youngest sibling is 15 years younger than I. When I was a teenager, my dad went bungie jumping and our whole family went to watch. I was holding my infant sister when my dad took his turn to jump. Another bystander said, "oh that guy is way to be old to be doing this! He should know better". I said, "that's my dad". They were embarassed and apologized. Then, tried to make up for it by cooing at my sister, "Look at what your grandpa is doing up there!" I said, "that's her dad too!" They moved along to watch from another place.

Elsha said...

I just spent a few days in California while my husband stayed home with our kids and every time I went out in public I thought-- I bet people think this is my first pregnancy.

One recent assumption about me I heard about from a friend and church. She had mentioned to her husband that before we lived here I did something in engineering. He said, "really?" And she told him she was pretty sure. Then he told her, "No, I really doubt that." Um, you've never even talked to me but you assume that because I stay at home with our kids now that a) I'm incapable of holding an engineering degree and b) I must never have worked? Made me a little mad.

Here's one my husband used to get often when he lived with his brother: they would go places and people would ask how they knew each other and they'd say, "We're brothers." (You should note here that his brother is south korean and my husband is not.) And people would laugh and be like, oh you're "brothers" and they'd get out their drivers licenses and say-- No, we are actually brothers. Same last name and everything.

I'm sure this list could go on and on.

sooboo said...

Before I knew my husband very well, I overheard something kind of gross (of a sexual but not sexist nature) he said to a friend of his. I thought they were sort of uncouth pervs and I remember thinking, "I would never know them". The friend he was talking to ended up marrying us. Now when the friend comes over we potty mouth it up together!

MrsDragon said...

A couple of months into my first real job, my (nearly 20 years my senior) boss took me out to lunch to discuss career goals. We had just sat down to wait on our food when a business associate of my supervisor's came by with his wife. Perhaps because he was with his wife, he shook my bosses hand, gestured to me and asked "Is this your wife?".

Uhhhhhh....no.

Usually, random strangers say nice things "Oh you are such a cute couple!" Etc. It's the people who know me, but don't KNOW me, who make the worst assumptions. I'm quiet and make decisions that appear outwardly to be very conservative, so people assume I am Republican, unable to take jokes, etc, etc. It gets rather aggravating but there's not a lot to be done for it. *shrugs*

twisterfish said...

These comments are so fun to read! I think about this a lot, and at the grocery store, because I guess I have nothing better to do, I like to arrange my items on the belt in a way to kind of tell a story ... it makes me laugh to think what the person behind me thinks of me based on my grocery items and seeing me shopping with my 5 year old. They may think he's a late-in-life only child, or I'm the grandma. What they don't know is I've also got a teenager at home and a college student as well. So I play with their heads based on what I'm purchasing. For all I know the person behind me in line doesn't give a crap and isn't even paying attention, but I have fun! To be fair, I create stories about these other shoppers based on what they are getting, but I know I'm probably wrong about them too!

Sarah said...

I LOVE playing the grocery store guessing game. Like you, I even try to see what I could guess about myself. My favorite guess came a couple of years ago in a drug store when a young (20ish) white guy was buying a cheesy romance cd, a sinlge rose, a chocolate bar, and a box of condoms.

Reading (and chickens) said...

I love these comments! The most common assumption I come across: my boys are twins. They are almost three years apart in age, but my younger one is big and my older one is small. But TWINS? I'm glad people think I'm that awesome.

Shannon said...

My father is only 20 years older than me. There have been several occasions when I'm with my dad and my kids that people assume that he is my husband. I very pointedly call him Dad in public now!

Sarah A said...

I live in a part of the US with a very large Indian population. I'm not Indian, but I look Indian. I get asked pretty much daily if I'm Indian. I kind of almost feel bad for having to say no!

What's funny/annoying is when I walk my dog and get dirty looks (and comments too!) from my elderly Indian neighbors. I guess keeping dogs as pets is not common in India, so people see me and assume I'm Indian and then wonder, "who does this girl think she is and why does she have a dog?!"

About assumptions of clothing/religiosity: my city of residence also has a large Jewish population. If I walk around in a long skirt and long sleeves, people (mainly Jews) ask me if I'm Jewish. Nope, I'm Muslim :)

CARRIE said...

What I don't understand is the assumption people seem to make about me that I would welcome tea-party-type emails or rants against Obama emails. I think most people, if they talk to me for even 2 minutes, would likely pick up on the fact that I am not Republican, or conservative or religious. Doesn't my dyke-like haircut not give this away? ;)

JEN said...

Such an interesting post! I am very curious about people and am always trying to figure out their situation. I love when I am wrong!

Jen in MI said...

People who find out I go to church assume I'm a right wing, homophobic evangelical. Actually, I'm a left of center, live and let live person. Definitely wish I wasn't lumped in with the nutjobs.

Slauditory said...

Once, when I was sixteen, I brought my brother (who was two) to the park to play. A (white) lady told me that my son was so cute. I told her, "He's actually my brother. I'm giving my mother a break." She looked at me like she couldn't believe it. I was so offended! It's like she assumed a teenaged black girl with a toddler has to be that baby's mother.

Yeah, I get what you're saying about assumptions. I make them, too, sometimes. But isn't that the human urge--to put things into categories? Sometimes our categories are wrong, though.

Slauditory said...

Oh, another time, I observed what was on the conveyor belt before my stuff: a LOT of rum, some fruit, and some other weird stuff. I had produce. I said, "Having a party?" to the guy in front of me. He says, "No. Voodoo ritual." Was he messing with me and my nosy self? Or was he serious? I will never know.

Jenny said...

Oh, Jen in MI, me too! I go to church and am about as liberal as they come. People are always assuming I am "one of those wacko right-wing evangelicals," whereas actually I am liberal BECAUSE I am a Christian. Argh.

lindsey said...

So, I was reading along and enjoying your post (as usual) when I read that you have to wait outside at preschool until a designated time. Umm. now, i can't stop thinking about THAT. I understand that's how regular school works, etc. but, then i started to wonder: what are they doing in there that you can't go in? but, i'm sure it's more of trying to keep them on a schedule, etc. I just can't stop thinking about it--mainly, since at my son's i can pick him up whenever. anyway...not really relevant.

SallyG said...

OOOH - I just thought of a good one. My husband is the youngest of 7 kids (if you assumed Catholic - you're RIGHT ON! ;-) and his oldest brother is 20 years his senior. When our daughter was born and he came to visit us in the hospital, our nurse assumed he was my husband's DAD and asked if "Grandpa" wanted to hold the baby! He was SO NOT amused even though the rest of us were!

Swistle said...

Lindsey- Oh, yes, we CAN go in if there's some need to or we're picking up early or something---but they have a winding-down routine with a goodbye ritual and so forth, and they don't want kids getting distracted by seeing parents arriving in the room.

G said...

When I was in high school, my dad and I went on a college visit and stayed at my aunt's house. My aunt is a single woman who lived in a row of townhouses. In order to get in the house, we had to walk through the neighbors back yard to get to where she hid the key. While doing so, we met one of said neighbors who was very pleasant and friendly.

The neighbor later made a comment to my aunt about having met her brother "and his friend."

Eww. My aunt hastened to explain that I was her niece, his daughter.

velocibadgergirl said...

I wonder a lot about the other mothers I meet when I'm out and about with Nico, and I wonder what they wonder about me. I also constantly am wondering what my grocery cart says about me...I feel smug when all I'm buying is produce and milk even though I shouldn't...I know the truth about how much Ben & Jerry's is in my freezer!

Sarah said...

This post and the comments have been so much fun to read! After college, I didn't really know what I wanted to "do" so I started bartending. I did that for 6 years and had 2 babies during that time. My husband and I are atypical and don't even have wedding rings so people were always asking me, "who watches your kids while you're here???" As if I would just leave them at the house with the dog and the fridge open. Even if I hadn't been married, I think I'm a problem-solver people.

Other questions I loved, "What ELSE do you do?" News flash: bartending at a popular place can in fact pay your bills. It's weird - we make dollars, too. You know, the same dollars you make at your job. We don't get paid in monopoly money. And I had better insurance then! Or once people found out I had a college degree, "Isn't this job demeaning to you? Don't you want a real job?". While I don't bartend anymore, I have yet to figure out what a "real" job is.

But because I worked nights, I did have the days off and would run errands, play at the park, etc. Most people assumed that I was a stay-at-home mom (which I was) until I went to work at 5pm :)

LE Bean said...

Guinevere--
I'm 6' tall. My best friend (8 months older than me) is 5' tall. We'd go out for lunch and waiters would hand me the wine list and her the kids menu. ALL THE TIME.

Also, because I'm tall people assume that I play basketball or volleyball or some other tall-people sport. I used to have a shirt that said, "No, do you play miniature golf?" I'm tragically uncoordinated, so no sports for me.

I had a TA my first year of college @ UCSB who I thought was gay. Glasses, turtleneck, theatre dept. I transfered to UNL and was hanging out with my friend Andrew one day when I saw a picture of Andrew in a tux, with a lady in a wedding dress, and my former TA! Turns out not only is he not gay, he's my best friend's sister's husband. Small world!

Lucy said...

I'm like Misty...I'm so "in the zone" I don't pay attention...I probably should more!

Guinevere said...

LE Bean - yep, that's how tall I am, too, and I always used to get comments about basketball as well. I wish I'd thought of the miniature golf retort - that's very funny!

A grocery store mistaken assumption happened last night. I, 38 weeks pregnant, bought four containers of ice cream and then bought a salted caramel milkshake at the espresso bar on the way out. The cashier said, with knowing smile: "Is it you who wants the ice cream, or the baby?" (gesturing to belly). Alas, ALL of the ice cream is for my spouse who just had gum surgery and is waiting groggily in the car. I'm monitoring my sugar intake to avoid gestational diabetes, bummer.

I think it was particularly pronounced because I was purchasing ALL ice cream. I'd actually done all the usual produce/milk/eggs grocery shopping earlier that day but had to run other errands immediately after so we made another trip out for the ice cream at a time when we could go straight home afterwards.

Josefina said...

People who have not met or talked to me make assumptions about my ethnicity based upon my name--first and last.

I often wonder if people assume when they see me, my husband, and my kids out and about on a weekday that (1) my husband is unemployed or (2) we are travelling. Neither is true, he just works weird hours and we homeschool.

I feel like because I am a homeschooling mom who is a Christian, people assume I am very conservative &/or that I belong to a certain political party (Republican).

People are often surprised to learn my age. They often thought I was younger. This means they assume that I was a teenage mother when I was not.

Here is an assumption of my own that was debunked: my friend would come to pick up her child at preschool (our children went to the same one) and her baby wasn't with her. I assumed the baby was left with the grandmother. NOPE. At home. Alone. In a crib. There are not enough exclamation points in the world--like, years later I am still all exclamation pointy about it.

British American said...

Love this post. I make exactly the same assumptions - that the Mom only has the kids that I can see her with and that they all must be her own. Then I feel really sneaky that I have 3 kids but 1 is in school, so I look like I only have 2, during the week. Plus it looks like I only have boys, as the youngest two are boys and it's my daughter who is in school. So I try to remember not to assume so much about everyone - but still I do.

kristi said...

I do this all the time! I will assume things about people, complete strangers!

Frazzled Mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Frazzled Mom said...

I have enjoyed reading these. I especially like the one about the brother and sister who went to have their portraits done and were assumed to be boyfriend / girlfriend.

I have a similar story.

When my brother turned 21, and I was 25, I took him to a martini bar to celebrate. I wanted to do something different besides the keg party his friends would throw him. Anyway, the waiter at the bar/ restaurant obviously thought we were on a date. He put out the nice centerpiece and tried to create a romantic ambiance. It felt so awkward!

I feel sort of weird talking about this because I don't want 90% of the female population to hate me, but another assumption about me is that I'm athletic because I have been a size 5 pretty much all my adult life, except during and right after pregnancy. I wish I was more athletic, but alas, that is not one of my gifts. I have such poor coordination when it comes to hitting a ball with any kind of racket, stick, my hand or foot. I can't throw either.

And before women hate me too much; the trade-off for the good body card must have been the bad complexion card. I am still struggling with acne well into my 30's. When I was a teen, one of my fears was that I would go from pimples to wrinkles, and I fear that concern might become a reality as I pass 35 and still have blackheads, white heads, and the huge red bumps...

Frazzled Mom said...

Oh - and my parents were young when they had me (19) and look young for their age on top of that. When I used to go out with just my Dad, I felt like I was his trophy wife / girlfriend, and that just felt yucky.