I happen to be a ‘woman of a certain age,’ which is to say I have passed my childbearing years and should now be reveling in the freedom to be myself. It is also shorthand for menopause, that time of a woman’s life when everything you knew about living female is turned on its head. Oh, there are the fun things, like reliving the acne of your youth and growing a beard for the first time, but there are also the not-so-fun things like thinning, dry hair and skin that has taken on an alien quality.
One of my favorite things is that my internal thermostat is now broken. It is 70 degrees in the house and my fingers are blue. I find myself washing dishes to thaw out my hands…and if you know me, you know how extreme that is. Nearly every night finds me hollering out to my family, “Is it cold in here?” and immediately, the answer: “No, it’s just you.” I change into my pajamas early in the evening so I have an excuse to wear my thick robe. I will ask for a cup of hot tea so I can hold it in my frozen stumps, and sometimes, I’ll hold the dog in my lap just for his heat. There have been times that I have provided the entertainment for the evening by wearing my tasseled, knit ski hat to complete my ensemble. The rest of the household is male. They walk around the house in shorts and, sometimes, shirtless. In winter. Year-round, actually.
Another feature of the departure of my youth is mental and emotional turmoil. Chaos, really. I haven’t always been as scatterbrained as I seem to be now. I’d lose my nose if it wasn’t attached to my face. And mood swings? Well, let’s just say they leave us all a bit dizzy. I thought I was going crazy, and that may still be true, but the symptoms I laid out for my doctor didn’t seem to faze him. He was smiling and patient and handed me a box of tissues while I bawled for no good reason.
My childhood memories were of Mother in her forties, looking striking with her dark brunette hair set off by a shock of grey at her forehead, just like Indira Gandhi. She was a little ditzy sometimes, a little quick to anger sometimes, and exasperated with me quite often. It wasn’t until years later that I decided that some of what made my mother so quirky and entertaining may have been her foray into ‘a certain age.’ I see my mother when I look in the mirror, and I am SO glad I don’t have a pesky little kid underfoot.
It is times like these that I remember my mother’s mantra: Life Isn’t Fair. While the males in my house are chuckling about my haywire thermostat and adolescent skin, I’m wondering what they have that is equivalent. As I age and gravity does its thing, my husband seems to have stopped aging. Of course, he makes sure to mention that to me when he gets the chance. But menopause, the great equalizer of women everywhere, has no counterpart with men. “That’s not fair!” I cry.
Now I get it, Ma. Now I get it.