From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

Up a Tree

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Alan Kay

More than 50 million baby boomers turned 50 as the century came to an end. It’s estimated that 35,000 women per day find themselves in the menopausal range. I am one of them. Growing up, I never heard the word “menopause.” It was never discussed, or, if it was, it was whispered about in hushed tones between adults and behind closed doors.

When I began to suspect something funny was going on in my body, I went to the library to see if I could find anything on the subject. The good news was that I probably have one-third to one-half of my life ahead of me. The bad news was that I could spend a lot of that time having palpitations, hot flashes, night sweats, depression, loss of bladder control, roller coaster–like emotions, itchy and blotchy skin, insomnia, memory loss, urinary tract infections, and hair loss and hair growth in all the wrong places.

I slammed the book shut. When I began reading, I had all the above symptoms except depression. Now I was depressed, too! One thing I did find out was that heredity plays a large role when it comes to menopause. My mother never had any problems, did she? I thought to myself. I decided to call and find out. Our conversation went something like this:

“You know, Mom, I believe I am going through menopause.”

I heard an audible gasp, then an “Oh, no.”

“Mom, it’s not a death sentence. Every woman goes through it sooner or later. You did, right? I know I was a teenager then and doing my own thing, but I don’t recall. . . . ”

“Oh, honey, honey. Don’t you remember that summer I took your little brother and went to Kentucky on a bus?”

I was confused by her question. “Yeah, but what’s that got to do with menopause?”

“Well, I don’t remember why I went, and when I got there, I didn’t know where I was. Your poor dad had to come and get us.”

“What are you saying, Mom? I’m going to lose my mind?”

“Probably” was her answer, followed by a muffled sob.

“Mother, none of the books from the library says one thing about a woman losing her mind just because she’s going through menopause. It actually can be a pretty smooth process.”

I heard another sob. “Well, then, why are you asking me?”

“I’m asking you because family heredity plays a big role. I mean, you went through it fairly early, and so will I.”

“Yes, but I went crazy,” she said, and then blew her nose.

“Mom, you didn’t go crazy!”

“Don’t tell me I didn’t go crazy. Do you remember after you were grown, you said you couldn’t eat anyone’s great northern beans but mine? They were always burned, that’s why. You thought they were supposed to taste that way. Remember how shocked you were to find out homemade fudge wasn’t supposed to be eaten with a spoon?” she explained. “I always meant to apologize to you kids for that.”

“Mom, I always liked your beans and your fudge. The important thing is, you’re not crazy now, are you?”

“I’m not sure. Your father says that’s debatable.”

Sweat popped out on my brow. “Okay, Mom, I tell you what, let’s just drop it. Let’s talk about Grandma. Did she do okay going through menopause?”

“Oh Mary, I wish you hadn’t asked that.”

“Why? What happened?” I heard more nose-blowing in the background. I braced myself for the worst.

“Honey, your grandma, God rest her soul, climbed a tree. . . .”

I was glad that I was braced.

“. . . and she took off most of her clothes and . . .”

My head was spinning. “Why did she take her clothes off?” I asked. “Don’t tell me, she was crazy, right?”

“She went crazier than a loon. I think she got to sweating, no air-conditioning in those days, you know. We had the best breezes in those trees on the hill. Of course, later, she didn’t remember doing it. It sure did embarrass your grandpa, though.”

With all the strength I could muster, I said, “I’m sure it did. Well, Mom, I’m going to let you go. You’ve been very helpful. Tell Dad hi for me. I love you both.”

“Love you too, honey. I’m so glad we can talk like this. Hope I helped. Bye-bye.”

Just before hanging up, she told me to call her if there was anything she could do to help. I did ask one favor. “If you ever see me up in a tree, please call 911, and then ignore me.” She was still laughing when we hung up!

A few weeks later, I was talking on the phone to one of our church’s Sunday school teachers about my situation. She suggested I talk to my mother. I laughed until I cried, and then I shared the conversation I had had with her. She laughed until she cried, too.

Mary Jo Fullhart

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