From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

License to Complain

Trust yourself; you know more than you think you do.

Dr. Benjamin Spock

I was having an emotional meltdown and pity party. Wasn’t it bad enough just to grow older, besides having to deal with menopause and its symptoms every day? I wanted to know why I had to grow facial hair and inflate each month like a helium balloon.

But menopause was small compared with the real source of my uncertainty. Sitting in a Best Western Inn in Mississippi 24/7 for six weeks was adding to my anxiety and misery. My husband’s company had merged once again, and if he wanted to keep his position on the sales force, we had to move from our beautiful new Kentucky dream home. I was stunned. We had only lived there six months, and I wasn’t finished doing the window treatments yet. I loved our home and being a part of the local Welcome Wagon with other wives. I felt so much a part of our community.

The only positive thing about the move was that only three of our five children would have to experience this upheaval (my husband’s two oldest children were married). My seventeen-year-old son Chris had been on the varsity basketball team and dreamed of going to state his senior year with the team. Jason, my husband’s fifteen-year-old son, had to leave behind a girlfriend who did so much to boost his self-confidence. And Anne, my fourteen-year-old daughter, was happy at school; as a freshman, she was ingrained with a group of girls who shared the scoop on every neat guy and liked the same music, often going to concerts together when big-named stars came to Louisville.

Having always been enrolled in public school up to this point, our three teenagers were now going to attend Pillow Academy, a small private school established in 1962 during the desegregation conflict. I thought I was well aware of the losses my teenagers were feeling, and I worried about their acceptance at Pillow Academy. All the students had their own cars to drive to school; school buses were simply not practical since the students came from such a large area that represented more than one school district. I only had to look at the school parking lot full of BMWs, Volvos, and new trucks to know that the student body was far from poor. My three teenagers were appalled to have me drive them to school each day like the mothers of grade school children do. Since we were living in the Best Western and not on a cotton plantation, I thought the least I could do was let my son take the car and give the kids some dignity. Even at that, they were somewhat embarrassed. They nicknamed my big four-door Mercury the “Land Barge.”

It wasn’t long until I started meeting other mothers at school events. Wow! They all looked like retired Miss America contestants. They were slim and some were active in tennis, going to tournaments often over the weekends in other states. They played bridge and had “help” to do the housework, yard work, and ironing. Since I did not play tennis or bridge, my opportunity to socialize in their groups was limited.

While my husband was busy traveling the state, calling on cotton farmers to sell an insecticide that would kill boll weevils, I was looking at houses with a local realtor. We wanted to find a four-bedroom house to rent, where each of the kids could have their own room like they had enjoyed in Kentucky. Discouraged after a day of looking at homes that were dismal and dumpy, I plopped onto the hotel room bed, staring into space.

Soon, the kids came home from school; Jason and Anne immediately donned their swimming suits and headed to the hotel’s heated indoor pool. Chris stayed with me. He was only four years old when his father and I divorced. Even as a little boy, he was aware of the void in my life and felt responsible to fill it. Chris would always ask me, “Momma, are you happy? Are you sad?” Then he would do somersaults to make me laugh or give me reassuring hugs and kisses that everything would be okay.

Doing what was natural to him, Chris asked me his two standard questions that afternoon. I don’t know why I couldn’t be honest with him and just say that I was having a real hard time fitting in here. My kids liked Pillow Academy and their new friends. Their dad was enjoying talking with the plantation owners and seeing the country. I, on the other hand, was stuck in a hotel room, feeling fat, unathletic, and unattractive. That would have been too simple to just tell Chris, I guess. But I was raging inside with frustration, aided by my menopause. The next thing I knew, these horrible words were spewing out of my mouth: “Chris, if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I hope you come back to the next life as a woman so you can know what it feels like to have cramps, a bloated stomach, and painful breasts. I am not having a good day!”

He looked at me with sad eyes and said in a voice that was kind but searing, “Well, Mom, if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I hope that you come back to the next life as a child of divorced parents so you will know what it is like to have every Christmas, birthday, and Thanksgiving feel like one parent you love is missing, no matter which parent you’re with. You will get to know what it is like to wonder what the other parent is doing and if they are happy or sad without you.”

He turned and left the room. I was horrified to think that I had blasted him in a menopausal moment. Why did I think that menopause gave me a license to complain? Why had I spoken so bluntly? I felt I deserved his retort, and I never mentioned it to him again. I did learn that those suffering in silence may have daily pain or agony that they endure, but not every ache and pain needs to be shared with family and friends.

Today my son is a wonderful, loving husband and father. He still calls me from Chicago to see how I am doing, always asking, “Momma, are you happy? Are you sad?” I make sure my answers aren’t chronic complaints, only answers of love and acceptance.

Linda H. Puckett

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