From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

Momentarily Mature

Cherish all your happy moments; they make a fine pin cushion for old age.

Booth Tarkington

My skin and various other body parts tell a different story, but at heart, I never aged beyond eighteen years old. In my fifties, I still liked to be silly, wonder, change my image daily, cop an attitude, laugh out loud, make faces, make fun, and drive fast.

Then menopause crept up on me like a big shadowy cat, toying with me, and swiping at me with hot flashes and mood swings without ever showing itself. The shadow-cat curled around me, creating a fog of sadness. At first, I attributed my sadness to the fact that my late-in-life child had found his independence in a driver’s license and car of his own. But then things got worse.

Somewhere along my way, I had lost my sense of humor. Getting the wrong angle with my home barista machine and spraying steamed milk all over the ceiling and cabinets made me think of how hard it was going to be to clean it up, not of how funny it would be to see if I could do it again. My Labrador’s romp through the mud puddles and spray caused by a broken soak hose caused concern about his dirty paw prints, instead of making me want to join him or even just laugh at him.

For once, I didn’t try to excuse joint pain as a result of wrestling with the dog or assume it was that old skiing injury. The bad photos of me were no longer just a glitch in the digital formatting of the camera or that dratted wide-angle lens. Only barely making out the headlines in the newspaper wasn’t because of the ink blurring in the printing process, a mystically common occurrence it had seemed.

I should have known something long term and serious was happening when Halloween, my favorite holiday, came to our house with no candles in pottery pumpkins and no fake spider webs appearing on the front porch. Normally reveling in the excuse for many forms of chocolate on hand, the cooler weather, the fun of costumes and pretend person as without the burden of expected gifts, I almost forgot it was October 31. The woman who had scared, or at least impressed, trick-or-treaters with a witch hat and a green Avon-Cucumber-Facial complexion was watching television with the porch light out.

The worst thing was that I didn’t even realize what was happening. We all have down times, so I just bumbled through day after day not realizing that I was chemically saddened by my own traitor hormones. Estrogen had turned to terrorism and didn’t send a videotape claiming responsibility.

Because I complained of constant headaches, my friend took me to my doctor. My doctor never said the word “menopause,” probably thinking I’d have to be a real simpleton not to know what all these symptoms were about. He did, however, say the word “depression” and gave me a temporary low dose of antidepressants.

It didn’t take long. December brought a magical snowstorm to our hillside home. My high-school-senior son noticed it starting about 10:00 PM with intricate, feathery flakes and suggested we take our four-wheel drive to the top of the hill to check it out up there. The first symptom that I was becoming myself again was my running out the door without a coat, right behind him, slipping and giggling and not even thinking about how really stupid it was to embark on such a trip.

It was magical. Snowflake fog surrounded us as he slowly drove the winding climb. Trees were shadowy skeletons floating in smoky white flakes, the road almost covered and completely trackless. The snow was sticking! Oh, joy! The car even slid a little at the steeper curves. We stopped at the top where the forest service had gated off the rest of the road as it turned to gravel. There the forest was white, silent, and dizzying as we looked straight up through the open sunroof.

I felt eighteen again (and my son really was eighteen) so there was no grown-up around to remind us that we needed to head back down the hill before conditions became more dire. Steep downhill grades, slick curvy roads, and gravity can challenge even a four-wheel drive with studded snow tires.

We turned at the forest service gate and started back home, still happily oblivious to the potential peril. The road was less steep at the top so the realization that the snow had accumulated significantly only made the adventure better. We could barely see the tracks we’d made coming up. The tires on the snow made that crunchy squeak, not even touching roadbed.

My “way cool” was followed by an “uh-oh” as my son lightly braked at the first real hill, only to realize it wouldn’t do much good. Deftly, he slipped the car, already in four-wheel drive, into the lowest gear. Creeping around the curves, he gently countered little skids, hands firm on the top of the steering wheel, eyes squinting close to the windshield. We could see little except snow in the air and snow packed on the road, but knew the barely visible trees marked the edge of a couple of pretty steep banks.

“Uh-oh,” I repeated, but he was still smiling, calm and confident, so I slowly let out the breath I’d been holding.

Not only did we survive our foolishness without having to call a tow truck, but I learned I could feel joy again. And at the same time,my youngest made it clear he had become a competent, if not particularly cautious, almost-adult.

I survived “the change.” We survived the adventure. Life is good again. Maybe better.

Sallie Brown

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