INDIAN SUMMER

INDIAN SUMMER

From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

Indian Summer

In the spring of my young life, I wouldn’t have dreamed of having to worry about something called a monthly curse or recurring tummy aches that could send me straight to bed. I wouldn’t have dreamed of having to worry if I wore white pants, except that I might get grass stains on my knees. I wouldn’t ever have turned down a chance to go swimming, and I wouldn’t have carried a bunch of “supplies” in my purse, just in case. It was good to be a child free of such worries.

I remember as an adolescent thinking the classroom I was sitting in had turned into a glowing furnace. I could feel my face turning red, from the heat in my body rather than from the shyness that had previously brightened my cheeks. After class, I recall standing in front of the mirror in the girls’ restroom, raising my arms to adjust my ponytail. I felt embarrassed and confused by unfamiliar wet stains under both arms of my lavender cotton blouse.

Thirty-eight years later, knocking on the door marked “menopause,” I wondered why that same furnace, the one that had etched itself on my memory in adolescence, had fired up again. Instead of the underarms of my lavender blouse being soaked, my whole body was drenched. They say guys sweat and girls glow. My glow was a power surge.

I learned to compensate for these frequent surges by wearing lighter blouses, by never wearing sweaters, by kicking the covers off at night, and by pretending I was vacationing in a lovely, but humid, tropical paradise. My husband compensated by scooting away when the tropical paradise created by my body heat threatened his good night’s sleep.

When my mother went through menopause, there was a stereotype of midlife. Older women were painted as unattractive and asexual. We boomers grew up in a time of plenty, a time of bigger, better, and more, and we universally adopted a belief that we could have it all. We think it’s our right to stay young forever, while at the same time saying we accept ourselves as we are. These notions are fed by today’s television shows, movies, and magazines, which depict the menopausal woman as youthful, sexy, vibrant, and active.

We’ve dyed, tucked, stretched, and firmed our way into hanging onto our youth. We wonder in amazement how our children got to be as old as we are. A baby-boomer friend recently pondered, “If my son is thirty-five, how old am I? I don’t think of myself as being a day over thirty!”

I attend a water aerobics class filled with nearly forty women ranging in age from fifty to eighty-something. Many have traveled the world, studied, and earned degrees that they didn’t have time for when they were raising children. Most have added plump curves to their bodies since adolescence, cozy nests that little grandchildren and great-grandchildren love to snuggle into on a regular basis. These girls accept their mature curves, but stretch and tone to keep their joints mobile, their hearts and lungs healthy, and their bones strong. They have a zest for life. In that swimming pool, I hear more talk about sex or good-looking lifeguards than I do about menopause and more talk about trips, classes, and projects than about aches and pains. Some show up steadied by canes or supported by walkers, but when they get into the water, their spirits aren’t a day over sixteen.

One thing has changed since adolescence. As a teenager, I knew everything, absolutely everything. Menopause has left me smarter than I felt just a few years ago. Fluctuating hormones used to wreak havoc not only with my moods, but also with my ability to think clearly. The fog has lifted. I feel pretty smart again, but still not as smart as I felt as a teenager, when I knew more than anyone over thirty.

Another thing has changed. When I was an adolescent, the boys I noticed in my class were what we now call “stud-muffins.” Today, a lot of those same boys with their potbellies and balding heads resemble muffins that have expanded over the tops of their baking tins. Those very characteristics now make them cute grandpas, laughing boyishly and enjoying life with their friends, adult children, and grandkids.

As a baby boomer, I was blessed with hormone-replacement therapy, just what I believed I deserved to stay young and protected from aging. Then someone pulled the rug out from under me and took away my estrogen, leaving me wondering how I could stay young while dealing with a drop in hormone production. But, like puberty, menopause is a natural process, and I found ways to get through it.

As summer becomes fall, I pause to bask in the warm colors of the Indian summer of my life. I enjoy who I am today, and I look forward to knowing the person I will become in my winter days. Today, I play with my grand-kids while the crunchy leaves drop from our big oak tree and I get grass stains on the knees of my white jeans.

Pat Nelson

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