From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

Blessed Indeed

When you make the finding yourself—even if you’re the last person on earth to see the light— you’ll never forget it.

Carl Sagan

“Get out of the way! I’m having a flash!” Mom hollered as she yanked the freezer door open and fanned herself with a package of pork chops.

Of course, like any other kid, I giggled at this spectacle until my sides ached.

“Just wait, little Miss Smarty Pants,” she snapped. “Someday you’ll realize that hot flashes aren’t very darned funny!”

Crow’s feet, white hair, and thickening eyeglasses were outward signs that Mom was getting older. But the “Big M” (as Dad and I jokingly called menopause) caught everyone off guard. Overnight, my mild-mannered mother turned into an achy, cranky bundle of nerves. Her futile attempts to cool off during frequent meltdowns transformed our cozy home into an igloo.

Usually sharp as a tack, Mom became absentminded after the Big M moved in. She forgot names, dates, and phone numbers, and continually misplaced her car keys only to find them in crazy places like her underwear drawer. She’d wake up with a jolt at 3:30 AM remembering she’d left laundry hanging on the clothesline, or she’d realize, as Dad and I were spitting peas into our napkins, that she seasoned them with sugar instead of salt.

No doubt about it, the Big M was scary business.

Like most teenage girls, I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about the pitfalls of becoming elderly. I lived in the moment, certain that youth, beauty, and a fresh, uncluttered mind would last forever. And for a number of years I was blissfully unbothered by the fact that my biological clock was ticking away. Then, without warning, the young woman in the mirror was kidnapped by a thief in the night who replaced the smooth-skinned, unlined image in the glass with a face that would never again be mistaken for twenty-one.

It was all downhill from there.

The outward signs of advancing age began hitting me so fast that it was difficult to keep up with them all. One day my eye doctor informed me that I needed bifocals just hours after I discovered a large colony of white hairs that had suddenly invaded my scalp like one of the seven plagues of Egypt.

And a few weeks later on the morning of my fortieth birthday, I ordered a cup of coffee at McDonald’s and the little whippersnapper behind the counter charged me the senior citizen price. I was stunned for a moment, not sure if I should get upset or pretend it never happened.

It wasn’t long before Mother Nature delivered her next punch. I woke up from a sound sleep, threw back the covers, and stood gasping in front of a fan as sweat drizzled down my chest and back. Even in my groggy state of mind, I knew I wasn’t simply overheated. The Big M had arrived. And with every hot flash, I lost a little piece of my mind. Just like Mom, I forgot people’s names that I’d known for years, blanked when reciting phone numbers, and misplaced nearly everything I owned.

One morning in particular, I raced around the house like a maniac, upending cushions and dumping out the contents of my purse trying to find my missing sunglasses. A few minutes later, my daughter Julie found them in the freezer, lenses frosted over, alongside a church bulletin that I’d used to fan myself during my previous night’s power surge.

As I watched my insolent offspring dissolve into a puddle of laughter, I grimly recalled doing the same thing to my own mother twenty-five years earlier, proof positive that what goes around eventually does come back to bite us.

It was time to get practical and make peace with my body. So I picked up the phone and called Mom, the one person who always knew what to do when my head wasn’t screwed on straight.

When we sat down to talk face-to-face, I was half expecting an “I-told-you-so” speech as comeuppance for the bratty way I’d razzed her as she suffered through the change. Heaven knows I deserved it. But instead, she was the essence of comfort and understanding. Then, the strangest thing happened. It was as though a veil suddenly lifted from my eyes, allowing me to observe my own mother for the very first time.

I was startled by her beauty. Her calico eyes with their cool blues, warm browns, and flecks of amber twinkled with humor. Her wavy ash-blonde hair was as thick and full as the day she married my father nearly fifty years earlier. Her elegant poise, confident laugh, and sweet, sparkling smile offered further evidence that Mom was not only one heck of an amazing woman, but her generation’s poster child for graceful maturity. And to think I am a part of her gene pool!

I’ve heard it said that our greatest fear is of the unknown. I was so busy moaning and groaning about the onset of middle age that I never bothered to look at the possibilities. The Big M, with its hot flashes and dwindling hormones, was part of a refining process, preparing me for the chance to emerge from the fire as a more vibrant lady, like my lovely mother.

Many people who see us together remark about how much we’re alike. If that’s true, I am one very blessed daughter indeed.

Michelle Close Mills

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