by Ann Hite
So, I’m old. I’m soon to be forty-seven. I know. I know. I’m not old. Life is just starting. I have wisdom. When my grandmother turnedfifty, she began wearing her hair short; instead of her shoulder-length cut. Her clothes turned from trendy pedal pushers to conservative knit slacks. She became the stereotype grandmother. In today’s world a woman my age might choose to give birth to her first child, and the truth is I have a five-year-old. I pride myself on dressing neither trendy nor conservative, wearing my hair the length that suits me. I’m a baby boomer. We never grow old.
The classic age milestones didn’t affect me. At the age of thirty, I celebrated my newfound maturity; no longer was I the youngest in the crowd. At forty, I married the man of my dreams. But, suddenly, the majority of professionals I deal with each day—teachers, principals, doctors, the customer service person at the water company—are younger than me. I found myself discussing my daughter’s maturity level with a twenty-five year old teacher, who has never been married and raises pugs instead of children. I argued the finer points of picking one’s battles, but I could see in her youthful eyes that she chose to fight all her battles, addressing problems head on. At this place in my life, I’m ready to halt my mantra of age doesn’t matter. I am entering the zone of perimenopause; the prefix peri means ‘that which
surrounds’. Sound cozy, huh?
My grandmother called this period of her life ‘the change’ in whispers behind her hand with an ominous tone. I was six when I heard these two words and began to watch for signs of disease, a large growth on her back, foaming at the mouth, or a third eyeball on her face. To my relief, she looked the same day in and day out, even if she did threaten to kill me for no good reason.
In the past months, I wake in the middle of the night as if I’ve been booted from my bed. I lay with my eyes shut, relaxing, coaxing sleep my way. Of course, by the time I’m sleepy again, it’s time to say goodbye to my family and go to work. Perimenopause doesn’t care for deadlines and schedules. Now, I understand why my grandmother was awake on the nights I woke with bad dreams. She always welcomed my interruptions of her TV watching and talked to me until I drifted off
When my grandmother looked in her full-length mirror, what did she see? My mirror reflects my grandmother’s shape, the widening hips, thickening shoulders. I try to count the fine wrinkles appearing daily around my eyes and mouth. The stray hairs sprouting like weeds in a flower garden from a mole on my chin makes me sob. How did this happen? My body betrayed me when I looked away.
Last week I broke down and cried because I burned two grill cheese sandwiches, one right after another. I became angry and sarcastic when the librarian—she was younger than me—at the local library explained I would have to go on a three-week waiting list for a new novel. I find I question my very existence here on this earth. I
wonder if my grandmother had these thoughts. Did she worry over her contributions to society? Did she find time to fulfill her dreams? Was she happy with the reflection in her mirror?
Grandmother kept her composure even in the worst of times. I recall her breaking into sweats, her hair wet, her cheeks rosy. When this would happen, she excused herself and retreated behind a locked door. In my recent research, I found that more than two-thirds of women in perimenopause experience hot flashes of different degrees. After reading the description of this famous symptom, I kneeled beside my bed and ask that somehow I would be spared this affliction brought on by a ‘natural’ process. I reminded my grandmother—passed on for many years—that she could put in a good word for me with the big guy. So far so good. But, it’s only a matter of time. Chances are I will experience flashes too.
A good friend suggested I begin yoga classes to help funnel my stress. Somehow, I must learn to nurture myself. Eat the right foods. Take long leisurely baths. Enjoy good conversations with friends. While this sounds enticing, I don’t know how realistic these
expectations will prove. I am in a high-pressured job by day—it pays the bills—and I am freelance writer/mom/wife by night. What do I give up? My writing? Nope. Time with my daughter? No way. My husband? I don’t think so.
And so, I’m told this is a natural process, which should be embraced as a thread of the journey a woman takes to become complete. What happens when I come to the end of the journey? Do I just die? This can’t be so! I see the image of my grandmother working in her flower garden at the age of seventy-nine. She never came to the end of the journey. Instead, she moved in and out of experiences, becoming a seasoned traveler.
I want to be a season traveler too, but Grandmother, I will do it different. I will scream my frustrations when I’ve had too much, instead of locking the door. I will wear crazy colors and outrageous clothes if the whim hits me. I will write in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. I will tend my garden at the age of seventy-nine, smiling, and plan for the next season.
ANN: My short story, Gabriel’s Horn, appeared in the January issue of The Dead Mule, a small southern literary magazine in business since 1995; Appaloosa Wind appeared on December 24, 2003 as the featured story in The Fiction Warehouse, a small literary magazine out of California; Shelter Belt appeared in the March/April issue of Skyline Magazine, an up and coming literary magazine—it’s an actual glossy that makes money—out of New York; Borrowed Time appeared in the March issue of Poor MoJo Almanac, a small literary magazine out of California. Mister Snake Gets Religion will appear in the late spring issue of Cold Glass. I studied creative writing under Jane Hill, author and former Senior Editor of Longstreet Press and Atlanta author, Emily Ellison. My writing has appeared in case history form with BP Oil, where I am a technical writer.