I have just strolled in the door from my blissfully serene Pilates class, and it sounds as if my 15-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son are rehearsing for some combative new reality show. Oh, God, what now? I think wearily. I drop my gym bag and walk into the family room to investigate.
When I get there the two of them are inches apart and my sweet little daughter is calling her big mean brother a not-very-nice word.
“You are SO F-ing selfish!”
Not to be outdone my verbally nimble son responds: “The two years before you were born were the best years of my life!”
During all this I repeatedly try to get in a word. What is going on? I say. What happened? I say. Calm down! I say.
But apparently they are too immersed in battle to hear. Finally my own bad biochemistry weighs in to the fray. Instead of rising above it all, instead of acting like the mature parent and rational adult, I find myself behaving exactly like my crazy adolescents.
“That’s enough!”I shout. “Separate! Separate!”
Who came up with the brilliant idea of having kids in your late ‘30s? I’d really like to know because at this stage of the game it’s not turning out so swell. There are only so many hormonal changes in one household a multi-tasking woman can take. My daughter bristles at the slightest thing. Her brother is about as delightful to have around as Rahm Emanuel. Then there’s me, with my wildly fluctuating estrogen. One minute I feel as blissful as I did in my 20s during my brief foray as a jazz dancer. The next I feel like I'm channeling Nancy Grace.
Most of the time I just think I’m going nuts. Despite a regimen of exercise and vitamins, cutting down on the sugar, junk food and booze, I’m a mess. I cry at the absolute dumbest things. Last Sunday, during a performance of “The Wizard of Oz” at my daughter’s school, I started choking up when Dorothy began singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I mean, the girl playing Dorothy had a lovely voice, but did it really merit a meltdown? I was appalled. Get a grip! I thought to myself.
I’m not sure what my mother’s experience was during menopause. Because of a brain tumor she was "not right," as they used to say. So it's not something we ever discussed. But there must be a genetic legacy. When I began feeling more moody than I normally do a few years ago, I turned to my wise and sympathetic ob-gyn Violet. The woman who had seen me through two life-threatening C-sections and a cancer scare. With a family history of breast cancer, I was wary of going on hormones. Not long before, the Women’s Health Initiative had released its terrifying study about a link between HRT and breast cancer. But I had already tried everything. I had tried pretending the symptoms didn't exist. I had tried putting ice packs down my shirt. I had tried black cohosh, St. John's Wort, soy, and other alternatives "I'll do whatever you want, hon," said Violet. So I went on the hormone patch.
I wish I could say menopause has been easy for me, as it has been for some of my women friends. A passage to freedom and a better place. But I'd be lying. Besides the mood swings, it appears I have every symptom in the book. My sex drive has gone south. I can’t concentrate for more than two minutes. Then there’s my failing memory. How am I supposed to function if I can’t even remember to slap on my estrogen patch?
Some other examples:
1) Two months ago I took some credit cards and my kids’ Social Security cards out of my wallet when I went on a trip. I still have no idea where I put them.
2) On Valentine’s Day my husband gave me a necklace. So it wouldn’t get stolen, I wrapped the necklace in some tissue paper, put the tissue paper in a bag, then “hid” the bag in a drawer. When I cleaned out my drawers I threw out the bag.
3) After making reservations for our summer vacation, I jotted down the dates in a notebook. When I showed up at the front desk of our cabin after a grueling ten-hour drive, the owner looked puzzled. “I hate to tell you this,” she said, checking the computer, “but you’re two days early.” And she didn’t have any vacancies.
“I can’t believe this,” my husband said. “Didn’t you check the dates?” At which point naturally I burst into tears.
Coping with my own hormonal upheaval has been daunting enough. But dealing with the hormonal swings of two teenagers has tested my sanity and coping skills in ways I never could have anticipated. Desperate for advice, one day I went on a highly regarded medical website. I clicked on the “menopause” section. “There are a few key things you can try that might make a huge difference,” said one article. “Among the most important: Reduce stress in your life.”
That's the best they could do?
I did not plan it this way. Really I didn’t. When I had children I was following a carefully conceived plan, one common to many women in my generation: establish career, become financially secure, and then have kids. At the time I thought I was being incredibly sensible. The last thing on my mind was menopause.
Even at 40 I still didn’t see it coming. Perhaps because my children were two and four then and I was working fulltime and chronically sleep-deprived. What could be more exhausting than this? I’d wonder after a dizzying round of dinner, baths, trips to the potty, drinks of water, stories, and wrestling the kids to bed. And that was before being roused several times in the night by a child who’d had a bad dream or wet the bed.
I know what could be more exhausting. Being in menopause and living with teenagers. I have no hormones, while they have way too many.
With my daughter it’s especially painful, like seeing myself slog through puberty all over again. Thirty-five years, and nothing has changed. “Just look at these,” she said the other night, grabbing her perfectly toned thighs. Like her I was convinced in high school I was hopelessly chubby. No matter that my short legs were fit and muscular. No, I wanted Pam Schrader’s legs: up-to-here and model-thin.
Worse, my daughter and I have the same symptoms. The sudden tears, the utter despair, the hurt feelings, the irrational sense of being wronged in the extreme.
“Why are you yelling at me, mom?” she said to me the other night. She was sitting at the dining room table doing geometry homework, which was probably the thing really bothering her because she loathes geometry. I’d just asked her to pick up her muddy soccer cleats and put them in her room in a completely neutral tone of voice.
“I wasn’t yelling at you, sweetie,” I said as softly as I could.
“Oh, yes you were, mom!”
My son is even more of a head case. Last spring he was madly in love for the first time, and miserable. He and his girlfriend were constantly fighting. At 1 am I’d be jolted awake and hear him sobbing on his cell phone. “You don’t know what you’re doing to me! I can’t take this anymore!”
That goes for two of us, I would think after venturing to his room to tell him to hang up the phone and having him yell, “Don’t come in here!”
He’s the noisiest one in the house. Slamming doors. Running up and down the stairs. Arguing to the death when he’s convinced (wrongly, of course) that he’s right. Then there’s his music. Did I mention that he favors heavy metal and plays in a band? And of all instruments, why did he have to choose the drums?
Sometimes I think it would be better if I lived alone. Or moved somewhere quiet and very far away, say, rural Ireland. My tolerance is about shot. A few years ago I was at my niece’s wedding when a woman casually remarked to me how she couldn’t wait until her adolescent son left home. “I’m so done,” she said airily, tossing her hand. “The laundry, the mess. I’m sick of him coming in at all hours.”
Now, I didn’t know this woman very well, she was a friend of my brother’s, but I remember being shocked. I also remember thinking it was one of the meanest things I’d ever heard. How could she say that? I thought, gazing lovingly across the room at my 11-year-old son.
Now I totally get it.
This is also why Nora Ephron wrote that "When your children are teenagers, it's important to have a dog so that somebody in the house is happy to see you."
But I’m no picnic either. I get that. And I’m trying to be mindful of it, how irrational and moody I can be. The hormone patch has helped. But stuck to my computer are two pink Post-It notes on which I’ve scribbled two bits of advice: Easy does it, and How important is it? They came out of a self-help book someone recommended to me.
Now if only I could remember the name of it.
Credit Image: David Jackmanson on Flickr
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