We’re back with our first Bonfire post of the year – and it’s one that I know you will enjoy – especially if you have a daughter. Cynthia from Growing My Girls talks about how her daughter is entering womanhood at the same time she is entering menopause. The convergence of these two major life milestones brings with it mixed emotions – and Cynthia seems to be handling much of it beautifully.
This year, my oldest daughter and I find ourselves in an interesting place. As I hit menopause, she will start her periods. Any day now, the doctor tells us. Friends roll their eyes at the hormonal turmoil that looms, but there it is. Our task: make it wonderful.
To get to wonderful, however, I can see I’m going to have to make a bunch of attitude adjustments. I’ve been defining myself as a mom who wipes noses and picks up toys for over a decade now, but now, obviously, my baby is no longer a baby.
She hasn’t been for a while, yet her new reality packs a whole new punch. She is quietly being walloped by the changes her body is putting her through, and when I forget, she will bluntly remind me. Which in turn, sharply brings home the reality of what my body is putting me through.
Much of it is not thrilling. I’m stiff in the mornings. I ache longer. Doctors are suggesting horrible diet changes and more exercise. I understand now why people get facelifts. Thank god for the positive-spin menopause books, which I am devouring. They point out the relatively pro-aging atmosphere we live in that our mothers and grandmothers did not enjoy. They list the many benefits that lie ahead as I move away from my hormonally-fueled existence. They promise new strength, new insights, and a new peace.
But since I’m standing here at the threshold, just like my girl, I’m not totally ready to step into the future. No matter how much I try to think that both of us are facing opening doors, it really feels like a door is slamming shut for me. One candid photo profile of my sagging chin says it all. My vanity has been dealt a deadly blow. That and grief for whatever beauty and vitality that I had and didn’t pay enough attention to at the time. I can’t help but think of myself as fading as compared to my daughter’s blooming.
And she is blooming magnificently. This summer, she shyly tried out bikinis. Her face is sharpening from a girl’s to a woman’s. Her skin is taut; she veers between tight clothes and baggy t-shirts; her teeth are cluttered with braces – she is stunning, even though she doesn’t think so.
And for me, there’s no getting around the fact “the change” is taking me to a place that was hard for my mom, and that the world is still smacking down. Doctors “helped” my mother and her friends through menopause with hysterectomies and Valium. My mom struggled for long, bruising years after my brother and I left home trying to find a sense of purpose. I look at her and see a life stage no woman would look forward to.
Yet my mother eventually did find her place, an interesting, idiosyncratic life filled with volunteerism, exploration and passion for pottery. When I stop glowering in the mirror, I can slowly remember women I’ve known who settled happily, and often eccentrically, into this stage of life. They didn’t care. To hell with what women are supposed to do; they burned with their own fiery joy in life and did it for themselves.
I want that too. I want to take this interesting convergence in our lives and shake it into something profound and beautiful. Mother to daughter, woman to woman; both of us giving birth to new selves.
My girl will to do what she’s already doing – grow into herself. And I have a choice. I could envy her her youth. And over the coming years I probably will, because I’m getting to witness her having something that I wasn’t properly attentive to in myself. But it seems the only path through that looming bitterness is one of connection. She is not my rival. She is not getting something I’ve been denied. I used my childbearing years to nurture her, so that she can eventually nurture herself and others.
And she’s not there yet. I still have years of mothering ahead of me. My job: help her know how cool it is to be female. Have fun with her as she adjusts to her new strong and creative body. And be there, when it is time, when she gives birth to her dreams.
And for me, I’m slowly wanting to reenter the world that I left when I curled up into the childbearing cocoon. It’s time to go back. And while I’m at it, I’d like to become a better hiker, an ace at yoga, a less grouchy camper and a more joyful dancer. Sparkly, eccentric, and more in tune with myself – little by little, it’s sounding better and better.
Cynthia Marshall Shore is a 53-year-old writer and happy mother of two. A former columnist and Mothering.com web editor, her work has also appeared in the New York Times and other magazines. She blogs about parenting at growingmygirls.com.