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Are You There, Chef? It's Me, Menopause

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Are you there Chef? It's me menopause.

Girls in middle school were anxious to get their periods. I wasn't. I dreaded the thought that one day I might pull down my Fruit of the Looms and there would be that spot of blood in the crotch that made girls like Judy Blume's Margaret celebrate. Of course there was no stopping the inevitable.

I discovered the blood in my panties like every healthy girl does. I wasn't happy about it. I knew it came with bad moods and spend-the-day-in-bed abdominal pain. My oldest sister didn't walk with us to Parkwood Pool certain days of the month. And then there was the time she flew into a rage and crushed a chocolate cupcake into the bright white walls of the dining room. I wasn't excited about having my period. Riding a sanitary napkin into womanhood was not what I wanted to do. Couldn't I just get by with a driver's license and a checking account?

I've had a long time to deal with my monthly interruption. It's been 36 years and two kids. When I had a nine-to-five job, I could call out if Mother Nature was really bringing me down. "I'm having a really bad period," is a call out that never gets questioned. But my second career meant ignoring Mother Nature with a bottle of Advil even though she screamed for attention on a crazy Saturday night that found me too busy to walk off the line and I gushed over the boundaries of feminine protection into my Doc Martens.

I'm pushing 50 now and Mother Nature is about done with me. It's Father Time's turn and he is determined to make a man out of me. I'm all out of estrogen. Dr. Grey says it was the now-waning estrogen that was keeping my blood pressure down. I've cut down on a chef's favorite things; salt and caffeine. My set-your-watch-to-it regularity is gone. If I do get a gift from Mother Nature, it is always a surprise. And now I've gone from plucking out the grays to hunting down the strays that crop up on my chin.

Being a chef doesn't make my change of life anymore life changing than for any other woman. It's just the hot flashes in the heat of the kitchen that make me wish I had chosen another profession. It took me a few years to get used to 110 degrees by the stove and the perpetual sweating -- the only relief would be a trip to the walk-in cooler to get more cleaned spinach. There were days that were so hot line cooks around me wilted, hanging on to their cutting boards to keep from falling face first into the floor drains. I perfected a very Zen technique when August made the kitchen feel even hotter, I concentrated on finding my cold place; remembering the coldest I'd ever been. I went back to my fifth grade walk to JFK Elementary. There were those nights that cold air from Canada blew over the Long Island Sound dumping not enough snow to cancel school, but leaving a hip high path of white to walk through. Soaked through and cold to the bone, it was the coldest I'd ever been. When I close my eyes and go back to the long walk down Middle Neck Road, my teeth chatter even when the 500 degree oven yawns open.

But the menopause is stronger than my imagination. The heat brings my blood to a boil and my innards are simmered to a medium well. The sweat starts on the back of my neck whether the stove is on or not. It is the same intense heat that I experience in the kitchen. Then it grows. My ears are smoking. I'm walking in the hip-high snow and I'm melting it. The puddles I'm making are boiling under my feet. The worst is realizing -- as the heat is building and I feel like I'm holding a smoldering coal between my breasts -- I can't stop it.

A cook's greatest asset can be her ability to put mind over matter. Before menopause I had days like this; days where it was too hot to work. There were days that I started my shift chopping off the tip of my finger. There have been plenty of days where I would much rather have been in bed. I could always talk myself into it and before I laced up my shoes I was ready to put up the 100 plates of food. Just like my period, menopause was just one more thing about my body I couldn't control.

My female parts are always throwing that curve ball; as they did years ago when I was in the early stages of labor when the contractions were hitting me like a freight train. I had my shoes back on and my jacket pulled over my hospital gown. "Get out of my way," I brushed passed the nurse and my husband, "I'm not doing this." They argued with me for a minute then they just let me go. I made it to the nurses' station when another contraction got me and my knees wobbled. This wasn't up to me. Even if I went home there was no stopping this agony.

Aging gets a hold of us and we lose the optimism of our '20s -- that there is nothing we can't do. I suddenly see all of my limitations like I've hopped on to the freeway and I'm slamming on my brakes confronting a ten-mile back up. I tire more easily -- although I get the job done, I ache a lot more than I used to at the end of the day. I'm counting on that notion that a blind man's hearing gets better kind-of-thing. As I lose my stamina and my ability to stand in that hot kitchen, I'm up in the experiential knowledge category and an old witch's ability to predict an outcome. "I'll be right there," I'll tell the young cook anxious to hear how I get all that air into my hollandaise. "As soon as I get this tray of ice down my back and finish this quart of chocolate sorbet."