I can remember the gynecologist appointments of my youth, the freezing metal intimidation of the stirrups and speculum and the awkward conversations about sex and STDs. I would endure it once a year simply because they held my birth control prescription hostage if I didn't show up. At some point, I stopped calling it "the gyno" and started calling it more mature things like "the OB," or "my annual." I should have recognized this as the first sign I was getting old, but I didn't notice it at the time. Now I go and get blood work to access my hormone levels, and get my boobs smashed to oblivion in the trash compactor otherwise known my mammogram. These days there is only a cursory look down under. Not nearly as meaningful as all the attention you get when you are resplendent with child, or children in my case, since I had twins.
Back in the day, I'm not sure what people made of menopause, except cutting moody middle-aged women a wide swath. Remember the parking lot scene with Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes (Towanda!). Today instead of greeting menopause with reverential space and grace, we greet it like we do aging in general. I know you are inevitable, but I will fight you. I remember my fear at age 30 about becoming a clichéd mom of multiples with a minivan, short hair and overalls. Instead I had an SUV, dirty hair in a ponytail and leggings.
I recently went to my annual. Like my vagina is a flower... annual or perennial? After my junk was deemed salvageable, I was referred to a hormone specialist. She discussed the results of my blood work. Apparently I am a mess. My vitamin D and B12 levels are low. My testosterone is undetectable; my progesterone and thyroid are low. My iron reserves indicate anemia. My cortisol is high and my DHEA is low. Apparently cortisol causes bad sleep and belly bloat -- and here I thought that was the result of having red wine and manchego cheese for dinner? I am not yet menopausal, but clearly my game is on the downward slide.
A profound realization hit me as I paid my bill and procured my pile of prescriptions.
My twin daughters, age 12, are called "tweens." They are between girl and woman, in that space known as adolescence. Well guess what, people? There is another type of tween. The tween no one really talks about. That "no woman's land" between it girl and over it girl. We're not so unlike our younger tween counterparts. We are moody, we are self-conscious, our clothes don't fit the same, our boobs don't look like they used to, we desperately want to feel understood and accepted when we are at times totally impossible to understand and difficult to accept. We alternate without warning between don't leave me and go away. We can get ready to go out and end up in a frustrated heap in the closet, next to a frustrating heap of clothes. We care more about skin care products and makeup. We need more sleep but stay up too late. We find comfort in chocolate and french fries. We obsess over the same tween lit books and line up to see the same hit movies. My daughters steal my Lululemon yoga pants, which make my 42-year-old ass look presentable and theirs positively glorious. One of my daughters wears my same size jeans and shoes. We are all fumbling with our place.
There was a season, between college, young professional and even young mother, when I was moderately "hot." Of course all I saw were flaws at the time, but looking back on photographs I can admit with the perspective of time and the application of generosity that I was quite lovely back then. Jennifer Aniston is about my age, and I think she's still pretty hot, so sometimes I hold onto that. But most of the time I realize that I am now the age I considered old, back when I was young. I lumped women my age into a category called "moms," who were not entirely asexual, but ew gross, like, pretty much.
And so the beauty torch passes.
I used to try on one outfit after another, piling clothes onto my mother's lap while she sat, buried and admiring my cuteness in a crowded dressing room. Now at the mall, I am my mother. My girls fling discarded outfits at me and I patiently hang them on hangars and divide them into piles of yes, no and maybe. I try on nothing, and even if I found something with potential, the lighting in those dressing rooms is so horrendous that I don't even want to see a 360 degree view of myself without pants on. Before you know it I will probably be wearing capris, three-quarter length sleeves and comfortable shoes.
For now, my girls aren't even sure how to categorize me. They tease me unmercifully if my shorts are long, or God-forbid, cargo style. They pick out cutoff jean shorts for me, and tell me I look much better in shorter shorts. (They probably want them for themselves, now that I think about it.) Just as for them kid clothes are too babyish and adult clothes can be too sexy, for me cool clothes can be too young and uncool clothes can be too old. It's not easy being a tween.
And don't even get me started on how awkward it is with a teenage son. When we are all out by the pool or on vacation and he has friends around, do I wear a benign bikini and hope to be considered respectfully decent? Or do I wear a one piece with a skirt or sarong and play it safe like a nice old lady? I don't want to be frumpy mom, or slutty, wanna-be-young, Mrs. Robinson mom. I just want to be me - but who exactly am I right now, anyway?
My daughters tell me what to pack for vacation, and pick out what I wear for work events or when I go out on dates -- they even do my hair and makeup better than I do. They tell me not to cut my long hair, even though it often borders on mermaid between appointments. And even pickier than they are about my attire, they are relentless when it comes to opinions on my dating life. They look at guys that I, or my single friends, date and remark about their belly, their outfit, their shoes, their yellow teeth, or their bald spots. They forbid me from dating "old men". When I point out the glaring fact that these men are close to my age, they roll their eyes and say, "still, mom, no way." There must be someone just right, someone still cute, suspended in formaldehyde between guy and old man?
At some point we are all in that space between.
I want to be healthy, hilarious and comfortable enough in my skin to help my girls be healthy, hilarious and comfortable in theirs. I don't want to have such a tight grip on the beauty torch that representatives of the next generation have to pry it from my disillusioned, desperate, arthritic knuckles. I want to embrace my aging and get over myself, somehow giving in without giving up, so I can move on and pay attention to what is blooming around me The girls I love are growing up. They startle me at times, in person or in a photograph, when I see them with a fresh or unsuspecting eye. When I see them not as my daughters, but simply as young women, I catch my breath at their beauty and their freedom of still being semi unaware. When I see them, laughing and tossing their hair with their friends, I admire them. But it doesn't make me want to be them again. I am happy to enjoy my place and perspective, and the wit and wisdom of my own comrades. When it comes time to officially pass the torch (who knows maybe I will hot-potato the thing?), I hope to do the hand-off gratefully and gracefully. It will be time to settle in and celebrate the next generation of torchbearers, and look forward to the generation after that.
Tween now and then, I will fill my prescriptions and my wine glass and try to relax and enjoy the ride.