It’s 11:09pm and I’m wide awake. I’m usually asleep by an hour ago. In bed in my pj’s by 9pm. This is what 52 is like. Maybe, that’s not true. This is what 52 with an almost-2 year old is like. Our routine is, well, routine. 6:30pm dinner for H. Bubble bathtime. Teeth brushing. A few (or many) stories, always Pooh and the Bees these days. A lullabye, maybe. Then bed for him by 7:30. We eat while watching Rachel Maddow. Then we’re usually in bed by 8:30pm, lying together, watching one episode of whatever we’re binging, lying in each other’s arms, until he starts snoring and then I troll Redfin or Zillow or Poshmark and usually we’re both out by 10pm at the latest. Before we fall asleep, each night we say to each other, “Were we ever THIS happy before?” So, yes, routine, but a beautiful routine. A slower life. A quieter life.
Only a handful of years ago, I’d have just been getting started at 11pm. At some party or someone’s house, music and tipsy and talking shop until our eyes blurred with comparing our own artistic trajectories with that of our peers, complaining, patting ourselves on the back, gossiping, laughing. It was a different kind of fun. Sometimes, only sometimes, I miss it. Especially on mornings when I wake to see on Facebook the record of the party to which I wasn’t invited, ‘Oh, Amy probably wouldn’t be able to come,’ as I suspect they had said to themselves, and they wouldn’t have been wrong. I wouldn’t have come. I’d have been asleep long before the gang gathered.
Tonight, I’m wide awake. Most likely jet jag from being in 3 radically different time zones within a month. Where I woke yesterday is now only 9pm. Where I woke 2 weeks ago is almost 6am. So my body clock is confused. I should drink some Sleepytime tea. That’s what everyone tells me. But it doesn’t work. It just makes me have to pee and already, I’m at that stage of life where I’m waking from deep dreams to pee 2 or 3 times a night. It’s annoying enough without adding to the mix a bland tasting cup of brown water packaged with cute bears.
Welcome to perimenopause. I didn’t have to have a doctor tell me that’s the stage I’m in. A woman knows.
I’m not in menopause yet. I still menstruate each month. Like clockwork. And that hasn’t changed. It’s different. It’s waning. I don’t get cramps like I used to. It’s heavy for one day then it just kind of lingers. But it’s still there. Which, my doctor insists, means I can still get pregnant. I laugh at her and remind her of the small fortune it took to create H because I couldn’t get pregnant on my own. I asked her about my hormone levels and she said I was fine. No perimenopause yet.
But the night before I menstruate, I sweat profusely, waking up in wet PJ’s and shivering while overheated.
And no matter the Zoloft I’m taking for my Post Partum Depression (when do I stop that?), my anger management is not at it’s all time high. I feel like I’ve got skills to contain it, for the most part, so I’m not a complete raging bitch, but things that sort of bothered me before now just completely piss me off. I mostly keep my mouth shut, but don’t get me texting when I perceive injustice out there. And, perimenopausal that I am, there’s a lot of it. And don’t get me started on the party that’s going on without me. Or anyone with an entitlement complex. Or Bernie Sanders’ followers. Or that Weinstein isn’t going away for life. Or mole sauce.
Don’t let me watch anything that involves a child murdered, abused, abandoned. I can’t take it. I am 1 degree away from wanting to go gather up every foster baby out there and turn my nice modest suburban home into a sanctuary for the lost and forotten and hurting.
Yeah. I’m not well.
Also. My belly is soft and I refuse to do sit-ups. I hate them. My son likes to push my belly down, knead it like bread, put his mouth on it and make fart noises. Then he’ll lay his sweet head on my bare belly putting his cheek to my skin and say “Mama”. He long ago stopped nursing but just this week, he pushed my shirt up over my bra and hit my boob, saying “boo” and I thought, what the hell, and, still wearing the nursing bras because they are soft and comfortable and wireless, pulled one side down and he sucked for a minute, getting milk, which is still there. Then he giggled and slapped my soft belly.
My body is changing. It feels heavier. My jeans are tighter. And I’m not eating any worse. I’m just not running as much as I used to, or doing yoga, um, at all. How am I supposed to fit that in while it’s winter? I mean, I’m sure some moms do, but not this one. It’s hard enough waking up at 5:30am and I’ve got to find quiet time without my son around to do yoga? Or the inspiration to bundle up and run in rain or 30 degree weather? Or sit still and silent for 20 minutes without making a list of all the things I should be doing? I’ll wait till I come out of hibernation.
Do I seem stressed? Yeah. I am. It’s been a hell of a 6 months and the roller coaster just keeps going. After my father died, I lost my voice. Like, cold turkey, it was gone gone and I had to cancel a bunch of shows (i.e., income). I got my throat scoped to find out that there were no nodes or tears. The doctor said it was strained because of … wait for it…grief. So she sent me to a Grief Therapist who specifically works with singers who lose their voice (talk about a niche). He was kind and listened and told me, ‘You’re working hard to show that you’ve got it all together when you don’t have to.’ Then, I wept and raged. Which didn’t help my voice situation but felt cathartic. He told me I had to get a meditation practice going. So, I took a meditation class, paid for and got a mantra, and dropped the practice less than 2 months later. I’m supposed to meditate first thing in the morning, but that would mean waking up at 5am, and the few times I have, my feet creak on the floor boards and H wakes up too early. And there’s NO way to get in the late afternoon pre-dinner sit.
And although I’m working again, singing again, warming up, breathing correctly, there’s still a rasp there that maybe only I can hear but my voice doesn’t feel like my voice. My post-menopausal singer friend/mentor told me it was due to perimenopause. I may have to drop the keys to my songs. I may have to let go of the idea of what my voice sounds like and learn to live with what my voice NOW sounds like. It’s been a year of learning to let go. I’m still clinging.
So. My body is softening. My voice is changing. I’m either on the road, not seeing my family except in brief Facetime minutes (seconds rather) when my son is told to “give mama sugar” before he runs off to get a ball or starts to cry, or I’m at home in my sweats by 8pm. Please, I’m not complaining. It’s just a lot to get used to. And my hormones are, well, out of whack. Am I allowed to wear a t shirt that says, “Don’t mind me. I’m not a bitch, I’m just perimenopausal”?
I remember in my 20s and 30s. I was busy. Busy being busy. Busy wanting to be seen being busy. I was living in NYC. First the Upper West Side, 99th and West End, then Morton Street and 7th, my childhood dream of living in the West Village near the poets. 55 Morton Street, a long yellow building on a curved street where Robert Pinsky was a neighbor and a cool restaurant would appear on the corner at odd hours serving only breakfast and lunch. I spent many hours in Anglers & Poets Café or Chumley’s Speakeasy, alone in a corner booth or table, writing nonsense in my journal, trying to make sense of myself and my world. Then I moved to Brooklyn (briefly) and finally, across town to 11th and Avenue A, near Brownies, the rock bar, and Sidewalk Café where I’d eat scrambled eggs and a bagel and would try out my songs at the Monday night open mic. Around the corner from The Lakeside Lounge and the 11th Street Baths and Tompkins Square Park with its homeless camps. I was full of ambition and energy, working 3 jobs, getting Backstage Magazine every Thursday, circling the Non-Equity auditions, cold reading for commercial and theatrical agents, standing in line after line for some non-paying national tour of some musical, which I’d get called-back for but never land the job. I was in and out of relationships. My feet barely touched the earth. I longed for definition, something to call my own, someone to call my own. I was spinning and running and writing about all of it.
At the time and for years afterwards I would have said, nothing was coming of any of it.
But I look back now and see how important all that was for me, the reaching, the running, the failing. I thought anyone over 35 was full of shit. I thought my generation was going to shake things up. We were Gen X. We were cynical and smarter than you. But we didn’t. We just continued to muck it up like everyone else. Truth be told, I feel younger now. Maybe because my feet are on solid ground. I’m softer, not as thin (although I didn’t see that then and was always trying to lose 10 pounds that I can now see in photos didn’t exist). I’ve got bursitis in one hip and a torn tendon in an elbow. I have 2 bridges in my mouth and I’ve lost track of the crowns. My shoulders and neck are always tight and my stomach is always slightly queasy and I can’t figure out which food I should eliminate. I need a colonoscopy, a mammogram, a heart monitor and probably a hair cut. I definitely need a massage.
I am older now than my mother was when I lived in NYC.
I think I need friends with kids. With toddlers. I need mamas who are not 25 with toddlers, who struggle with balancing an already formed life with the chaos that is a 2 year old. I need to find another perimenopausal mother of a toddler. She’d understand the crazy I am.
Making friends at any age over 25 is rough. Making friends when you’re a left-wing touring folk musician living in suburbia amongst younger mothers who seem like members of the Junior League or the Baking Club or the Young Christian Republicans? Well, it’s lonely out here 15 miles north of Bohemia.
This is all to say: my boobs still leak milk and I take things way too personally and I don’t know whether my rage is perimenopausal, post-partum or just me. But I know if I read one more long-winded advice post from someone who’s not lived long enough to stand on solid ground, I may just kick them off their shaky pedestal and congratulate them on falling because you can’t be too sure of anything until you’ve hit 45. Or 50.
I don’t have many friends my own age, but I cherish the few I have. Crones with withering menses and sagging skin, well-past our primes, but really, just finding our wings. We are bitchy. We rage. We get offended. We get hurt. We feel left out. We wish we could be 25 again, just for a hot minute, to tell all the Barbies to go fuck themselves. We are tired. We have arthritis. We wish we had kids. We had kids too late. We are fine that we didn’t have kids. We have dogs and cats and birds. We are eccentric. We speak our minds. We sometimes speak our minds too much. We tell you we love you and we tell you when you’ve pissed us off. We are late bloomers. We peaked too early. We are waiting for love. We failed a few times at love and are afraid of growing old alone. We write our dogs into our wills. We write the people we love too much who didn’t love us back enough into our wills. We don’t have wills. We didn’t save enough money. We are unafraid to be alone. We rather like it, to be honest. We got a second (or third) chance at love. We get pissed if you steal our parking spaces, our good jokes, our songs, our friends, our favorite spot in the yoga class, our PR people. We don’t trust many people and we consider that a good judge of character. We’ll let you borrow our clothes, our cars, our favorite shade of lipstick, money. We’re complicated and complex and we’ve earned it.
Perimenopause. “Peri” = not in it. Around it. About it. Surrouding it. Even enclosing it. Enclosing menopause. The pausing of the menses. Why is it called that anyway, because it’s no pause, it’s a full stop. Done. Close shop. Lock the door. My mother-in-law calls it “the change” and that sounds poetic and like something Eudora Welty would have written. But this stage I’m in is before the change. The wind-up. The previews.
It’s not pleasant. It’s confusing. Only those in it understand it.
And so I’ll sleep soon to the crackling sound of the baby monitor next to my bed, sleeping in the shallows so that any noise will alert me. I’ll wake when it’s still dark, set the coffee to brew, let the dog out, walk into my almost-2 year old’s room, where he’s likely to be sitting up, holding Pooh and saying “bees” over and over until he sees me, breaks into a wide grin and holds his arms to me, saying “Mama.”
But in a few minutes, right before I fall asleep, I’ll hear my husband’s snoring and think, how lucky I am to love this man, to be loved by this man. I’ll hear a small whimper from the monitor and think what a miracle to have my son. I’ll think, Family. I have Family. And the hurt of the day or the rage of the moment or the loss of whatever perceived loss, whether time or friends or being included, all of it will seem like a mirage and I’ll know that I was lucky to be in the center of the party for a long time and now I’m luckier to be in the center of this party of 3, night sweats and hormone flips and all.