One of my Sunday rituals is the weekly phone call to my mother, 7,000 miles away. If I don’t call at the “usual” time, her tentative voice, still uncomfortable with answering devices, will imprint itself on the tape “Claudia, it’s mom.” Long pause “Call me”. Last Sunday we were chitchatting or, rather, I was bullying her into making firm plans to come over here, when she mumbled something totally unrelated about me being 46. I had to remind her that no, I was in fact 47 and turning 48 this year.
“Holy crap, you are nearly 50!” she screamed into the phone, genuinely shocked. Whether shocked at her having a truly middle-aged daughter or at me for being grown so old I did not enquire. I was slightly offended my mother was upset. How should I feel??
I have been trying to reason with myself as to why I am so dismayed at the thought of turning 50. My 30th birthday was celebrated in an amusement park in Milan, a Polaroid testifying to that evening surrounded by merry friends. I was happy. My 40th took place in New York, with my wonderful friend Silvia – I was actually excited and looking forward to my 40s. Now I am petrified and I cannot find that many reasons to rejoice. Why? I made peace with the wrinkles, with the idea that my tiny breasts will one day sag, with my skin not looking as toned as it once did and with walking into a room without anyone noticing. If it all becomes too much, my next door neighbour is a noted plastic surgeon…
There are a few aspects of getting older that I am actually enjoying – I really really don’t care what people think most of the time, I am comfortable blurting out my truths even if they can sometimes be inconvenient, I love mentoring young women starting out in their professions from the pedestal of my mistakes, I look forward to yet another, unformed career that will benefit from my wisdom and the road already travelled. I even look forward to not working and possibly having enough money to traipse around the world or else to sit at home amongst stacks of books. What I am having a hard time reconciling with, I finally decided, is menopause. Such an ugly word – from the latin menopausis where “meno” is less and “pausis” is from the Greek “stop”. There it is, in all its etymological glory: to be a lesser woman, to stop being one, at least, symbolically. No longer fertile.
For someone who never wanted children and spent incalculable amounts of money on various forms of birth control, this should come as a relief. But despite never pining for motherhood, I always welcome that red rivulet as punctual as the phases of the moon to remind me that all is well, that things are the way they are meant to be.
I was sharing my thoughts with my mother’s cousin Lucilla a few days ago – she is in her early sixties and as feisty and volcanic as ever. “Ah my dear, menopause is women’s true liberation!” she shouts down the phone. “Don’t believe any of that crap about your skin getting dull and hot flashes dogging you for years. I have never felt better!” I am thankful for all the women in my world, for their collective wisdom and their willingness to share it. Somehow I can’t imagine men calling each other to discuss changes in their sexual organs.
I still don’t buy menopause being a woman’s best friend but hopefully I still have a few fertile years ahead to acquaint myself with the idea. For now, I will start plotting strategies on how to get rid of that stubborn chin hair that I am told comes with the hormonal changes. Or should I start working on how not to give a damn?