After popping out my second and final baby, I sunk into a deep depression. Through tears one afternoon, I tried to explain to my husband what was circulating in my brain. “I’ve hit all the highs,” I moaned, “All that’s left is for me to get old and die. There is nothing left to look forward to.”
I maintained that view, and that depression, for four years. But that all started to change when I listened to, “Did I Say That Outloud? Midlife Indignities and How to Survive Them,” by Kristin van Ogtrop.
van Ogtrop’s book is a compilation of essays on topics most writers stay far away from: aging, menopause, and death. These descriptors alone make it sound like a depressing book. But with her sense of humor, the book is hilarious, and engaging, and reminded me that while we all face aging, it doesn’t have to be depressing.
The problem, I realized, was my perspective.
She writes with a sense of groundedness and with a strong sense of self. Her book is infused with the calm and cozy vibes of self-assurance, and gosh, do I look forward to that phase in my life. She has acquired knowledge throughout all of her years, an acceptance of who she is, and who she is not.
She shares what she has learned about parenting: say less, stand back and watch them grow, and put away the pruning shears. She has refreshing views on friendship: it changes throughout the course of life. You may not always have a best friend with whom you share everything, and the relationships with your mail carrier, and wine delivery service people are equally worthy relationships in our lives.
Like me, she is annoyed by the state of her abdomen and car maintenance. And it became clear– these annoyances are here to stay. I will carry them with me for the rest of my life, but so will every other woman. I may as well quit wasting precious time ruminating on the state of my abdomen, find a shirt that doesn’t highlight my muffin top, and move on.
Along her way to menopause, she has gleaned helpful nuggets and bits and pieces of wisdom.
She knows things that my young brain hasn’t figured out yet. Important things, like, that some things aren’t worth it: carrying a big purse, dunking vegetables in an ice bath, making your child clean their plate, and “wondering if there is something better out there when you are already happy enough.”
I had reduced life down to two moments to look forward to. But really, life is full of average and extraordinary moments from beginning to end. And they won’t stop just because I already lived through what I dubbed the two biggest and most beautiful moments of my life. Maybe it is true that nothing tops the moment when you first gaze at your child after they’ve remained a mysterious shadow in your womb. But maybe, watching who that child becomes will be equally rewarding.
Her book gave me hope that the best days are still ahead.
She writes, “I would not want to be 29 again. There is so much uncertainty in that time of life, so much self-doubt, so many hours spent wondering where your life is going and whether you are proceeding at the right speed as friends woosh by you in the passing lane. And there is so much you don’t know. Some of what you learn between the ages of twenty-nine and fifty-six is wonderful and some of it makes the world feel scrambled and cruel. But knowledge, as they say, is power. Even if there are days you’d like to give that power back.”
Right now, I sit firmly in the wondering-where-my-life-is-going phase. I am still a new-ish parent. I don’t know if I feed my child too many fruit snacks, if I should be pushing her harder in school, or if she will be permanently emotionally scarred because I didn’t put Christmas lights up.
My friendships shift with the transitions in life. I had the toddler mom friends, and then the preschool mom friends, and now I pass my afternoons with the grade school moms as our kids play after school, and we discuss whether a bug bite is infected, or if we should schedule a conference with the teacher, or laugh about the latest weirdest thing our kid did.
I already have a floofy abdomen and saggy boobs. Last night I think I shampooed my hair twice because I couldn’t remember if I already had. I currently have neck pain because I slept in the wrong position. I am far behind when it comes to fashion, and dress in black leggings and a shirt long enough to cover my camel toe.
Time continues marching, but I am not filled with the dread that once occupied my brain. Each day, I get a little wiser, and a little more wrinkled. About her friends, van Ogtrop muses, “We’ve written our own little story. A tragic comedy about average women leading average, extraordinary lives.”
And that is precisely what I’m after: an average and extraordinary life, floofy stomach and all.
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