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My (sag)rifice

After reading on Facebook (where else!) that my 21-year-old son was planning to be “grumpy” for the next 40 days by giving up fast food and caffeine for Lent, or more likely using Lent as an excuse to do something healthy, I decided that I, too, would be grumpy.

Certainly not by crossing caffeine off my list, but rather by giving up the one thing that has kept me relatively sane these past few years: my hormone replacement therapy. My son Nick had motivated me to complete my first marathon last year, and as it was an experience I’ll never forget. I figured it was time to do something memorable again. Plus, I was not about to be outdone by this young whippersnapper; after all, I was the one raised as a Catholic, not he. It was my job to suffer more.

We women know how to suffer, but the summer of my 50th year was particularly traumatic, and I’ve done things in my life. I graduated from West Point. I’ve jumped from airplanes. I’ve birthed monster spawn the “natural” way. I got my navel pierced when I turned 41 and my first tattoo at 51, and finally just had the nerve to show my mother. Shouldn’t have. I’ve taught in the public school system for five years. I’ve been with the same man for 29 years. But the warrantee on my “parts” had expired quite surreptitiously, and like truculent students in the springtime, they all wanted to be out. It was as if Mother Nature — that bitch! — was jealous of my accomplishments and good health, and felt the need to remind me that women’s “sufferage” was meant to be a lifelong gift. Pretty much everything south of my bejeweled belly began behaving badly.

“But teacher, you told us that words starting with ‘pro’ are good things, like professional and pro-literacy?” Well, kids, every rule deserves its day in court, and every “prolapse” deserves the death sentence. Now look up the word “kegel.” Ready? Begin, and don’t ever stop. And don’t even think twice about letting the nice doctors remove your 9 pound 7 ounce baby in a way requiring knives and drugs. There’s a reason both my darling cherubs ended up as natural climbers; I believe they clung to every possible organ during their descent into this world. Thus, years later, after being a brave young woman and doing things the way they “should” be done, I nevertheless went under the knife, drugged, and joined the ranks of those already sweating out their “change of life.”

Change of life? Let’s just call it what it truly is: a horrifying metamorphosis from butterfly back into shriveled cocoon. But perhaps I exaggerate; after all, how wonderful is it to be rid of “the curse,” which is really just years of routine practice for menopause with the added inconvenience of all the yuckiness? It’s pretty wonderful, and although I still get that “Awww!” feeling whenever I see a cute baby or a puppy, I’m quite happy with my current inability to produce either. Hooray for change?

My 83-year-old mom doesn’t remember having a hard time with menopause. Of course, she doesn’t remember giving birth to five girls, either, because doing things naturally wasn’t “in” back then. My understanding is that while the gents were smoking stogies in the waiting room, the moms were offered red wine and spinal taps, and when they awoke, were handed their neat little bundles. “No hot flashes?” I ask Mom. “Well, nothing bad, but my poor sister still gets them.”

WHAT? Hold the phone! I rush to WebMD, search “menopause,” and read, “Some women have hot flashes for a very short time during menopause. Other women may have hot flashes — at least to some degree — for life.” Sweet! Possible lifetime membership in the Hot Flash Club! While my hubby is cocooned under the covers in our 55-degree bedroom, I’m down to one sheet waiting for my internal organs to spontaneously combust. Suggestions for preventing hot flashes include avoiding everything you enjoy, and taking nonprescription vitamins or prescription antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, other hormones, soy products, black cohosh, flaxseed, evening primrose oil, and the list goes on. “Although there is no scientific evidence to support this… [and] side effects include nausea and diarrhea.” Well, harrumph.

We Americans love our drugs, and so it was easy to say, “Hook me up, Doc” after months of post-surgical menopausal madness. But after a couple years of taking my daily dose, the guilt I felt about being “on drugs” ultimately overpowered my rationalized need for comfort. My recent decision to embrace the changes of my metamorphosis as a way of cherishing the experience of womanhood (almost sounds like I mean it, right?) has freed me to re-evaluate how I will handle my remaining years.

I’m 53 now, and I like telling people that I’m not even middle age yet because I plan to be dancing on a bar, around a bar, behind bars (it won’t matter) for my 110th birthday. I’ve already decided that by the time I’m 70ish I’ll have saved enough for my “six-pack-lift trifecta,” cheek lifts (and I’m talking both sets here) and the inevitable “thanks for the mammaries” lift.  What I failed to get from my progenitors in the way of “booty pop,” I more than made up for in my frontal region. Since I’ve already had my first reduction of the axe-handle-wide endowment I received from my mother’s mother (it just had to be done), I figure “the girls” will have gravity thwarted for at least a decade or two more. The cheeks, however, both fore and aft, will require attention.

When your cheek bags (and I’m talking about the face here) are floppy enough to flip around your neck as a fashionable scarf, it’s time for the scalpel, and although I’m not there yet, I see my future in my mother’s face. I thought it was awesome to finally have a mature, “chiseled” profile with pronounced cheekbones, now that the baby fat is gone, until I realized that my youthful filling was now starting to hang, Deputy Dog style, below my chin. Perhaps in 15 years there will be a drive-through for this fix.

As for the droopy ass issue, I may have found a solution already in the eyes of a Brazilian dreamboat! Yes, Leandro! I want to lift my butt for just three easy payments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling! I may have been booty butt challenged for the first 53 years of my life, but with the Brazilian butt lift workout, I believe I can finally sculpt the supermodel butt of my dreams! Well, at least I can still dream. Although…

Perhaps it’s because I’m awake for so many hours that I think I might also be losing weight with all these hormonal changes. I’m hoping it’s not just bone loss setting in already; I’ve had a sinking feeling over the past several years that I’m shorter than I used to be, but when asked how tall I am, I’ll stick with “five-five-and-a-full-half,” thank you very much. I think I’m getting soft, too. But “women should be soft and round,” says my bag-of-bones mother, her decorative-scarf-cheeks swaying gently with emphasis.

It’s not just the softness, however, that disturbs me. Along with the chicken skin neck meat and the cable-top hands is the saggy leg syndrome. I remember resting my feet on a table several years ago and looking over at what was hanging from my shin bones. It was frightening. It used to be my tights that were baggy around the knees. Now, my knees are baggy without tights, and the hair which is thinning on my baggy knees now grows — willy-nilly — in ridiculous places.

As a child I was horrified by the fact that Grandma needed a shave. After several boxes of wine with sisters some years ago, we laughed until we peed (just a little bit) over our “chair hins,” and then they shared with me the secret of their smooth, hairless, just-starting-to-sag faces — a little $14 “trimming wand.” But those abominable spiky chin hairs still grow at the speed of light, completely thwart the magical wand and will always require diligence, just like my new Einstein eyebrows. I always thought those mad professor eyebrows were awesome — on dudes — but add those to the nose and knuckle hairs I’m now sprouting (what’s THAT all about?), and I’m thinking about making a reservation at the zoo for my Golden Years.

And so I say, “Herpa-derpa-schmerpa.” It would appear that one more menopausal “side effect” is early dementia, or “chronic brain syndrome,” as the PubMed Health site calls it. Do yourself a favor: do not look up symptoms of dementia because it will make you lose sleep at night, which is, by the way, one of the symptoms. I’m seriously praying that this side effect won’t last too much longer as it may interfere with that…longish…thing…I’m writing.

I look at the calendar (trying to pretend that I remember the day’s date) and commend myself on sticking steadfastly with my sacrifice. Nick’s resolution was thwarted on day three when his college buddies couldn’t stand what a bummer he had become sans caffeine, and that’s okay; he’ll have plenty of time to be grumpy when his future wife hits menopause. As for me, I’ll sleep soundly, someday, knowing that suffering is good for the soul.

But wait! I forgot to tell you about my hemorrhoids! OMG!

— Laurel McHargue

Laurel (Bernier) McHargue teaches as an adjunct instructor at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colo. She is the co-creator of Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Stupid Kid and will have stories in many of the series’ titles. Read her blog here.

Reflections of Erma