Energy and the Older Mom

Health & Wellness on 06.16.11
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Photo: footloosiety/Creative Commons

 

Last week, I received an e-mail with this subject line:

Skin Tightening at 50% Off!

Oddly, it was from my ENT's office. I am not considering undergoing this procedure, but I began to read the e-mail, and then immediately deleted it. I felt old. I started to think, Is this the kind of e-mail I'm getting now? It seemed wrong, more wrong than it feels when I get e-mails telling me how to enhance the size of my penis.

I had a baby, my first, 15 months ago, at age 35. Since then, I've had my first mammogram; my knees hurt when I stroll my son to daycare; I have to kneel on a pillow when I give him a bath; I looked at my boobs in the shower and actually said aloud, with melancholy, "Come back"; I am hyperaware of the biological need to get crackin' if I'm going to have a second baby. And yet, having a child is something that I still feel too young for because it's so surreal, and I find myself rolling on the floor and dancing like a maniac just to make him laugh.

Never did I think I could feel so old and so young at the same time.

Before I got pregnant, I was terrified that I wouldn't have enough energy for my new life as a mom. But then something unexpected happened.

When I was pregnant, I was in the best shape of my life. I was disciplined about food in a way I never had been before. My hair and skin looked fabulous. I was exhausted but I was happy all the time. And I did not gain a single pound. I ate, but somehow my body converted to baby. I did not put on a pair of maternity pants until my eighth month. It's the more desired path when you're heavy to begin with, which I was (and am), but when my doctor said she didn't want me to gain any weight, I didn't believe it was possible or healthy. Even so, the day I gave birth, I weighed one pound less than I did when I got pregnant. Two weeks later, the lack of person in my body combined with the natural weight loss meant I'd lost 20 pounds. I've struggled with my weight my entire life and am the only person I've ever heard of who lost 20 pounds when she was pregnant. I felt amazing. Energized. Light. Young.

(If it sounds like I'm bragging, it's because I am. I never get to brag about my body. Give me this.)

But then reality sunk in. Old habits die hard. I went back to work, so cubicle living replaced the long walks to meet up with other mothers on maternity leave. I never adjusted my bedtime to the new early riser in the house. And that lack of energy I feared so much reared its ugly head and became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now I'm tired all the time. My son has long slept through the night, but I find myself going to bed way too late because midnight is the only time I have for myself (or, myself and my fantasy husband Craig Ferguson). I'm the breadwinner of the family, so that anxiety has nestled itself smack in my tummy where my delightful son used to be. There are new lines in my skin, more gray hairs on my noggin. Life is happening, and it's happening to my face.

My lack of energy is also trickling its way into one big transition for my son: moving from two naps to one. I do not want to do this. When I'm home with him, I want him to take two naps! I get stuff done! I love the morning nap because I take it with him! It's like extra hours I didn't get during the night! And we cuddle! And the cats climb into bed with us! And it's cute! But I don't want to make bad decisions for him because my energy is low, and the right decision is to lose the beloved morning nap.

(The solution to this would be, of course, to let everybody take a morning nap. Best plan ever?)

There are so many benefits to having a family when you're older, to be sure. I'm a much more patient mother than I thought I'd be, and very little fazes me on a daily basis. I'm not battling with my identity as much as I was when I was 28 or 30. There's an awful lot that I've gotten out of my system, so there are fewer unfulfilled experiences to count by the time parenthood rolled along.

I'm lucky in that where I live, having children in one's late thirties is more of the norm than doing it younger, so there's no concern that all of my son's friends' parents will be 10 years younger than me; I feel more aware of it when I think of wanting a second. I'm not that old — I'll be 37 this month — but biologically, I'm grandma. And I feel it when I think about what I want to present when my son goes to school. I've always believed life is easier for a kid — in terms of making friends and wanting time with his family — when his parents are, in all honesty, cool. Right now, I'm not that cool. Right now I feel like Droopy Dog.

We've heard it a million times: You have to sleep. You have to find time to exercise. You have to eat right. Everybody says so. They are the keys to youthfulness, health, longevity, teaching your family good habits, blah blah blah. They are also the hardest things in the world to make time for, not just because you barely have time to shower, much less run a mile or toast some bread, but because when you have downtime, you want your time to be just that: down. Or you want to spend it with your family. But I'm also learning the hard way the other thing everybody else says: You're no good to your family if you don't take care of yourself first. And this might be the most impossible reality for a mother to accept. Not only is parenthood an opportunity to recalibrate your habits, it makes it essential to recalibrate your thinking of what it means to be a good parent.

Just when it seems most selfish to mind your own needs, that's when you should pay attention to them the most. Perhaps that's what age teaches you.

 

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