It first dawned on me that I might be suffering from perimenopausal insanity the day I tried to zoom to the front of the carpool lane, almost taking a few orange cones with me.
I was two Priuses behind an SUV that had been parked for a full five minutes while its driver, a pony-tailed mother of young children, stood outside the door, futzing with a car seat, seemingly oblivious to the caravan of cars behind her. And where was her child, this apple who didn’t fall far from its tree? Nowhere to be found, so teachers were sent to scope out the play yard.
I started to percolate. Franny was already sitting next to me. I had to hightail it over to Luca’s school, and then race to get him to his hair appointment. This woman was screwing up the works. Why was no one telling her to move her sorry ass?
I glanced to the left of the orange cones. There was an empty lane, just wide enough for me to make my getaway, drive past the cars in front of me, and zip out the front gate.
I yanked the steering wheel to the left and darted around the cones. In a flash, Franny’s assistant teacher, who was on carpool duty, ran across the lane, waving his hands at me.
“Pauline! There are children!” he motioned to the lawn to the right of the cars.
What was he so uptight about? The kids were all the way over on the lawn!
I gestured to the woman ahead of me, still lollygagging by her car.
“She’s been just sitting there for five minutes! I have to be somewhere!”
“Pauline,” said the teacher sternly. “Back up.”
Why was he looking at me like I was crazy? Maybe because I was crazy?
My anger melted into embarrassment as I backed up my car.
* * *
Earlier this week, a Facebook friend posted a link to The Bitch is Back, an Atlantic article penned by humorist Sandra Tsing Loh, about the personal and cultural implications of menopause.
The article, which was hysterical in its quintessentially Tsing-Lohian way, listed some symptoms that I don’t have, knock on wood. But the symptom that I do have, perhaps the cornerstone of “that time of life,” is irritability. There is no end to the list of innocuous items that can send me into a zero-to-180 spasm of anger.
Like children. Those little people that used to melt me with a single gaze. They don’t do that anymore.
Last weekend I took Franny to Party City to get her Halloween costume. If you are perimenopausal, and you are considering going to Party City on a Saturday in October, I would strongly advise you to reconsider.
The place was teeming with kids. Small, germy kids with runny noses and shrill voices, zooming through the aisles of wigs and masks and pirate hats like bumper cars. Their parents were tagging along after them like glorified personal assistants, oohing and ahhing when little Dakota stepped out of the dressing room in a bumblebee costume.
I looked at the mothers and marveled at how happy they looked. Happy andpatient, jogging back to the costume aisle to trade the bumblebee for the police officer. I remembered, vaguely, that I used to be happy and patient like that. But it wasn’t because I was a better mother then, necessarily. It was because of the hormones.
Back when I used to have loads of estrogen coursing through my body, I could think of no greater pleasure than to be an incubator or feeding station for my children. I was in nirvana pushing Luca down the sidewalk in his front-end loader, or spending hours making birthday party invitations, or hosting twelve toddlers at a babygroup.
Don’t get me wrong. I adore my children. It’s just that sometimes I find myself counting the years until they’re out of the house.
* * *
I spent every millisecond of last weekend trying not to jump out of my skin. My kids’ formerly melodic voices now sounded like nails on a chalkboard. There was no end to the list of things they wanted. Reasonable requests, say, for dinner, seemed outrageous. Typical mom duties — the schlepping, the hosting of playdates, the loading and unloading of the dishwasher — kept me in a slow boil. Every word I uttered was delivered with a snap and a snarl.
I didn’t sleep well Sunday night, and my ass was dragging Monday morning. The third time Luca yelled upstairs for me to hurry up or he’d be late for school, I snapped. I became utterly undone.
If he told me to hurry up one more time, I screamed, I would purposely slow down so he’d be late. Finally, I slogged downstairs to find two wide-eyed children wondering when their mother had turned into a harpy.
* * *
My mother was almost 45 when I was born. She had the world’s longest and worst menopause. She wasn’t a snapper so much as she was a lip-quivering sobber. Once, when I asked her if we could get Swiss cheese instead of American, she burst into tears and told me never again to ask for different cheese.
Now I completely understand why the cheese request pushed her into the deep end. But at the time she just seemed crazy. A crazy that lasted until even after I left for college.
My sister is ten years younger and remembers Mom before menopause. When she stocked the freezer full of Snickers and was known among my sister’s friends as The Fun Mom.
I didn’t know that woman at all. I just knew the person who spent entire afternoons in bed eating M&Ms and crying about how she couldn’t do anything right.
I thought about this as I drove my kids, in silence, to school Monday morning. I thought about how I want them to remember their childhood. I want them to think that I was, on occasion, fun. Or at least not completely objectionable.
That evening, I sat Franny down for a talk.
“Am I in trouble?” she asked.
“Not at all,” I said. “I want to apologize.”
“I lost my cool with Luca this morning. I screamed at him when I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay,” she shrugged. “He was trying to rush you.”
“Well…it wasn’t really okay. I know I’ve been impatient lately. I’ve snapped at you kids a lot. And I’m going to try not to do that so much.”
“You don’t seem that bad too me,” Franny said.
“Mom, I kinda wanna watch The Voice now.”
She turned on the TV. I sat on the couch next to her. The mind-raciness that had been dogging me promptly stopped and segued into something that felt like calm.
Maybe it was calling out my bitchiness. Maybe it was the realization that I don’t want my kids to remember me as a relatively decent person. Maybe it was gratitude that I hadn’t given Franny PTSD. Who knows.
But as I sat on the couch next to Franny, tolerating Blake Shelton, I reveled in the wave of non-bitchiness that washed over me.
And life was good.