by Loretta Williams
It started just as the bus left the expressway. The familiar warmth began somewhere near my waistline, and crept upward, spreading a layer of hot moisture that would end at my scalp – where icy-hot ringers would make my roots stand on end. I felt my underwear starting to cling, and instinctively groped for buttons, zippers, anything I could loosen or remove to get some relief and still remain respectable. I started to feel panicky, and for a brief, wild moment entertained the thought of dashing up to the driver and ordering him to drive to Iceland. The urge passed, and I dabbed at the line of perspiration trickling down my left temple, stealing a glance around the crowded bus to see who was witnessing my private battle against the inferno that had engulfed my body. No one was looking. I sighed and sat back, bracing myself to ride out the heat – and prepare for the chill I would feel afterward, in the air-conditioned bus….
I stepped off the bus into the stifling July heat, my hair plastered to my skull and my dress stuck to the front of me. The edgy feeling that was my companion these days started to surface as I approached my house, and I comforted myself with visions of short shorts, iced tea, and the familiar drone of World News Tonight filling my air-cooled bedroom. But it was not to be. I was greeted instead by a hot breeze pouring in through wide open windows, and music loud enough to shatter glass blaring from the stereo. My teenager, dressed in two layers of tee shirts, a sweat shirt, and pants big enough for the two of us, met me at the door with the phone attached to one ear. She was the picture of cool, and I felt the familiar heat return to my waist, triggering something close to anger – admittedly both misdirected and unfounded – because she was not sweating.
“Hi, mom,” she said with sincere nonchalance.
“Why isn’t the air-conditioner on?”
“I’m not hot.”
“Well, I am.Why are you wearing all those clothes?”
“I like them.”
“Well, it’s too hot. Take them off.”
“Why do I have to take my clothes off because you’re hot?”
Having drawn in my breath to further voice my displeasure, I was silenced by the reality that she was right. Why should she have to strip to cool me off? Why is it that menopause makes you feel as if everyone in the world should understand your dilemma and, in a universal show of sympathy, start to strip the moment the fire hits you?
My daughter and I had arrived simultaneously at places in our lives where hormonal changes would wreak physical and emotional havoc with both of us, and coping would require all the patience and understanding we could muster for each other. As my body screamed in protest, trying desperately to hold onto what Mother Nature was slowly draining away, that wise and knowing Mother was dousing hers with mega-doses of the same stuff, catching her off guard, and causing responses eerily similar to my own. As I battled wackiness and selfabsorption, my teenager struggled with moodiness and self-doubt, plus the perplexing dilemma presented by her wanting to cling to me even as she was fighting to let go. Emotions hung in the air like storm clouds, ready to rain down on both of us at the first provocation by a word or look. In other words, adolescence and menopause were on a collision course in our house, and the best we could hope for was that the worst of each would hit on alternate days. Still, in all honesty, this little period of turbulence was inevitable. After all, there had been numerous signs in the course of the almost two decades we had shared on this earth that these days were unlikely to consist of a continual procession of Kodak moments.
Our life together was fairly uneventful until, at around age seven, when the first little seedlings of independence sprout, my daughter brought my lifelong dream of dressing my little girl in cute little dresses, jumpers, and ruffled socks to a screeching halt. “Mommy, it’s time to update my wardrobe,” she announced one day with adult conviction, when I picked her up from the after-school program. “I’m the only one who wears dresses.” Determined not to have her be the odd one out in anything, I made a beeline to Kids ‘R’ Us, and loaded up on the latest in kiddiewear – sweatshirts and jeans. When did little little girls start to dress like boys anyway?
Then suddenly she was a teen,and the real hormones kicked in. I found myself wondering where her need to challenge everything with her youthful brand of logic came from. Could it be that the horse-sized prenatal vitamin pills I and, perforce, she took for nine months were the time release variety?
According to the experts, no matter how grown up teenagers feel, they still need guidance, support, and a haven from which to venture forth and to which they can return. I have tried to provide all of the above, but some of our biggest disagreements these days center around these matter. I say that fifteen is too young for unchaperoned parties and one-on-one dating, and she is forbidden to do both. She says that everyone else’s mother trusts their daughters) to go out alone, and she is the only one being treated like a baby. I am mindful of the generation gap, yet am unable to fight the urge to tell her that I was fully 17 years of age before I was permitted to go out alone with a boy, in addition to which I had to be home by 10:30 pm. In fact, my mother used to set her alarm so she could get out of bed at 10:15 and sit by the door for the countdown. I never asked why she did it, I tell my daughter; nor was I alone, since all over the neighborhood “everyone else’s” mother or father was sitting watch by the door. Of course, I concede, this was almost 40 years ago, before the “village” was eroded by media that seem to teach disrespect and violence. She tells me to calm down and that I get too carried away about things.
I often wonder whether, if my daughter had been born 10 years earlier, when I was at the ideal physical age of 27 (instead of when I was 37), the music would still be too loud. (I have a hard time these days separating normal agitation from the effects of you know-what.) But surely anyone over 30 would crumble under 160 decibels? I’ve concluded that what makes her turn the music up so loud is the same monster that urges her to go outside in freezing weather without a coat, and impels her to remind me of something I did to her when she was two years old, yet won’t let her remember to take out the garbage.
I acknowledge that the age of innocence, when fun for a child was following a ladybug all day long, and the biggest challenge jumping off the henhouse without breaking one’s ankles, is long gone; I admit that, despite trying to keep an open mind and not be too critical, I do slip at times. Whereupon, she quickly reminds me that the reason I’m so high-strung and am always going back to the past is that I don’t have a life. I’ll admit to that too. After working all week, running a household, attending evening school, running 5K races, timing hot flashes, and generally holding everything together on all fronts – when does her cybersmart little mind suppose I have time for a life? Just as a hot flash overtakes me, I remind her that her comment was quite an observation for someone who hasn’t seen the floor of her room in six years.
These days, I’m left feeling as though I’m slowly pulling a rickety old cartful of knowledge against traffic down the information superhighway with microchips whizzing by on both sides. I am urged onward, however, by a strong sense that the coming and going of my fifth decade must mean something. I’m still not sure what, or to whom, but I’ll hang on to my old cart and rummage through it from time to time and pull out another piece of ancient wisdom for her to challenge.
In spite of the spaces created by time and distance, and the hormone fueled battles that we sometimes engage in, there must run between us an underlying current of love, respect, and mutual support. I take the time to celebrate her – I love her level-headedness and determination, and the beautiful melodies that fill our house when she bursts into song. I respect her right to question me, and ask in return only that, since I’ve been around a while longer, she trust me to know that some things never change. I tell her that she should find her voice but lower the volume once in a while to hear the time-tested messages passed down from her grandmother and great-grandmother, messages that worked for me and most assuredly will work for her. The important thing is that we continue to grow, and go on to become the people we were intended to be. We should not let the seasons of our lives cause us to stand in each other’s way, for as surely as winter turns into spring, this one too shall pass.
Loretta Williams is a freelance writer who lives in New York City with her daughter. Site is at work on her first novel.