The Age of Motherhood -- by Laura
“Isn’t being a grandmother the best?” she asked.
“I’m actually their mother,” I said. “Not their grandmother.”
She was embarrassed and apologized, but I stopped her and explained it was OK. I have a crown of silver hair; I was disheveled from exercising. It was a natural mistake.
“Well, women are having babies at older ages these days,” she said.
We chatted briefly then she asked the question I knew she would: “So exactly how old are you?”
Before I could think I told her I was 40. Only 40.
On the way home I stopped at the drug store to look at hair color, and when I got to the apartment I went online and ordered $200 worth of skin care products. I also got down on the alphabet mat in the playroom and did 100 sit-ups and then 100 bicycle kicks, which left me barely able to move the next day.
I am embarrassed at being an older mom at times. I feel out of place with orthopedic inserts in my shoes, gray hair, glasses, and a heavier, slower body as I push a twin stroller down the sidewalk among the 20-year old nannies and the fit, fashionable, younger Manhattan mothers. And I am embarrassed that I am embarrassed by it. At my age I should know better. There are so many pluses to being an older mom – far more pluses than minuses.
But the real reason for the discomfort with my age is not just my crepe paper eyelids or the cricks in my back and ankles. It’s the time. If what I said were true, if I were only 40, I would have five more years – five more years of time at my disposal with my sons and husband. My lie wasn’t just a lie. It was a wish. A sincere wish.
While I write this, my father is struggling with declining health. As an older parent himself, he made a conscientious effort to be a fit man. My father learned to rock climb when he was 40. He hiked all over the Rocky Mountains with his children. He played tennis four or five times a week. But in spite of his excellent health and diet, he didn’t get a choice whether or not he got Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. For several years now, he is not able to participate in his own life, much less mine, and he has never met my boys. Yet if he did meet them, he wouldn’t know them because in spite of his best efforts to stick around and be there for his grandchildren, a horrible disease is scrambling his brain.
Even more sorrowful to me is that my sons won’t get to know the kind, quiet man who taught me the secrets of happiness: dogs, books, tomatoes, and camping. Lyle and Wyatt won’t have the chance to try to keep up with his long stride as he winds his way over the trails to the top of a mountain to watch the sunrise. They won’t hear his steady voice singing a cowboy song as he strums his guitar.
Some of my life’s greatest moments have been spending time with my father as an adult – two grownups together with a shared history and a deep understanding. I love that my father stuck around long enough see who I turned out to be, and he genuinely admires who he sees when he looks at me. I want to look at my children like that through the hallmarks of their lives. But when they are entering adulthood, which I believe is the best part of life, I will be coming to the sunset of mine. Thanks to my advanced maternal age, I may not get to meet the life partners they choose. If they wait as I did, I may not get to meet their children. I may very well miss seeing them achieve the things in life that can make them happy, whole, fulfilled human beings.
The next time someone asks me if I am the boy’s grandmother, I will try to be more grounded. I will tell myself I can live with the liver spots, the lines around my mouth, and the impending bifocals. But what will send me spinning is the thought of missing out on a minute of my boys’ lives. By waiting these extra years to have children, I am afraid I am going to have to lose a few years on the other end. And that kills me. Because this thing called motherhood is a wellspring of happiness, wisdom, pain, ache, joy and longing, and as Lyle and Wyatt grow through life, I don’t want to miss a thing. Not a single, tiny moment lost. The bitter. And the sweet.