By Michelle Cruz Gonzales
It’s not that I don’t give a fuck. I give a fuck plenty. It’s just that something new but oddly familiar has come over me. I feel both forty-six and sixteen. After years of mothering, schooling, cooking dinner, sorting socks, helping with homework, and general holding it all together, I’m letting go, finding some freedom again. My periods are erratic, my cycle all over the place, my moods intense, and my desire to mother perfectly (to be defined however you would for yourself) waning along with the formerly overpowering surges of estrogen.
It turns out that perimenopause is totally punk rock, a second, very welcome, rebellion. While women may age are putting those terrible highlights to hide the grey, I choose bright red. While women my age are shamed into not dressing like twenty-year olds, I just bought a new pair of Dr. Martens. I wear short dresses, I don’t hide my chest tattoos or cleavage, stretch marks and all. I dress like a boy too, covered up in jeans and sturdy shoes, my wide, square shoulders atop my boy body, making me appear taller, my fallback don’t-fuck-with-me look.
When my son was much younger, I let my hair grow. It got wavier after my pregnancy. It was easier to wear it long and natural those years when I didn’t have money for salon cuts or time for straightening with a flat iron. My body was softer after pregnancy too, and my chest grew several sizes larger. Pregnancy, nursing, and a baby on the hip has a way of softening women in many other ways too. I savored this phase, and I’m glad I did. Having to toughen up so young to fend off the bullies and sexual predators in my small town, made me quick to anger, insecure, and combative.
It felt good to be filled with the profound love of motherhood during my son’s infant years, to be moved every time he would break from nursing, release my nipple from his mouth, and look up at me and smile. It was an important time during which I learned calm, and patience, and peace. I needed all that calm, patience, and peace to nurture a calm and patient child.
It turns out that I could only do calm for so long. It turns out that cranky mid-life is inevitable. They don’t call it “the change” for nothing, and all that calm, getting excited about organic cotton cloth diapers and public school ratings was getting boring. That didn’t make it any less bewildering, when I first realized that my body was heading into midlife. At first, I did what most people do these days. I turned to the Internet. I looked up symptoms of perimenopause, to learn more about what to expect, to brace myself for what’s to come. The Northwestern Women’s Health Institute, states that lower rates of estrogen can cause “mood swings, memory loss, problems focusing, irritability, fatigue, hot flashes, night sweats, stress, anxiety and depression.” Mood swings and irritability with less chance that I’ll wind up unintentionally pregnant – this might not be so bad. Mood swings, irritability, fatigue, stress, and anxiety, feels an awful lot like those discontented, rebellious teen years, the very years that my son is now in the thick of. When he’s being a total teen asshole, it’s helpful to remember that we happen to be in a similar phase at the same time — totally abhorrent of paternalistic bluster — before I react and turn into a full-on authoritarian maniac.
Still, like angsty teens and punk kids, menopausal women are sick of taking everyone’s shit, sick of being bossed around, talked down to, and underestimated. We have had it with working for free, having to prove ourselves at work over and over, waxing, mansplaining, hearing women asked how motherhood has changed their art, misogyny, and patriarchy in general. I am tired of being called exotic, spicy, and surprisingly articulate. I’ve had it with white supremacy, self-entitled white folks, and Donald Trump.
For me, cutting my hair,
blasting loud music from my turn table,
telling my story, saying “fuck” at work,
wearing a skirt while playing drums,
rocking my mess-with-me-look-I-dare-you look,
refusing too cook everyday, and insisting my teen son
make his own damn hot chocolate are necessary coping mechanisms.
I have found my edge again. I welcome the change, this new phase, where I can love profoundly and take no one’s shit all at the same time.