Family

TOO OLD TO BE A MOM?

Just this morning, I did the thing experienced mothers aren’t supposed to do.  I lost it on my daughter. She’s 11 and I’m 52.  That makes me the adult.  In fact, last year I was the oldest living mother in elementary school.  I should be a total ball of zen-nicity.  Yet suddenly I was going all Linda Blair after a morning of protracted nagging.  Perhaps this rings a bell?  “Hurry up – get dressed – brush your teeth, your hair, your tongue- shoes on- backpacks packed…move faster. Go!”  You’ve been there.  No expanded vocabulary required, just sixth grade level word retrieval.  And yet opening a can of whoop ass can feel satisfying sometimes.  Like binge eating foods dipped in Marshmallow Fluff.
 
Wasn’t it supposed to be a blissful experience entering mother hood again at 40?  Wasn’t I supposed to have more patience and understanding about “the long haul” and “how fast it all goes” with my twins? And yet here I am, shrieking as my hormones retreat, as snappish and churlish as one of those cringe-worthy reality show teen moms prevented from a night of clubbing by their colicky unwanted off-spring.
 
OK, maybe it’s not quite like that with me.  That was a tad dramatic.  But as I swam my laps this morning trying to re-balance, I wondered idly if I really was too old to have kids this young?  Was biology nature’s way of saying,  “you won’t have the energy for this in a few years?”   And yet how many of us are successful at making life fall in line with the perfect time to marry, procreate or change careers?  Is there ever a perfect time?  
 
Photo by CATHRINE WHITE

I smile gently at the young women who emphatically tell me when they want to marry and how many kids they will have.  I long ago learned that we don’t write that script.  The friend with the repeated miscarriages knows that, the couple that can’t conceive, the mother who loses her son to a brain tumor, the wife whose husband up and leaves.  The greatest part of life is our ability to dream big, but most of us are unprepared when things go awry or when dreams don’t come true.  
 
When our first attempt to become parents at age 31 resulted in our son, my husband got on the bus to fatherhood with extreme speed.  He was thrilled and so was I, but then again I knew it wouldn’t change his life in nearly the same way that it would change mine.  But when our children didn’t come in the intervals we planned, when there was a loss and then a dry patch and then some sorrow, we were blindsided when the bad thing happened to us.  And why shouldn’t it have?  What made us any different from the family down the street?  It’s not human nature to always feel so generous, though.  The fickle finger of fate and the Ouija board are supposed to land somewhere else for the hard stuff. 
 
When my twins were born at age 40, our “Team B” as my husband calls them, I resolved to work less and Mom more.  I would be the chilled out mother I never quite got to be the first time around with the older two because I had been so concerned with trying to balance it all.  And while it didn’t exactly happen that way when the girls were born, (chilled isn’t an adjective normally associated with Moms of multiples) I learned to relax into my choices, to stop trying to mute the working part in front of my stay at home friends or dial down the mother part in other facets of my life.  I learned to accept that I am a person who likes her sack stuffed really full.  What other reason could there possibly be for continuing to stuff more in it?  Saying “yes” mostly felt better.
 
 
There is no question that as an older mother I have more patience than the 31-year old I once was who never thought she’d be spontaneous again.   A six-year gap between Team A and Team B equipt me with a fish eye lens.  I don’t sweat the small stuff and I do try to cherish the ride a bit more.  On my second chance, I didn’t want to talk about mucus and home made baby food, I wanted to discuss my middle-agedness, my politics, the struggles of aging parents and husband’s snoring.  I was never great at board games or watching Dora videos with my older kids and this time around I didn’t feel the need to pretend. I am no longer half-way apologetic or conflicted about working when I’m focusing on being a Mom.  I regularly absorb the whiff of envy from friends when I spend a night away in a nice hotel with room service and first-run movies.  I’m proud of my ability to earn my own wage at a career I love, even as I miss a few soccer games and a basketball tournament or two.
 
Motherhood is a selfless business.  And like so many parts of being an adult, there are repetitive parts, as same-old as emptying the dishwasher or folding laundry.  No wonder we grumble or watch our heads spin at times like a bobble-head on a dashboard.  No wonder we lose our tempers.  We all do. There are some who will swear that the right time to have children is when you are younger and full of energy. But in my 20’s I would have been too selfish, less patient, yearning to accomplish things yet un-named.  I would have resented the recalcitrant child, the ungrateful eye roll or lip curl that soaks through their very being because that’s precisely what they are programmed to do.  Anna Quindlen, one of my all-time favorite writers, says that “sometimes taking care of children full-time feels like a cross between a carnival ride and penal servitude.” Do any right-minded adults really enjoy a two-hour marathon of Candy Land or repeated rounds of Lego towers?  Be honest. 
 
Still, I wouldn’t trade this for anything, even as my friends with their newly childless homes are crowing about their lack of schedules and the fabulous sex they are re-discovering with their husband (yes, their husbands!).  I’m still packing lunches and right now boys are still just something to giggle about behind cupped hands.   I know that’s about to change.  We’ve just had our first discussion about shaving legs and puberty lurks in the bathroom corners.  I can smell it like basement mold.  Most days, the can of whoop-ass aside, I feel incredibly lucky to be experiencing this second wave of motherhood.  The first chapter feels like a temp job in retrospect. Time wrinkles and buckles, telescoping as the calendar flips ever forward.  
 
 
There will only be a short time left when they will ask me to crawl in bed and cuddle, a limited time they’ll still believe I might have something important to contribute in the way of advice.  But they’ll be back. Yes, they’ll come crawling back someday on their bellies as I did when I had children of my own.  I take comfort in that.  It’s already happening with my older two, the slow subtle gravitational pull of interest in what perspective their father and I might have to offer.
 
I’ll be 60 when the younger two go off to college.  And Lord, that used to sound ancient.  Now I can picture myself like one of those old Euell Gibbons ads for Grape Nuts as he leaps around the outdoors, brown as a berry.  I may be gnarled and gnarly, but I’ll be at graduation day standing as proud as the 40 something parents.  That will be me, the one doing the Bronx cheer.  I’ll be celebrating and mourning in equal parts, not only for the days to come, but for the unsung ones that have flown by.

16 Comments

  1. Kate

    May 8, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    The opening of whoop-ass in the morning is all-too-familiar to this mom of twin boys — also 11– as is the guilt that comes later from losing it. I completely identify with you. I benefit from their short attention spans that result in quick forgiveness.

    I really enjoyed this post – didn't know you were a mom of twins!

  2. liz

    May 8, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    What you have done is wonderful – you have demonstrated that moms are humans too (which kids tend to forget!) I have raised both my children to remember … and understand – that it is wrong to put me on a pedestal because of my title as "mom" … we are all on equal footing and make mistakes – get frustrated … and act on frustration (my kids say I give them the "eye!") I think you have the best of both worlds … you experienced motherhood at a young age and "learned while they grew" … and now you have all that wisdom to offer Team B! Best advice is to pat yourself on the back for having it all …. take a breath when things get too crazy and then proceed forward with all the confidence you can muster at that moment (half the time – the kids don't know if it's actual confidence you're exuding or if you're faking it … but most times they won't risk pushing you further!!!!) I enjoyed your post as I always do …. and have introduced my daughter to your site. I actually will share a little of her writing – she aspires to be a political journalist (being alone in a car with her for any length of time during this political climate can be a dangerous thing!!) – is executive editor of her college paper and is scared to pieces that she won't find work after grad school (which isn't for awhile as she'll just be entering her senior year in the fall). Please keep writing so she knows women journalists are around … will be around … and yes, can have it all! Thanks bunches!

  3. Susan Johanson

    May 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    There was also six years between my two older children and my youngest son Mark who was born when I was 39. I was 60 when he graduated from college. Mark went to live in NYC for a year in the TV industry. Then when the actors strike happened, he moved to the USVI to work where he found his passion-traveling and writing. He then left to work and blog in NZ for nine months; then back packed and blogged all over SE Asia. He came full circle back to NYC a year ago and is the travel editor of International Business Times. I'm now 67 and very proud of my 27 year old son.

  4. Karen@Mignardise

    May 9, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    This rings so true for me. My third child (the Bonus Baby) is 7 years younger than the second one and I was this close to 40 when she was born. So different this time around. Thanks for putting this eloquently. Love the line "I can smell (puberty) like basement mold". I plan to share this post with my friends in similar positions.
    PS – I am a friend of your friend, Kathy Grady Skelly.

  5. Jacquelyn Beauregard Dillman

    May 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Enjoyed your thoughts. I'm a mother of 6 sons [5 biological – one step]. I had my last two at ages 43 and 45. We are now empty-nesters and I so miss all of them even though they call regularly and come home on holidays and other vacation times. It was just such a rollicking experience. My first three sons were born when I was in my twenties; back in the '60's when husbands weren't allowed in delivery rooms and certainly weren't going to be cutting the umbilical cord. The difference in obstetrics and nursery equipment let alone having disposable diapers for the first time was a surprise.
    Being menopausal and having teens can make for bit of a problem! Physical fatigue too. My husband is 8.5 years younger and a 'hand's on' Dad, so that helped a great deal.
    Still, I wouldn't have traded the whole experience for the world…

  6. Lynne Spreen

    May 13, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Love your portrayal. It's real life, in all its glory or hell, depending on the minute.

    When I was 24, I took one month off after my son was born. I've always been the breadwinner, but I love working so even though it was hard, it was great. I "retired" a few years ago, but I use the term loosely because I'm building my next career.

    And then I turned into a stay-at-home grandma.

    My son married and had a daughter. I went to their home every morning for five months. Nine hours a day, five days a week, until she was old enough to go to day care. Now she has a brother. I'll be watching him next school year. Getting ducks in a row right now, prepping for what I know will be an all-consuming ten months. It will put a serious crimp in my writing career, but there are compensations. The first baby imprinted on me like a duckling (luckily, parents are happy about that).

    Since I'm still a "career woman," being home with a baby is like a Zen retreat. I experienced great peace, frustration, boredom and happiness all at the same time. I'm pining for it and dreading it. And if I have time, I'll blog about it.

    Sorry this is so long but your comment that you "long ago learned we don't write the script" is so flippin' true. The trick is to enjoy the show anyway. Best wishes.

  7. Cathi Montpellier

    May 13, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Just read your "Too Old To Be a Mom" post and thoroughly enjoyed it. I became a first-time mom at 40, of boy-girl twins, conceived through invitro after 10 years of infertility and one tubal pregnancy that forever changed my life. I sometimes wish I had 15 more years to fill with weddings, grandchildren and other things that belong to a future I might not be here to share, but most of all, I am so very very grateful that I've been able to simply have this experience. So here's to us, the older moms who will be cheering on our college grads in our 60s!

  8. Kathy Bowen

    May 13, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I had my son at 50, he will be six years old next month, so I am sorry, I get the title of Oldest Living Mother With a Child in Elementary School! Well, you had the title last year so I guess I'm just taking over this year. Last year I held the title Oldest Living Mother With a Child In Preschool. Both are titles I wear proudly, my son has been a great gift! Oh, by the way, I once held the title Youngest Living Mother With a Child in Elementary School. My only other child will be 39 this summer, yep, one will be 39 and one 6! 33 years and 10 months apart, to the day, which may also earn me the title of Mother With the Most Years Between Two Boilogical Children!

  9. Judy

    May 13, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    the age thing is all in the mind! i am 62 and still have a 17 yr old.i have 5 children ages,37,32,29,25,&17. it has been a joy and such a honor to have these people in my life. i feel blessed to have them come to me. i still do the soccer Mom stuff,and even keep up with my grandchildren(4).it is inspiring to hear the stories of women who keep going,and pushing to better themselves. you are an example to your children.enjoy this time,they grow too quickly. i love being a Mom,it has been my job and my love!

  10. Sheila Allen

    May 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    I'm 56 mother of 3 youngest being 32 and have 9 grandkids. My 5 year old grandson has lived with me for the last 2 years full time. And I found my self thinking about some of the same things as you about being a mom at this age. Here I am dropping of a 5 year old at special needs pre-school, he will be in kindergarten in the fall. So I going to take it day at a time an enjoy,do the best i can to be a mom at my age. I'm looking at it with this point of veiw, we know life changes in a second, everything happens for a reason even if we don't know WHY ! Maybe being a mom at this age will help me stay younger,lets hope 🙂 Really enjoyed what you had to say about being a mom .

  11. Patty

    May 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    We had our planned babies while I was still in my twenties. At 42, we discovered the joy of an unplanned surprise. As he finishes his first year of kindergarten, I 'm happily surprised to say I still feel like I belong with all those other young moms at field day. I also know now the things I worried about with my first two in their younger years were nothing compared to the bigger issues that come into play in their teen years, and that makes me appreciate all the little things so much more. It's not often I get the chance to feel the special bond we older mothers share; your reflections created that connection for me. What a wonderful mother's day gift!

  12. cat

    May 14, 2012 at 2:04 am

    Seems like you do not hold the title of oldest parent at all as seen from the previous comments! Just to throw my two cents in, I had my youngest, who is now ten, at 45. At the time of her birth, my two older 'children' were 18 and 21, so I had an 18 year 'break'! I enjoy having a ten year old; no regrets about foregoing exotic travel, sleeping late, or relaxing more. There are so many other women who have had children in their early forties that I never feel odd or too old. In fact, I enjoy the status of being one of the older, experienced moms–the younger moms never seem to question or make suggestions to me about parenting. Maybe they assume I've seen it all already, or I'm just too old to understand! My only concern is that my husband (who is 9 years older than I!) and I stay healthy (and alive) long enough for her to become a happy, independent adult. And as far as my daughter having to field questions about whether those two people are her grandparents, she'll get tough–like a boy named Sue. Enjoy your children, as far as I'm concerned, you are just a youngster!

  13. Family Foodie

    May 19, 2012 at 5:01 am

    I loved reading this post and can relate on so many levels… when I had my first two children, I was 25 and 27 and I could remember looking around their pre-school parents and thinking…geez some of these parents are so old. Then I had my second set of children spaced out due to miscarriages in between and I was that older parent in the preschool class…
    I can tell you that I have enjoyed parenting my second set so much because, I am more confident, more patient, and I have less expectations!

  14. ellegentsia

    May 23, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    As a 28 year old barely started in a tempestuous but beloved career – with 3 degrees under her belt – I truly enjoyed this post. I've fretted constantly that I won't be ready to have children for years, and the fear-mongering that goes along with delayed maternity causes anxiety. Your story rings much truer, thank you.

  15. Andrea Stahlman

    July 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Lee, I had to look this up again and read it. Guess what? 41, full time TV news job and baby on the way. Due Jan 4. My boys are 8 and 10. I'm nervous… but soooo excited.. for all the reasons you listed here. i probably be re-reading this post weekly just to help me calm down 🙂
    Hope you are wonderful!
    Andrea

  16. mindy trotta

    September 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Lee, We would love to reprint this wonderful post on Betterafter50.com. May we have your permission?

Leave a Reply