The uncanny coincidence of this occurrence made it seem psychosomatic. However, I could not deny the unsettling reality of the sweat moustache that had formed while I was eating my scrambled eggs. I tried to pass the event off as a fluke, but while going about my day, I started thinking, You know, I’m getting kind of old. Really old.
I had always been content with the progression of my life as a Navy wife and mother of three, generally gratified to have found a calling to serve my family, rather than selfish endeavors like my own career and living location preferences. I had said many times, “As long as the kids are happy, I’m happy.”
But suddenly, life was passing before my eyes as if death was imminent. I thought about my education and quickly decided that I’d wasted it. I thought about my early work experiences as a young attorney before Navy life, and summarily concluded that my brain had atrophied from lack of use, and must now be the size of a tangerine. I thought about my homemaking skills, swiftly determining that I was mediocre at best.
After decades of gleaning my own identity from the contentment of my family members, it was suddenly all about me.
Although I normally would not mercilessly rip myself to shreds, there was something about this particular birthday that had me wallowing in panicked self-loathing. Perhaps it was the hair that seemed to be clinging damply to the back of my perspiring neck. Or maybe it was the sudden lack of bladder control. Did I detect a throbbing bunion? Was I sprouting age spots?
As my 48th birthday progressed, I relentlessly berated, harangued, nit-picked, criticized and condemned myself until I could feel my spider veins bulge.
Why do I snap at the kids so much? Why can’t I seem to cook a decent meal without turning meat into shoe leather? Why do I watch so much TV at night? Why couldn’t I ever get rid of this paunch? Why didn’t I moisturize when I was younger? Why do I always forget to bring my coupons to the commissary? Why? Why? Why?!
By the time my husband came home from work, I was slumped in a kitchen chair, staring into a cup of coffee that had gone cold. I’d hit rock bottom.
“Happy birthday, Honey!” he offered with a grin. I looked up weakly, and said, “I think I’m having some kind of mid-life crisis … can you sit down and listen to me for a sec?” For the next 20 minutes, my husband sat calmly in his cammies at our kitchen table, permitting me to tell him all about the hot flash and the resulting epiphany that revealed the harsh truth: I had never really amounted to much and it was definitely too late to do anything about it.
At the risk of sounding sexist, I find that men have a unique ability to simplify complex emotional situations that women tend to over complicate; or maybe they just don’t get it. Either way, it can be helpful.
A quintessential male, my husband waited until the end of my rant, then simply got up and poured us each a glass of wine. I wondered whether he had heard anything I’d just said. Then, holding his glass up to toast mine, he delivered the birthday joke that had become his annual tradition: “Honey, you might have turned 48 today, but you’re built like you’re 47.”
I couldn’t help but laugh like I always do, and in that instant, my hot flash turned into a flash flood of gratitude for the ups and downs of life, the simplicity of love, and the boundless support of my little family.