Welcome, Mamma Crew!
So this week I have been thinking a lot about age and I was remembering the time that I was teaching Sociology of Family and Marriage and my students and I got into a discussion about aging. Of course, they argued that age is just a number and you’re as old as you feel.
At the time, I was in my 40s and I felt great, despite all of my endometrial problems and its challenges, I felt pretty good. I was full of energy. And no matter how many surgeries I had, I always bounced back incredibly quickly and incredibly well. I never had a single complication. So I felt great!
Everything was easy. I coached soccer for my girls; I had a Girl Scouts group — I was the leader — and I also had to drive them to music classes, to dance classes, to playdates. I mean, it was an ongoing world of activity and in addition to that, I was working full-time and I was also the head of a couple of organizations. For a couple of years, I was the head of my department because, in that school, we rotated that particular duty.
So when the students wanted to argue that age was just a number and that we were as old as we felt, and I was feeling pretty good, I was willing to accept their argument. It made sense to me.
Then I got into my 50s. And let me tell you that things changed very rapidly. My health has just become more complex. And I began to notice that recovery was taking longer. And remember those things, those surgeries I had in my late 30s and 40s that I told you I had no complications or consequences from? Guess what? They reared their ugly head and I began to see some of the consequences of those surgeries.
At one point, I found myself in the hospital for two weeks with doctors unable to determine what was happening to my body. And it turned out to be a consequence of my pregnancy. During my pregnancy, because of all the hormone treatments that I had in order to get pregnant, I had gallbladder dust (which is as painful as gall bladder stones!) and my gallbladder was removed.
Well, nearly a decade and a half later, my biliary duct had complications and I had to have a procedure called ERCP, which, basically, they went in and opened the biliary duct. But that created a whole other host of problems. So here I was in the hospital for two weeks and recovery from that particular procedure necessitated two other hospitalizations within that month. So that changed my life drastically. My energy level just dropped incredibly.
But the pace of my activities didn’t change. The girls still needed to go to dance class, and voice lessons, music lessons. They still had playdates, and, at the time that I was recovering from this, we were living in the Caribbean and we were going to the beach several times a week. And I was homeschooling full-time and helping my husband with his business. So I found myself just dying at the end of every day — crashing — and my husband often said, “You know, you’re sleeping 10-12 hours a day.” But even with that much sleep, it was just awful! My energy was just completely depleted and I absolutely struggled to get through every single day.
Now, a few years later, having mostly recovered from that experience, my energy level definitely seemed to go back up. But I found myself more and more needing to rest in the middle of the day. And then about a year and a half ago, I had a pretty serious accident.
Now a lot of the homes on the island where we were living, any home that’s considered nice has marble floors, okay? So middle class to higher homes tend to have marble floors. Now I have to be honest with you and tell you I positively hate marble floors. They look beautiful but they’re slippery as sin! And the probability of you falling is high! It’s even higher if the floor is wet. And by then, my husband, realizing that I was struggling with energy, we had gotten some help.
And we had a new cleaning lady who came in and swamped the floor. I mean, she just literally–! This thing was, like, super wet! How
do I know? Because when I came around the corner, and I was walking at regular speed, I completely lost my footing! I slipped. There was nothing for me to hold onto. I fell on my knees. According to the orthopedic surgeon, I bounced and fell on my knees again, and then the floor was so wet I slid — I mean, just fell face-first onto the floor. This was positively devastating when it came to energy! And it took (you know how medical insurance is!) about a year for them to figure out that I needed surgery on both knees.
Now when I was 29, I had torn a meniscus on my left knee when I was traveling through Europe So when they said another surgery — another knee surgery! — I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and I kinda hoped that it would be easier because, you know, there are so many advances in medicine nowadays and they come so quickly.
So here I go into the first surgery, didn’t realize that now, all of a sudden, I’m allergic to anti-inflammatories. So I had to go through the surgery cold-turkey, so to speak. Wouldn’t to anti-inflammatories, all I can do was ice and take pain medication. I’m not a fan of pain medication — I’ve never been. Addiction has always been a very scary word for me.
So the first surgery, I took it for three days, and then after that, I just went cold-turkey. It was difficult to recover from the first surgery. Psychologically difficult. I found it really good. And that’s definitely something that I feel was part of aging. I don’t like to go through tough things anymore! Psychologically, I have a very difficult time going through that process. That was something that never bothered me when I was younger. They said we had to do something and no matter how scary it was (and there were several
times that had some scary diagnosis — misdiagnosis, might I say! — but it was easy to get through my process.
This time, the knee, psychologically, it was scarring. Especially since part of the year, I had to spend it on a scooter because I just couldn’t walk. And the pain was so constant that I found myself napping every day at noon for anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes to just get through the day. And by 2 o’clock, I was done. I was exhausted.
Five weeks after the first surgery, I found out, of course, that they were ready to do surgery on the second knee. Now if you think that the first knee, psychologically, was difficult, the second knee was even more difficult! I couldn’t accept that I had to go through the process again. I dreaded it and I hated it.
Now with the second surgery, I was only on pain medication for one day. Frankly, between my paranoia about taking pain medication and of the fact that it made me so ill to just extremely nauseous, I gave up on it. I just went cold-turkey and ice. I iced that knee — I don’t know how it’s not frozen today.
Of course, you can make the argument this was an accident — it could happen to anybody — and you’re right. It was an accident, it could happen to anybody. But if it had happened to me when I was 29 years old, the recovery would have been easier and psychologically, it would also have been easier. I would have just gone on with my life. Pushed through it.
And it’s not to say that I didn’t do the same thing this time, but I struggled to do it. And that means that despite the fact, today, I still have to deal with the girls’ multiple activities, their multiple social
engagements. I have to think about things before I commit to them because I’ve definitely noticed that my energy level is not what it used to be. And I have to assign it — prioritize it. How much energy am I willing to spend this day on x? How much am I willing to spend on y?
I have to juggle all of my kids’ activities and my own personal needs based on my energy levels. And — I have to be honest — since that second knee surgery, well, I like to take a nap (usually around 2 o’clock) for 15 to 45 minutes. I don’t answer the phone; I don’t listen to the kids; and I let my husband deal with our 4-year-old, Bug. because that’s just the way it is. I need that break!
Now last week, I found out that as a result of the accident, I’ve developed post-traumatic arthritis on both knees. Fabulous, right? And the doctor said I will need knee replacement surgery on the left knee within 4-5 years and we’ll need to have knee replacement surgery on the right knee within 12 months of going through the first surgery. Yeah. Happiness does not reign.
But it wasn’t devastating. The news was not devastating. I accepted it because, well, that just the way that things are. And I am neither looking forward to it at this point nor dreading it. Frankly, because I don’t have the energy to spend on either feeling. I figured at some point, the pain will get bad enough that I will see no other option but to have the surgery.
And I’ve had that type of situation in the past where it comes to a point that the surgery, no matter how dangerous or what the potential complication is, I come to terms with it because living with the problem is no longer possible. The pain is just too great.
But it isn’t just that. When I was having my teeth groomed by my dentist, I was complaining because I never, ever, had a cavity in my life. Until I turned 52. And I went to the dentist and I had 9 freaking cavities! I was, like, “What the hey!” I have been flossing and brushing and… What happened?!? And as I’m sitting there, he’s telling me that as we age, the chemical content of our saliva changes and that some people start experiencing more cavities as they get older. I’m, like, “This is bonkers!” I’m so… I don’t know! I have this thing where I wanted to die with my original teeth. But now, despite the fact that I brush three times a day, I floss, I water-pick, I have cleanings every three months, I typically have 1 to 2 cavities every single time I go to the dentist.
And that wasn’t the only thing that he mentioned. He was also talking about the fact that at our age, we go to bed, nothing hurts, and we wake up with something aching! I started to laugh! My dentist and I are the same age, by the way, and I am completely related! But I thought it was just because I was falling apart with all my health challenges! But no! Here he was, telling me he’s experiencing the same thing. And then at that point, I reached out to a couple of my girlfriends and they were, like, “Yeah… you’re not special. We feel the same way! We go to bed and then we wake up with a brand new ache! And we go to bed perfectly healthy and in the morning, we’re at our doctor’s because something has gone wrong overnight!
So I guess it’s something that we need to begin accepting — that our bodies are declining. And that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t eat healthily, that we shouldn’t exercise, because we still want to be physically fit. But there’s no turning back the clock at this point. Our bodies are on the other side, you know. We’ve hit middle age and
we’re on the downhill slope, I suppose. Or at least that’s how one of my girlfriends put it. Accept that we are on the downhill slope.
Another of my girlfriends is going through a major move. And she was saying, “You know, in the past, when we moved, I saw it as a new and exciting adventure.” And of course, I was looking at her and thinking, “Yeah, that’s how I ended up living in the Caribbean.” My husband said, “Hey, you wanna try this?” And I was like, “Sure! This will be fun!” Even though I don’t particularly enjoy the beach, I don’t particularly enjoy islands, it would be a new adventure! Okay? I’m a city girl — and I like my museums, and my big libraries and all my theaters!
So yeah, it was an adventure! But with more, I find myself wanting to go home. Home for us is Florida. And we do have a home there. Right now we’re staying there, as a matter of fact, because of the pandemic. But I’m beginning to think more of a permanent move.
It started when my mother passed away almost two years ago. Just that craving for home. For the familiarity of home. And if when I was 20, 30, 40 you had said to me, let’s move to Europe for 3 months, a year, several years — forever! — I would’ve probably jumped at the opportunity! Today, I’m like, “Uhumm..”.
I enjoy traveling. I really enjoy Europe, but do I wanna be on a flight that’s that long? And is it worth it? How long am I going to be there? Do I really want to be there for more than 2 weeks? It’s hard to be without my things. I like being near my doctors. I think, “Oh no! I sound like my in-laws!” But it’s definitely changed. And it’s changed! There are certain comfort things that I want to be around.
And that’s the other thing that I found. That has happened with age. When I was younger, I truly enjoyed new experiences. Now I enjoy them on a limited basis and often create more the comfort and coziness of my home. Which is not to say that I don’t want to travel. It’s just to say that I don’t want to travel for extensive periods. And now my favorite mode of traveling has become cruises (okay, right now, cruises are not a good idea — pandemic is going on — but I’m hoping this won’t go on forever, right?).
And I would really like to do a world cruise in my retirement. And I would like to do some river cruises in Europe. I’m a boring nerd and there exist river historical cruises in which they lecture you the whole way about all the historical things that happened. That’s my cup of tea. I really enjoy that.
So back to the original question: is age just a number? I think we have to face the reality that our body is not young anymore and it has new challenges and that we have no control over those challenges. So age is not just a number. But that doesn’t mean that we should be down about our age. I know that some women feel like another year is awful because they’re getting older. To me, I think of another year as a treasure of experiences, opportunities, and love. Of memories. And in some years, I’m just happy I survived! I survived and I have my family around me! My family that I love. My family drives me crazy. I hope that you have found a way to live your life happily as an older mom. And if you’re facing some challenges, I hope that you found this podcast inspiring.