Preparation Is Key

I knew this chrysalis stage was going to be rough, as if tackling pubescence in your fifties, but I have to admit the unrelenting joy was a total surprise.

The caterpillar chooses the food the butterfly will need, chooses the exact space to later spread its wings, without the space, the wings would never fly writes Marion Woodman. She goes on to say the chrysalis is essential. It is the twilight zone, a precarious world between past and future, like living in a gap, it naturally defines all that is to be.

I’ve come to believe aging well is all about preparation. Did I sufficiently feed myself with rich experiences, capacitate deeply rooted relationships, situate myself in a space that not only allowed for failure but a graceful recovery? If so, am I prepared to rid myself of this interim shelter, spread my wings, and live without the encumbrances of youth?

This is my journey through menopause, the untarnished truth, the reality of aging in a modern world, and how this redefined my perception of beauty.

When the tsunami hit, it was powerful and unexpected. I found myself sweating profusely in front of my students, I couldn’t sleep for more than a two-hour stretch, or decide on a particular mood, and never mind the unwarranted belly fat. My hair, skin, muscles, and bones staged a coup and I’m afraid I was not dealing with it well.

I took walks, ate kale, drank lots of water, and like Jesus there was never enough wine.

Our Predecessors

It’s noteworthy to mention that aging female whales also experience a hormone imbalance during their twilight years. The interesting thing is whales become leaders in their pods, whereas humans go on hormone replacement, and start searching the yellow pages for a good therapist.

We have an odd response to aging in our society—tackle the symptoms, hide the evidence. It’s as if we’re disposable, past our expiration date, left unrefrigerated, fermenting on the counter, our essence soured, spoiled, and yet some would say cultured.

It must be said, I miss my waist. The part of my anatomy designed to clarify the top half of my body from the bottom. It not only defined my shoulders, but scaled beautifully with my derrière, allowed me to bend gracefully, wear fashionable belts, offer a place to rest a baby or my hands when angry. It’s no longer there, as if a soft-serve ice cream cone, I’m suddenly layered. This could be for practical purposes, such as stability because otherwise, my boobs would totally throw me off balance.

People age. It’s not a design flaw or cruel and unusual punishment for surviving our youth. It’s a reward. We are finally unburdened by cycling hormones, the demands of fertility, and our homemade fledglings. I’m what you call a recovering enabler, I used to spend my day running amuck, delivering late papers, forgotten lunches, art projects, and gym clothes to three different schools, acting as a buffer during conflicts, generously (at times begrudgingly) accommodating the demands of family and clan, bending like a pretzel to make life easier for anyone caught in the vortex of my life.

I don’t miss all the noise and confusion, the chaotic pace, picky eaters, or monthly menses.

Today, I’m graced with quiet, unmitigated time, and the leisure to pursue all those dreams I stuck on that vision board in my thirties but somehow ended up in the back of a disorganized closet. I have arrived, it’s time to dust off that old bulletin board, and start pinning new goals.

My husband and I are revving up the romance. He’s taken to courting his bride. We bought a tandem bike, joined a gourmet cooking club, and added wine tasting to our extracurricular activities. He’s improving his golf game; I’m developing my writing and together we are decluttering the garage. Our travel plans have been hampered by the restrictions of an unexpected pandemic but like all things in life, this too shall pass. My schedule is malleable, I wrap it around my needs. Now I consider it a good day when I find my car keys, a parking space, and remember why I landed in the Target parking lot.

Survival of the Fittest

But wait for it … in the middle of all this menopausal unrest, I stumbled on a fabulous theory! The most prevalent premise behind menopause is called the grandmother hypothesis. In short, it suggests females may stop breeding to help their children and grandchildren survive and reproduce.

Do you understand the implications here?

I didn’t either.

In a world where my value was based on the productivity of my womb, no wonder I had a meltdown when my ovaries died. As my temperature rose, and the perky parts fell, I became a mother again.

Yes, it’s true. With the birth of my daughter’s daughter, I’m no longer a detriment to the ecosystem, like reusable containers I’ve been repurposed, restored, and revitalized.

I can’t say it enough, motherhood the second time around is pretty damn sweet, nothing falls out of your honeypot, and no stretch marks.

The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected, says Robert Frost.

My granddaughter asked me the other day, “Do those hurt, Grammie?” She was referring to the wrinkles around my eyes. I said, “No sweetheart, not at all.” I’m relishing the freedom from those confining roles of parent, caregiver, volunteer extraordinaire, to newly winged senior citizen, glorious, light, wrinkled, and free.

I still hate kale.

Naomi Wolf says, a consequence of female self-love is that the woman grows convinced of social worth. Her love for her body will be unqualified, which is the basis of female identification. If a woman loves her own body, she doesn’t grudge what other women do with theirs; if she loves femaleness, she champions its rights.

“Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you should have always been,” says David Bowie. Writing has given me a place to spread my wings. I could not have anticipated the enormous endowment of this work. My concept of beauty has shifted over time. I believe there is nothing more beautiful than a confident, unencumbered woman, who understands not only her immeasurable worth, but her influence on the perpetuation of society. I appreciate the brevity of our existence, the precarious space between past and future in which we exist, and I’m ever so grateful for our latent ability to break through the chrysalis, take to the skies, endowed with wrinkles, and resplendent joy.

Cheryl is the first-place winner for the 2022 Body-Positivity Essay Contest.

Cheryl Oreglia hosts a lifestyle blog called Living in the Gap. She claims the space between past and future, where one’s potential is created or destroyed. With arresting humor, Oreglia draws you into her cantankerous life, forty-year marriage, empty nest, and evolving faith. By cleaning out the things that clutter her life, she illuminates our own in her popular memoir-style blog. Oreglia surrounds herself with a gaggle of intriguing friends who challenge her to live authentically in a rapidly changing world. Oreglia uses her experience to explore what matters most in life … the degree to which we love and are loved.