'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.
(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
I don't know why it surprises me every year. As if once I got over the big 50 my birthdays would suddenly disappear and I could just eternally say, "Oh, Me? I'm 50" and I could freeze everything from head to toe right there. It's amazing to me how quickly this body that I thought I took such care with turned on me so quickly. Where did all those dance lessons and exercises go? I now wonder about all the money I spent on face masks, eye creams and special wrinkle reducing face washers I used from my twenties and how sadly they have failed me now. I think I want all my money back. Why can't they just stick some estrogen in a jar so I can put it straight into my pores and preserve myself?
When my mom passed in 2004 someone at the funeral said to me, "you're going to be just like your mom, look at you, you don't have a wrinkle on your face." I should have spit on the ground like my grandmother and her lady friends used to when complimented to ward off the curse. I should have said, "Hey, take that back" and spit on myself, or her shoes, or my shoes or however the old superstition goes.
Where have all my skin softening and tightening hormones gone? When did they decide to just shut down and go away. Shouldn't they have sent some sort of notice? Shouldn't they have set off an alarm saying "change skin care products, big changes coming!" But then again, I guess they did. Hot flashes, mood swings, changes in cycles all signs that somehow get lost in everyday life. And even though we all know it's coming it does feel as though it just kind of sneaks up on you.
My symptoms peaked one evening when I was feeling kind of down and my husband said, "Lets get out and go to a movie." He had seen the original City of Angels and was interested in the new version, so we went to what we thought would be an interesting American adaptation. Halfway through the movie I began to sob. I can't even tell you why. Can't remember the scene that got to me. Don't know why it touched me the way it did, but by the end of the movie I was sobbing so bad I couldn't catch my breath. I cried all the way home, cried myself to sleep, and woke up the next morning thinking. "OK that was just some weird, cathartic response." But on the way to work, I burst into tears again. After three weeks of crying at everything from random references, to movies of the week, to commercials about something or other that was "baby-soft" I finally went to see my doctor and sat in the waiting room crying. He calmly suggested I was beginning my peri-menopausal stage. He said I was moving onto the next stage of my life. I could expect mood swings and hot flashes but it was really nothing to worry about. It was all perfectly normal.
And although I thought it had happened overnight my doctor walked me through other things that had been happening that pointed to this new stage. Bluntly, this stage sucks. The only thing that sucks even worse is that it can last 5 years, 10 years, 15 years. No one has any idea. Great. And, just when I thought all the crying was over, the next phase kicked in: the hot flashes, night sweats and every emotional scar from my childhood rose up like that overgrown, scaled jabberwocky that calls to us all in adaptations of "Alice." I soon realized that all those fears, losses and things left undone were what made up my own personal jabberwocky and what I had to face was my own self and the path I had taken in my own life and not some fictional metaphorical symbol about what I feared.
Anyone that has known me a long time, knows how much I hate crying, being dependent on others, or anything that is "girly" in that way. Oh, sure, I'll spend hours doing my hair, make up, nails and picking the exact outfit, that girly stuff is okay. But all this crying and messy, uncontrollable emotion was like hell for me. A friend once said that in all the years he had known me, and all the things he had seen me go through, he had never seen me cry; not once. His friendship had helped me through a nasty divorce and my early single parent years of no alimony, no child support, no jobs, and at times, no place to live. And no one ever saw me cry. I couldn't. If one tear escaped I would collapse and not be able to go on; it was all too overwhelming. So, I never cried. At least, not where anyone could see.
So, you stuff things. You say, "I don't have time to deal with this now because I have a million things to do and if I start crying I will never stop." You keep going and stuffing and putting so many things into little cubbies so they can stay asleep when you are exhausted and when you know that you are so close to the edge of cracking that even one sad song, one sappy Hallmark show or one show of emotion will bring you down. I hung on like that for years.
But my reactions to that movie opened the door, my cubbies flushed, my fears and emotions blasted to the surface forming a scaly, writhing jabberwocky I couldn't ignore any longer. I had to turn and face her. So, I did. You know when you have a stomach virus and it's so much worse coming out than it was going in? This is how slaying your jabberwocky feels. And just when you think you've tackled it all, you find more scales and more folds that you thought were hidden away so well. And the battle continues.
So, is it gone now? Have I finally slain my jabberwocky? Nah, not by a long shot. But she's getting smaller and less scary everyday. Although she does grow a bit when I'm distracted; crafty little thing that I have created. I know she's always back there somewhere, waiting to whisper something negative in my ear. She can't hide anymore. I have looked into her eyes and can find her curled up in all those cubbies.
So Feb 3rd, I think I am ready for you this year. I'm not saying I'm not going to be a little depressed. Not admitting that I am by any means going to stop kicking and screaming as age tries to take over. And, I know that I am still going to have to resist the urge to push twenty-something, bikini wearing beach girls into the ocean this summer. Even if just to mess up their perfect hair. I'm just saying that I can finally see it for what it is and also what it is not. My life has created many ghosts that held me back and I can only get beyond them by looking them in the eye and realizing that they are pretty much of my own design.
So here's to everyone's birthday this year. May they bring your truest, deepest heart's desire. But be careful, sometimes finding your way to your heart's desire means taking a path straight through the line on the map of your life that cautions: Beyond Here Be Dragons.