April 2018

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Time to talk about it

The first fall that I taught at Tyee High School, an assistant principal, the saucy Joan Ferrigno, new introduced a strategy for having students learn vocabulary to the staff. As I remember, she put a new vocabulary word in the middle of a page, what it means in the upper left hand corner, what it doesn't mean in the upper right hand corner, three examples below the word and three non-examples below those.

Saucy Joan chose to define the word "menopause," which was clearly on her mind. I remember that she introduced her vocabulary word by saying, "I know that some of you complained last year when I talked about menopause, but I don't care. Today, I'm defining menopause." I don't remember all of the details, but I remember that an example of someone who experienced menopause was Oprah. A non-example was Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense under W.

See what I mean: saucy. Some people on the staff were very quiet. I roared with laughter. Joan was flaunting convention, as she often did, and it seems that one convention is for women--maybe men, too--not to talk about what it's like to get older. I think it's time we start talking about it: time to come out of another closet.

The first time I remember hearing about menopause was when I was  in my early twenties. I was walking with older female colleagues outside of the lunchroom at the school where I taught in Dallas. I was shocked and appalled. As the women laughed about night sweats and volatility, I couldn't believe that I had never heard about my destiny before.

I knew about things that happened to men as they aged, and any child growing up these days who looks at the front page of the Sports section in The Seattle Times knows about "Erectile Dysfunction." The little boys and girls know that the greying men with their greying wives are super-elated about the treatment.

But do we get a daily dose of menopause? No.

Last week, my delightfully curious classmate Robin, who is in her early thirties, asked me about menopause: What happens? What's it like? How long does it go on? Really? Oh, my heavens.

This closet that I think it's time to open up has been closed for a long time. It's hot in there. Super hot. Take off every piece of cloth that's touching your body hot. You'll have a headache. I hope you have a towel in your closet because if you fall asleep, your body will become a fountain of sweat. You'll be tired. You will probably need to pee. Often. I don't know what you'll do about that in your closet. If you don't know either, you'll have a temper tantrum. You will probably kick a hole in the wall.

That's what my generally calm partner Ann did when she was going through menopause and couldn't find a tee-shirt that she wanted to wear. Yep, she kicked a hole in the wall. (She fixed it after she calmed down. I've told that story a thousand times. I suspect she's sick of it. I suspect I will never tire of this story because it's true AND it's so uncharacteristic of her.)

A few years ago, before I started what in women's secret code is "the change," I went to Menopause the Musical with Ann and our friends Ellen and Karen. The three of them had already experienced "the change," and they thought it was hilarious. So did the other three hundred gray-haired women in the theatre. Their were seven greying men (with their greying lady-partners, I presume), and the men hee-hawed, too. I was the only person who was not laughing. I was seeing my future, and it was not funny.

Now that I'm going through the change--for my fifth year--it's bizarre, but it's really not so bad. I think we should not be so afraid of being old ladies.

I exercise twice a week with women in their seventies and eighties and my neighbor Annabella who's 93. They ache, but they're hilarious. They're my peeps.

There could be worse things than being an old lady. (Look at the bottom of the front page of the sports section, for example.) Just like there are worse things than having brain tumors and disabilities. It's time we demystified it all. When we talk about it (or sing about it), we can laugh about it.

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