We had The Talk again.
“Mommy. Can you pleeeeease have another baby? It doesn’t have to be a sister. It could be a brother.”
We are, where else, in the car, where all of our intimate conversations occur. Her willingness to introduce another male into the household betrays her desperation. She has considerably lowered her standards.
Unfortunately, they are not low enough.
“Darlin, I’ve told you. Mommy is finished making babies.”
“But wby?” she presses.
“I’ve just gotten too old, honey.” I realize I am going extra heavy with the terms of endearment. Slathering the bad news with honey. Trying to make it more palatable.
“But you’re not too old, mommy. Grandma’s old.”
But I am.
And I am more aware of my age than ever. I may still attack the day with the same youthful energy I had in my twenties, but night rolls around and somnolence sets in. Once, after dinner, I felt asleep sitting up in a chair. I’ve finally bought face cream, to keep the lines creeping around my eyes at bay, but I have a sneaking suspicion it is too late. Like running out to buy a new shovel after the snow has begun to fall. And for the first time, I wonder about the appropriateness of my clothing. Is this too young? Too revealing? Is somebody going to eye the barrette in my hair and think I am trying too hard?
Kevin would argue this point—that I am too old—he has some strange faith that I still have the mammalian ability to bear life young, but my ovaries have taken to spitting out eggs at strange and random intervals, and I know they are fixing to retire.
Middle age is at once cruel and kind. There are benefits to the slowing that is taking place. Much of the anxiety I felt for the past 42 years is dissipating. I find myself wondering what the hell I was afraid of all that time. All those hours wasted worrying, anticipating, when I might have been looking, listening, savoring. I am here now. And it is all so beautiful. But just as I have arrived, I am aware of its end.
Suddenly, the heads around me are gray. People I know are getting divorced, having heart attacks, dying. What once seemed to happen to other people or at least, several generations removed, too far to touch, has moved into the foreground.
I realize, my parents will inevitably die.
And all the while, inside I feel young, an indefinable number of years old. Each time I step in front of a mirror I am surprised. “That’s me?” I whisper. Not that I’m terribly changed, but the woman staring back, her eyebrows raised, her forehead divided by four distinct furrows, doesn’t match the image of myself that I carry in my mind.
Did it ever? I think I recall, in my earliest professional days, thinking that I felt about seven inside. An imposter, waiting to be discovered. I had wanted, so badly, to be taken seriously. I longed for a wrinkle or two that would lend me some credibility. Does the inside ever catch up to the outside?
Sophie’s pleading takes me back out of my head and into the car.
“But Emily’s mom just had a baby. And so did Madeline’s. And…” she rattles off the names of the thirty-something parents of her friends. The women who got started a little earlier in life.
I am tempted to tell her that she was my fourth pregnancy. The one shining diamond dug from my empty mines. That I will not tempt fate. That I cannot risk the heartache. That I no longer have the will to try.
Instead, I tell her I am satisfied with what I have. But, if she wants, one day she can have as many babies as she can muster.
“I’m going to have triplets then,” she announces.
“Triplets?” I laugh.
“Yes. And I’ll marry two women. We’ll each take care of one baby.”
No wonder she thinks I can still have a baby. This child thinks anything is possible.