Thursday, June 24, 2010

Am I too old for this? Only sometimes.

A friend of mine remarked, after being up for three hours in the middle of the night with a child who was supposedly Ferberized over a year ago, that sometimes she thinks she's too old for this. I heard the same sentence the other day from a woman at the playground whose tot had stepped, barefoot of course, in dog poop.

I said it myself when I made two superfluous runs up the 64 steps to our apartment with the suddenly not-so-little Grape in my arms, because I forgot first the keys and then his sippy cup. "I'm too old for this" is a sentiment shared and voiced often among the parents I know.

I need look no further than my sister (ten years my junior) to see the stamina I've lost in a decade. She still goes out all night and rallies to face the next day. I used to do that. She has the boundless energy required to chase after a toddler all day, every day. The thing is, reproduction is nowhere near her radar, just like it wasn't anywhere on mine when I was her age. Like so many of my friends, I used my twenties for grad school, for travel, for choosing the wrong guys and for trying on a couple of careers. I had an incredible reservoir of energy that I could tap to get through a day at the office after a night out.

Now it's a miracle if I can keep my eyes open for an hour after The Grape sacks out for the night. Despite all those pre-natal pledges that parenthood wouldn't change their lifestyles, most of my thirty and forty-something friends haven't seen the other side of midnight (voluntarily) for ages. We arrive at restaurants before six, to eat among the blue hairs and high chairs, and though we call it "drinks and heavy hors d'oeuvres," we all know it's dinner. More than one mommy I know has admitted to sometimes hiding in the bathroom, without a need to be there, because it's the only place left in her world where she can steal a few minutes alone to regroup.

Some of this stems from physical exhaustion, but there's also a psychological side effect of later-in-life parenthood: those of us who spend thirty years plus on the planet prior to reproducing get used to having some time to ourselves. Our systems short circuit if that need isn't addressed periodically. I'm sure younger parents need time to re-charge, too, but I suspect they rebound from a lost night's sleep or a week with a fussy, sick baby faster than their older counterparts.

Fertility doctors love to show prospective patients scary charts about the decline of female fertility after age 25, 30, 35, et cetera. Reproductive endocrinology is a huge and lucrative business, but even the most amazing medical advances haven't outpaced biology. Women's bodies reach peak child bearing age sometime during the early-mid twenties. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for the majority of women with careers. Almost half the babies I know were conceived with the help of some kind of technology. The fertility medicine adventure puts its own physical and emotional strain both on women's bodies and lives. The hormones make you crazy and/or bloated. The time commitment takes over your life. The emotional roller coaster hijacks your existence. More than one woman I know who's been through IVF has grumbled that if she'd known ten years ago that this was how it was going to be, she would have planned her life differently.

Or maybe not.

Most days I'm glad I had The Grape later rather than sooner. Even though parenthood can be exhausting, I'm told it gets (physically) less challenging as the years go by. I hope that because I had an excellent education, my child will have more opportunities than he would have if I'd never left home. Because I had the opportunity to travel as a young person, I can't wait to take The Grape to both the great cities and great wildernesses of the world. As recently as a couple of years ago, if I had two spare dimes to rub together, I'd spend them on a trip. Despite my loathing of big luggage, I'm eager to start traveling again. I love that my kid will grow up having friends around the globe, and as he grows older, I hope that travel will spark his imagination and make him a better, more aware and more charitable citizen of the world. As tiring as traveling can be, it's also incredibly energizing to step out of the every day routine to see or do something foreign.

It's true that people who become parents early on will have their old age to travel and pursue other interests. I'd love to hear from people who did it this way, as my immediate circle is severely skewed towards the older-parent demographic. They've had big careers, traveled to every corner of the earth, nurtured their own talents and pursued various interests before making babies.

Most days, even when I'm gulping an ungodly volume of coffee to get through the afternoon, I like the idea (sorry for the cliche, but The Grape is stirring so I need to type faster) that I've lived a little before becoming a mom. I hope it makes me a better parent.

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