A little over a year ago, Janet Jackson announced to the world that she was expecting. At 50. And my husband sent me the following horrifying text:
Haha, right? Hilarious, right? Kind of, except, he was only partially joking. Now that our kids are 17 and 21, he often gets nostalgic for the “good ol’ days” when they were small and cute. Who doesn’t? But to imagine going through pregnancy, infancy, toddler years, on up through college, all over again starting at 50? I’m sorry, but the only proper response to that idea is a big, fat “Hell-to-the-NO!”
We recently spent a few days at the beach with our youngest son. We let him bring two of his buddies along for the trip. Since we were in a quiet part of town and the boys had no access to a car — and they are good kids who stay out of trouble anyway — we pretty much left them to their own devices. I told my son to let me know where they were going to be, to check in periodically, and to be home by 11pm. During the day, when we were comfortably relaxing under our umbrella on the beach, we could observe them from about 100 yards away throwing a football, messing around in the water, watching girls, and keeping their distance from us… In other words, acting like normal teenage boys.
In contrast, one umbrella over, I watched a mom and her small son all day long — lathering him up with sunscreen, making sure to look up whenever he yelled “Watch me, Mommy!,” digging for sand crabs with him, and letting him buy a treat from the ice cream truck. It definitely made me a little wistful. But instead of fantasizing about having another baby of my own, I found myself instead dreaming about — gasp — grandchildren.
In some ways this seems totally ridiculous to me, but I do have a son who is on the brink of actual adulthood; he is dipping his toe into the real world this summer with an internship in another city, and I’ve seen him mature more in two months than I could have ever believed… For the first time, I actually have real hope that he’s going to be able to successfully fly the coop and start a life of his own. Obviously, this is always our end game as parents, but this is the first time I’ve actually caught a glimpse of this vision becoming reality.
While he doesn’t even have a steady girlfriend (that I know of), hopefully the track to successful adulthood leads also to marriage, family, and “settling down.” Suddenly I see myself becoming one of those moms who nag their kids about giving them grandkids. I finally understand why people are always so excited about that stage of life. It seems you get all the love, all the joy, all the pride, all the fun of watching a child grow up — without really having the mental load that goes with it.
This “mental load” thing was brilliantly illustrated recently by a French artist named Emma in a comic called, “You Should Have Asked.” It explains a concept that I have always inherently understood and felt, but never really knew how to articulate. Basically, in every household, there is always one person — and this is almost ALWAYS the female partner, regardless of whether she works full time outside of the home or not — who carries the burden of the “mental load.” She is the one who remembers birthdays, schedules the doctor/dentist/veterinarian appointments, plans the vacations, hires the babysitters, knows what day school starts, remembers to feed the dog and water the plants, fills out the school paperwork, decides what’s for dinner, registers for summer camps, keeps the family calendar, etc., etc., etc. Even with a supportive and helpful spouse — which my husband definitely is — there is something completely exhausting about carrying this burden every single day. (In case you missed it the first time, here’s the link to that comic again. I think everyone in America should read it.)
So, my dear husband, please understand that this is why I roll my eyes when you ask me to remind you to do something, and why I truly mean it when I say, “I don’t care,” when you ask me where I want to go to dinner. And why, at age 50, I made double and triple sure with my OB-GYN that a spontaneous Janet Jackson pregnancy is (almost) impossible for me. I would much rather look forward to a grandchild for whom I am not responsible for setting up feeding schedules and immunizations and parent-teacher conferences and piano lessons and college visits… No rush, boys, but don’t rule it out forever, okay?