Monday, September 19, 2005

A new phenomenon is sweeping our nation and homage needs to be made to a new demographic that is gaining population and popularity—the “Old Mom.” In times past, everyone knew one of these bastions of impropriety who gave birth in her 40s and forever bore the shame. But the old archaic notions associated with the graying, middle-aged mom are gone. As a teenaged son once remarked about his mother’s well-behaved late-life baby, “It’s not that she’s so good. It’s that you’re an old mom, and you finally know what you’re doing!” His old mom acknowledged that he was right, and then she told him to shut up.

See, old moms have a lot going for them. Old Moms Rock (and roll) (all day long)--starting right with birthing, which many of them have previously experienced in their younger years, when they were stupid and afraid. They have noble notions of birthing absent medication, in soothing tubs of warm water, with Mozart softly playing in the background. They have heard the tales of women who dropped their womb’s cargo mid-row and continued to tend to work in the fields, of exponential pain and deadly complications, which they believe wholeheartedly. Old moms feel fear, but it is tempered by their years. They’ve seen things, they’ve been places, they know stuff. They accept all offers of assistance and indeed demand reinforcement. They face whatever danger that may lie ahead with the wisdom that their fate is beyond their own making and not a small degree of fatalism. And when labor is tough, they are not bogged down in ethical dilemmas, putting on brave faces of misguided idealism—they call for drugs with an authority that is unquestioned.

And the little bundle arrives to such pure delight! Old moms do not see obstacles, they see opportunity! They know that few times in their life provide the unique occasion they now have to be honored for what is essentially a bodily function. They luxuriate in cat naps throughout the day with the pure joy born of guiltless necessity. Night time feedings and changings provide precious quiet time to snack, monopolize the television, read trash and enjoy the absolute adoration and life-altering bond between mother and child.

Old moms are only slightly removed from grand-parentage. They give a whole new meaning to the word “dotage.” They indulge their young one in all things truly harmless, because by now they know the difference between real and perceived danger. “Why not” is the old mom’s motto. Dessert before dinner, why not? Spilled bubble solution, they rationalize, makes for cleaner floors. And what’s a little ingested dirt—mushrooms are commonly packed with a light dusting of potting soil and you don’t see anyone’s stomach getting pumped. Old moms will wear underwear on their head and black out a tooth with a raisin if it will get a laugh. They’ll let the laundry and the dishes pile up without a second thought. For one thing, they care less what their neighbors think and more how their kid feels. For another, they have many unexpected visits from in-laws, bosses and ministers under their belt—they can pull a white tornado out of their sleeve when the situation demands it.

The battle of the bulge is ancient history for old moms. They lost long ago, and like the Japanese, have made peace with the brave new world in which they find themselves. It’s not that bad, they find, to be free of the burden of fashion and propriety. Don’t forget, they are old, and they have discovered the timeless classics are more often on sale and can turn a frumpy old broad into a class dame as quick as you can say “support garment.”

Old moms have another decided advantage if they also have some older kids: Perspective. When a 5 year old says tells her mother she hates her, an old mom can honestly respond, “Sweetie, I’ve been hated by meaner and bigger kids than you.” The attitudes that crush young earnest mothers who are trying to do the best they possibly can will weather them for old motherhood. By the time they are old moms, they have finally realized that they can never reach their full parenting potential--perfection, (the same limit everyone else faces). Now they are further enlightened if by some miracle they did, it still wouldn’t be enough for their teenagers. And ironically, this is very liberating.

There is another valuable kernel of wisdom brought on by the notorious-for-good-reason teen years, followed by the what-is-my-problem empty nest years. As older children leave home, something has to fill the empty spot. Married old moms recognize that when the chicks leave the nest, they will be spending a lot of time with the old buzzard. Single old moms will rely on their friends in unique ways—think of the paradox: “Helen, I’m in the throes of empty nest syndrome. Please be a dear and babysit for me tonight!” Old moms recognize the need to cultivate the lasting relationships, the ones that go beyond the scope of the parent/child. Only old moms know that true veneration belongs not to models, actresses or politicians, but to BABYSITTERS.

When school days ensue, old moms are at the head of the class. They have enough distance from their own youth to realize that their children’s teachers were often recently children themselves. While old moms may wince at the teacher’s spelling of “seperate”, they value the daily freedom teachers afford them. Old moms are aware of the delicate balance between social and academic exposure. Old moms let their kids decide what extracurricular school activities they will join. Old moms know not to volunteer too often or too early in the season to bring the team’s oranges and bottled water. They know, however, to bring crosswords, needlework or some other diversion for practice times. (They also know where to hide a bag of Milanos and how to place their arm and mouth in line with the car’s blind spot to avoid detection and the resultant onus to share.)

Old moms are less likely to try to live out their dreams through their late-life children. They’ve seen the folly in this. They don’t put their daughters in pageants, but they do put them in dance classes. And when their precious one picks her nose on stage or plies like a bowl-legged rodeo clown, they delight in the unpretentious spontaneity of innocent youth, and somewhere down deep they remember when it was they.

Old moms have obstacles. Obviously, they are a little slower, they get tired quicker, and they don’t put up with as much. They don’t benefit as much as younger moms from the breakthrough psychology of the day, their idealism having been replaced with eye-rolling and muttering sarcastically “Rrrrrrrrrrright”. And children of older moms have to deal with a mother less susceptible to wheedling and cajoling, one who doesn’t fall for the latest fad, a mom unswayed by tales of “everyone else”. Old moms make up for it by not bringing home new competing babies—until grandbabies arrive, and they get played with, then sent home. Fun for all!

Old moms know there are no guarantees. They accept this, because they’ve seen what happens if you don’t. And in accepting this fact, they fully embrace the time they have left and realize how precious it is. They try to live in the moment, because it’s all they can count on with absolute certainty. They relish the peaceful relaxation in a game of Go Fish, the novelty of exotic cuisine like roasted Peeps, peanut butter and teddy grahams. Old moms put their underwear on their head, get on their aching knees and smile widely with their raisin-gapped grins, and children of older moms are better for it.

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