Surf and Turf–When Menopause Is on the Menu

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Abby Catering Company Photo

Mima Tipper and I are both graduates of the MFA Program in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  I am pleased to present her guest post…

Recently at dinner I fanned my face, asking, “Is anyone else hot?” Without missing a beat, my 18 yr-old son said, “Oh, Mom. It’s just menopause.”

Some pun intended, his snap-quick response gave me pause.  Sure, I knew I was experiencing dribbles of early menopause, but to have my child—my son, no less—chime in (even going on to joke that he learned about menopause on “hotandcold.com”, and oh, yeah, that site required a “flash” drive) well, that surprised me.

Later I reflected on my own teen years: did I have a clue menopause even existed back then? The answer? No. Worse, I don’t think the concept registered with me truly until I was well into my twenties, maybe older.

Intrigued by my cluelessness, I asked my Mom about her menopause experience, particularly the onset. Her answer surprised me more than my son’s dinner-table comments.  “Oh,” she said, “I don’t think I went through any of that.”

Hunh?

How did she escape the mood swings? The hot flashes? The night sweats? The bizarre cycles of doom, where hellacious PMS pre-curses 30 or so hours of flooding rivaling the red sea?

Could she have forgotten? Or could it be that she hadn’t been aware that these early signs had anything to do with menopause?

Then I remembered…The Trip.

In the spring of 1975, my Mom and my then StepDad took all of us (2 yr-old half-sister, 15yr-old brother, and 14 yr-old me) to Florida for a little R&R. The cracks in Mom’s and StepDad’s marriage already showing, the trip’s mood was rugged from the get-go, everything coming to a head the night we dined at a fancy restaurant. My brother ordered the most expensive item on the menu—yes, “Surf and Turf”—and StepDad had a conniption, demanding he order something cheaper. My brother did, and Mom, usually conciliatory to the max, sank into a pinched-lip sulk for the remainder of the meal.

Later, through the thin wall of our no-frills motel room, I remember hearing Mom and StepDad “discussing” things. The next morning he was gone. Mom? She took us on a Mastercard-driven spending tear that, frankly, scared us kids. What I remember most was going back to that fancy restaurant (more than once) and Mom insisting, insisting, my brother order the Surf and Turf.

When we returned home, StepDad had pretty much moved out and, probably needless to say, divorce was imminent.

I reminded Mom recently about The Trip, and a door of realization opened. Maybe some of her furiously irrational behavior back then could be attributed to the onset of menopause. The likely truth gave us both an aha moment.

Now, I’m not trying to make a big point here, but these days when I think of the sum of my own menopause experience so far—that steak-sized helping of discomfort often accompanied by a tasty lobster-tail of humor—yup, I see a big plate of Surf and Turf.

Sure, my head and body are often whacked, and it is mad strange to have my teenage son (along with my other two kids AND my husband) tease me occasionally about that whackedness. The truth is, however, that I know we’ll all deal better if we keep discussing life experiences like the big M openly, and—more than anything else—if we just remember to keep laughing.

Mima Tipper:   Mima Tipper has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is represented by Erzsi Deàk at Hen & Ink Literary Studio, henandink.com. Her YA short story “A Cut-OutFace” is in the latest issue of Hunger Mountain’s online Journal of the Arts (Read it here) and another of her YA short stories, “Waiting for Alice”, will appear in Sucker Literary Magazine’s premiere issue, coming winter, 2012. Mima lives in Vermont with her family, and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

51 responses »

  1. I agree Mima, it is good to recognize the signs and be able to deal with them. I’m sure I was unaware when my mom was going through menopause but think now it must have been in my late high school years – a tough time for mom and daughter under any circumstances. I know I was at my worst when my oldest son was a Jr. and Sr. in high school and it was very trying. I knew I was hormonally out of control many times but probably didn’t do enough to offset the mood swings by laughing and letting go.

    Barbara, I am loving your blog. Just wish I had had it 10 years ago!

    • Thanks for reading, Sandy, and yes, you are spot on about the extra challenge of being menopausal and negotiating teen children–that’s a lot of hormones flying around:) Seriously, though, I was glad my son made his funny comments because I don’t think I would’ve had the presence of mind to, you know, bring up the whole menopause thing as a topic of conversation.

  2. So true…things were not spoken about..now everything is discussed..It is good…I guess..My Mother was saying that our generation makes much out of every ‘little” thing .But I reminder her that she didn’t have 9
    year olds going through menopause!!

    • Hi Brooks, thanks for reading:) Funny thing here is that I’m so much more like my Mom as it was my oldest (who doesn’t want to be identified by name:D) who brought up the topic. I’m not sure I would’ve said anything, you know?

  3. Great article Mima! I think I will adopt a little of both your mother’s approach and yours. Ignore it and if I can’t laugh about it!

    • Hi Mary, thanks for reading and yes, a good dose of ignoring (I usually choose exercise, chocolate or a super cheesy movie) does me a world of good!

  4. Mima–

    I love this. What a wild realization to make with your mom. Incredible, actually. Thank you for sharing it. And for reminding me to continue to talk about…well…all of it with my three kids.

    • Tam! Thanks for reading and, yeah, it was pretty bizarre to have that convo with my Mom. I mean, the marriage was in trouble anyway, but it was wild for her (and me) to connect those dots. The other thing is that I’m not sure I would’ve ever actually talked to the kids about the whole menopause thing (though we do discuss lots of other hormonally-charged topics) if my boy hadn’t made his comments.

  5. Mima,

    My mom and yours must have been cut from the same cloth. Mine could not understand when I was rocked hard by menopause and searched for any and all help—emotional, physical, and psychical. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  6. Hi Whitney, thanks for reading! Is your Mom a crazee Greek lady, too? Just kidding. My Mom rocks, but she is the goddess of tolerating massive discomfort, and is boggled steadily by the stuff hubs and I discuss with our kiddlies. Not in a neg way, but just doesn’t see the point. I can’t say I disagree with her totally, and I’m not sure if my son hadn’t made his comments whether I would’ve said much, you know?

  7. This is fabulous, Mima and Barbara. I laughed as I read – and then remembered my own mom’s rocky road and her murderous rage at my dad over a similar restaurant experience! (what is it about restaurants?) We were on vacation, too, and she packed up and left in the middle of the night – so unlike her – and hopped a train for home…but was back a day later. My dad learned his lesson, it scared the pants off me and my sister, but it was a turning point for mom who seemed to leap to a new plateau of self-awareness and assertiveness.

    Wow. Thanks for kindling this memory!

    • Hi Janet! Thanks for reading and how freaky that you have a similar memory starring your folks:) I’m glad for you that this kind of experience inspired both of your parents to move to a new and positive level; clearly they rock!

    • Hi Sharry! Thanks for reading, and humor (if at all possible) is pretty much my answer to everything; I totally learned that from my Mom, and practice it daily with the fam scene.

    • Thanks for reading, Annemarie and you are SO right about kids and the internet! I am amazed daily by how aware my kids are (and by what a dinosaur I am:-D ) Hope you are well, and I’d love to know if you ended up using my short story in your class.

  8. Once at the school where I taught, the students did an imitation of me which involved stripping off layers of clothes and flinging imaginary windows open, all accompanied by that question of all questions, “Is anyone else hot?” The thing is, I knew it was coming, because unlike your Mom, mine was very up front about her hot flashes and indeed, sometimes still has them, at 85! Oh my . . .

    I love the surf and turf metaphor, it’s a hearty and sometimes expensive thing, menopause!

    • Oh, Meg, say it isn’t so! Poor Nana!

      I hope your students gave you a good laugh, and I hope the flashing of heat is one thing you will not follow your Mama in:) Thanks for reading:)

    • I’ve heard of that. Gosh, do women’s troubles ever go away? Maybe it makes one feel youthful to have hotflashes at 85. I wonder what your mom would say?

  9. Didn’t you mention a 2 year old as well, a peri-menopausal baby? Maybe a peri-menopausal marriage choice? Brains get whacked out with hormones and some times judgement is flawed. Oh to be your Mom and not remember, course if she had 2 teenagers and a toddler and a divorce to deal with, it may have slipped her mind!

    • Yes, my Mom did shoot the moon during those years in the dealing department. Soon after the divorce we then moved to Florida, and a whole new phase opened when she tried to get “credit” on her own. Lots of learning for those of us watching, and lots of distraction for her from any bodily stuff! Thanks for reading:)

  10. Sometimes I walk down Church Street and look at people as a package of hormones. The young couples oozing ocytocin. The little kids building the platform for puberty. The extremely old people robbed of testosterone and estrogen. And the menopausal invisible 50 year olds+. We are complete products of hormones. I think we just notice it more now….for all different reasons of course. LGD

    • Thanks for reading, LG, and you are SO right about the human hormonal swirl. When all the kids are home, we’ve got a veritable tornado going on around these parts. Whew!

  11. I loved reading this blog, Mima! I can just see (name of eldest deleted) making that remark! I work at a school and most of the teachers are women “of a certain age.” We can tell when we’re hormonal cause the doors of the staff room are all flung open no matter the temperature.

    I remember asking my mom about menopause and she acted very vague and mellow and said, “No, I don’t think I had anything like that,” and then come to find out she took hormones for like 50 years! No wonder! When she stopped at 75, she started having night sweats.

    Another funny thing is that during menopause we have increased testosterone, which can account for some of the, um, how shall I say it, “aggressive” feelings. But men have to deal with that hormone 24/7! So comments from the (male) peanut gallery on it are a tad ironic.

    • Linden! Thanks so much for reading, and your story about your Mom gave me the shivers (to go with my sweats:) I’m such a baby about taking pills; even the thought of taking hormones or supplements makes me a bit queasy. It is great to share these stories.

  12. Great blog, Barbara. Wonderful post, Mima. Yes, it’s all about the laughter. And how things have changed for the better. Hotandcold.com… Fantastic!

  13. Love this post, Mima. My mom died before going through menopause so it’s all new to me. I wanted to share my experiences of pre-menopause with my grown daughters so they wouldn’t be in the dark, and my middle daughter–turning 30 this year, told me she’s now scarred for life. A little melodramatic but it made me laugh.

    • Oh, Kari, thanks for reading, and I’m sad to hear that your Mom passed away…:(

      Has your funny, melodramatic daughter had kids yet? If not, she’ll change her tune about the concept of “scarring,” I suspect.

  14. Vacations are often highly-charged, aren’t they? I still remember a guy I saw flipping out at a shuttle driver in Disney World because the bus was full…there’s a nice memory for his kids!

    I seem to be in the lucky minority free of side effects…or maybe I just blocked them out?!

    • Hi Tracy, Thanks so much for reading, and how unfortunate to witness such a scene at a place geared for families, fun and relaxation. Lucky you on being free of menopausal side effects:)

  15. I love my wife’s stories. And she totally overdramatizes about her “altered” states due to menopause, at least in terms of what she shows to her family. Perhaps the real storm is still on the horizon?! Love and Laughter!!!

  16. as i enjoy this beautiful november here in vermont, i can’t help but wonder if mother earth is experiencing menopause as well! i see so many similarities to my menopause and the planet: the warming, need to check strong emotions, need to look inward for strength and wisdom, as well as the need to connect as one people to keep the peace. also the healthier my lifestyle the fewer the symptoms.

    • Hi Judi, Thanks for reading, and I appreciate your thoughts on the parallel between our life experiences and those of our planet.

  17. John! Really appreciate the read, and your kind words. I could also add here that the arts have an amazing and positive effect on life experiences, especially some of the trying ones like menopause, and that having an awesome theater like the Flynn in my neighborhood offering stupendous shows provides the best kind of distraction!

  18. My husband has been blaming my recent rants on my Italian heritage since I’ve convinced him it can’t possibly be peri-menopause for me…I’m only 29 ~ for the 21st time:) Am I in denial?
    Thanks Mima for such an enlightening story – it will keep us talking about it and laughing for a long time!

    • Oh, Diane, peri-menopause at 29 would be a killer, especially if it went on for 21 years:) Thanks so much for reading, and those of us with Mediterranean heritage get double duty on the ranting, right? Great to have so many excuses for whackedness!

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