Today is Sunday.
Regardless of what day you’re reading this on I’m writing it on a Sunday. I know it’s Sunday because I just took my alendronate sodium pill. That’s what my husband calls my “bone pill.” I have osteoporosis. I take my “bone pill” once a week, first thing in the morning. I’m not supposed to eat for 30 minutes after taking the pill and I’m not supposed to lie down. I usually take my dog for a walk.
I’m not even that old, but as Indiana Jones said, “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”
I’m a cancer survivor and a brain aneurysm survivor so it’s not too surprising I need a pill to keep my skeleton from crumbling under me. It’s just one of the pills I take. Most of them are vitamins. I tend to forget whether I’ve taken them or not so now I have the truest badge of old age – a multi-day pill container.
I’ll blame it on writing. Writers, just like all creative people, lose track of time. And days. And weeks. And years. So now I have a pill container to help me keep track, but I still couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been working on my latest writing project. Four years? Five years? I can’t remember. Maybe I need a multi-year pill container for my writing projects.
The last time my writing group met we talked about how history and the media- books, movies, even YouTube – have stereotyped older women. The witch, the crone, the “Karen.” These are women who society sees as troublesome. They are past their usefulness and a menace to society. At least they’re not burned at the stake anymore.
Fortunately today’s older women have role models that help us reject and defy these negative stereotypes: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Angela Merkel, Katherine Johnson.
But I wonder how these ancient stereotypes – dare I say archetypes – began? Why is the witch old and ugly? Why is the crone thin and grey? Why is the “Karen” hated more than the worst criminals?
According to scientists there are only three mammal species that experience menopause. Humans, killer whales and pilot whales.
These three intelligent species share more than menopause. They share close relationships with family and friends, with children and grandchildren. But it’s their relatively long lifespan that really sets them apart. Post-menopausal females teach and nurture the next generation. Since no more energy need be spent on having babies, they can use their time and energy on their daughters’ offspring. The older women have forfeited their ability to reproduce so they can help their grandchildren survive. This is known as the ‘grandmother hypotheses.’ (source NPR)
Consider how antiquity looked at the life changes a woman goes through:
The young girl is bright and inquisitive. She is daring and can outrun most of the boys. She is often stronger and bigger that the boys. She can fight them easily and chase them away. Then…
The boys are bigger than her. The same boys who use to chase her and lose now can chase her and win. Life is so unfair. The boys are gaining ground, moving ahead, exploring the world.
Consider the new mother. She can’t spend her time philosophizing. She can’t spend her time exploring. Every waking moment must be spent on one thing: the baby. How to take care of it, how to keep it alive. Keep it healthy. Protect it, make it strong. Make sure it has all its needs. The new mother can seem dull witted because she is sleep deprived. She has one obsession, her child.
Here is where the Grandmother Hypothesis blooms. Who steps in to let the young mother sleep? Who loves her baby as much as she does? Who can help her raise this young individual to become a healthy member of society? Because what is a civilization without children who have been protected and nurtured and trained and taught by their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters?
Finally, after many years of toil, she no longer needs to run away from boys because they are no long chasing her. Her children are grown and her skin and hair shows her age.
But something magical overcomes her. She no longer has to prepare for her monthly cycle (I won’t go into what menstruation was like before the conveniences of modern sanitation) and she can do whatever she wants without worry of pregnancy or monthly pain. That must have seen like magic. She can hike a mountain or swim a lake anytime.
But most of all….
She finally has time to think. She has time to philosophize and seek the wisdom of the universe. Menopause gives her freedom and throughout the history of mankind, including right now in the Ukraine, freedom is a radical idea.