As I hit 42 yesterday and pretty much suffered the “epicenter” of a nervous breakdown that’s been brewing for a few weeks, I had a few epiphanies. One was this: I can totally understand why a woman my age would want cosmetic surgery.
Why? At this age, I’ve given birth to four kids and don’t expect to give birth any more. What’s done is done, baby-wise. Now I’m into a different stage of mothering, one I didn’t expect to make me as crazy as the stage of early childhood (and I really thought that was tough): having kids of varying ages, able to fend for themselves in survival-type ways, but dependent on me in completely different ways, ones that are actually somehow more important to who they are and who they will be. They need guidance, not just food and clean bottoms. My girls range from ages 16 down to 5, and each has specific needs related to her age and unique personalities and interests. None are heavily involved in lots of activities, but just having a few activities all together, along with the usual things to support them in, adds up to a lot of work on my shoulders, a lot of expectations and four precious, amazing young people relying on me to help them grow and develop as good human beings.
So lately, what with it being “birthday month” at the Lim household, and near the end of the school year, and all the things that go along with those events, I have felt like I am merely a donkey, laden with a huge pile of heavy packs, trudging along, trying to knock off a pack or two at a time. Even as I do so, more packs keep getting laid on my back. I’m about to collapse under the strain, my hairy donkey legs splayed out to all sides at cartoonish angles, my belly and chin flat on the ground.
Every mother has these kinds of obligations, especially at this stage of parenting, and they never fully lift. But every mother is also a woman who just wants to feel pretty and special and … womanly. Sure, I’m not 21 anymore, and I don’t turn guys’ heads, and that’s OK. But I’d like to feel occasionally that I can still turn one man’s head, that I am an object of desire and fascination to him, not just the pack burro who takes care of his home and four kids. It’s really easy for life to get so unbalanced with scheduled events and obligations that each parent becomes an automaton, fulfilling those obligations but losing themselves and their “hearts” in the process.
In interviewing doctors and others, I have learned that most women who have cosmetic surgery are either at the beginning of their reproductive lives or the end. The surgical improvements are done either before childbearing and, often, before attracting a mate or after giving birth to a whole brood and closing up shop in the womb. I’ve talked mostly to women who are in the latter category. They’re mostly parents to children of varying ages and are often stay-at-home moms. I suspect that they’re feeling overwhelmed, out of balance and pretty donkey-like, much as I am feeling right now. I can imagine the siren call of surgery would be very tempting right at this point, when a mother can easily feel very undesirable physically — not necessarily even because she really does look significantly older or plumper or scarred because of giving birth, but because she just doesn’t have time to feel attractive and be a woman, rather than a mom.
Every mother needs to explore and regularly experience that side of herself that is simply a woman, with her own unique beauty and personality. If she doesn’t have time to feel feminine and admired somehow, it’s going to throw her off her game everywhere else. Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of answers as to how to solve this very common problem of unbalance (if I did, I’d probably be a millionaire). I just know that somehow it’s vital to find that balance, to find some time to be pretty, to be oneself, to feel one’s husband turn and look appreciatively, even if that admiring gaze must skim right over a toddler with a smelly diaper and a high school student who needs help with homework or finding a modest prom dress. I know that husband and wife both need to find the time to be themselves, to be just a man and woman who still find each other interesting and attractive. I doubt that plastic surgery can permanently solve these issues, but it certainly would sound tempting as a temporary measure.
Me, I’m just trying to figure out how to stand back up, shoulder my load and trudge on, and balance my life a bit better so I can at least sometimes put down all my packs and revert to my womanly form for at least a little while. Fairy godmother: can you wave your wand for me, please?