Article by Cary J Hansson
This week, my youngest son finished school for the summer. And as we’ve decided that next year, he’ll either catch the bus in winter or cycle in spring, I will no longer be collecting him from the school gates. There’s nothing unusual in this. It’s a commonplace occurrence that happens all over the world as parents, mostly mothers, come to terms with the fact that their child is growing away from them and a rather special era is over. So here is where I make my confession.
I’ve been the oldest mother at the school gates
For me, this era should have perhaps finished a decade or so ago. I’m fifty-five you see, and my youngest son is eleven and for the whole of his school career, I’ve been the oldest mother at the school gates.
I want to make it clear: having another baby, in my mid-forties, was NOT on my to-do list. As the mother of nine year old twins, I’d been there, hadn’t I? Done that. Life however, had other plans and I was forty-three when I found myself staring in disbelief at those two thin blue lines; forty-four, when my son came barreling through the doors of last-chance saloon, turning everything upside down in the way that only babies can.
But now, eleven years later, as he begins his first independent adventures, I am able to take stock, look back on the aftermath of those years and realise that, for reasons I could never have anticipated or predicted, his late arrival was only a blessing in disguise.
Firstly, I know for a fact that the changes midlife brings, have only served to make the experience of motherhood a far more enjoyable and less stressful experience. One of the reasons for this is the simple fact of longevity. I’m further along the road than the other mothers, I know how much space there is in a child’s school career, for a poor maths test to get lost and then completely forgotten. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, I’ve often heard myself say to a mother who is probably fifteen years my junior. (I’m always shocked when I realise this, because I never think of myself as older, but I’ll come back the subject further on.)
Work out what’s important in life
Another reason for the easy-going parental attitude I’ve come to inhabit, is, I’m convinced, because of the very real hormonal changes midlife brings. As I’ve been able to settle myself in that rather comfortable, menopausal armchair of, I really don’t care, it has become so very easy to sift the wheat from the chaff, to work out what is important in life and let the rest go. So, call me lazy, or negligent, but at fifty-five my mind is now as focused as a laser beam, and I find, for example, there is no time for pairing socks. No! If my son wants to go to school in matching socks, he has to match them himself. It’s not a hard task. 99.99% of his socks are a shade of blue, but the liberating effect of freeing myself from this repetitive task has been profound. Plus, I don’t always feed him a hot dinner every evening, and he doesn’t always sit at the table. These days, I prefer to eat during the day, so he’ll have what he calls a picky- plate, whatever I can find and dice from the fridge, and my husband and I will have the same accompanied by a glass of red. Happy families. Book Day may have come and gone without me noticing. I don’t sit on parental committees and I’ve never gotten involved in present-collecting for teacher at term end. Is that selfish? It could well be, but with recent medical research indicating that the shifting hormonal balance in a woman’s brain after menopause, results in a way of thinking that is less geared towards pleasing others and more focused upon single issues, I may have a valid excuse going on. Why not? Men get away with it.
The flip side of all this of course, is that I understand in a way the other mothers have yet to learn, how brief it all is. For how could they know? How can any of us understand how quickly our children grow, until the day arrives and they’re looming over us, their feet huge and hairy on our coffee tables, the fluting tune of their voices long gone and their bedrooms … well let’s not go there.
So wheat and chaff … Yes, I also now understand exactly how important it is not to rush the dawdle home from school pick-up, to walk slowly instead, holding that small hand for as long as I possibly can. He doesn’t know, but as we dawdle along I’m consciously trying to imprint the shape and warmth of his hand in my mind, because now I know. I was careless before. Time moved too fast and already I’ve forgotten how it felt to hold his older siblings tiny hands
Late life motherhood is not without its challenges
I know … I make it all sound like a bed of roses. So before you all throw away your contraception, let me say state for the record that late-life motherhood most definitely hasn’t been without its challenges.
My eyesight for example, isn’t what it once was. I can’t read the teeny-tiny print on the side of medicine bottles, not unless I hunt down a pair of reading glasses first and anyone in the known universe who has ever had a baby will understand how impossible it is to find anything for at least eighteen months after a child is born. And getting down to my baby son’s level? That was never a problem. Getting back up, however, was a different story: add a minute for every year over the age of forty! I know that before he’d even started his, I’d already filled my tolerance quota for animated movies. Ditto with sand-filled sandwiches, which he benefits from, because these days we’ll visit a café instead!
But perhaps the most valued silver-lining, the absolute sparkling edge to all this, has been the beautiful bond created between my older children and their much younger sibling. They were nine when he was born. His big brother far more interested in the mechanical action of the hospital bed I was recovering from a cesarean in (Does this make the bed go upright Mummy? Yes, but don’t press ––). His sister transfixed by the sight of her very own real-life doll. They’ve been involved from the very beginning. Watching and walking him, playing with and cuddling him. And nowadays, chauffeuring him! All of which has made them more considerate people, none of which was, for me, foreseeable. And it is this I am so grateful for, the fact that I’ve been able to witness their growth as they’ve learned to love and care for someone so much more vulnerable than themselves.
My late-life baby has kept me young
Finally – and I make no apologies here – my late-life baby has kept me young. Talking to other mothers, I really do have no idea of the age gap between us. I can dance Gangnam Style and floss (and I don’t just mean my teeth!) with the best of them. I am fluent in Minecraft terms, totally on trend with the latest Utube pop sensation. My only worry is that as these school gate days draw to a close, someone will take down that picture in my attic and expose me to the world as the interloper my age suggests I should be.
Cary J Hansson is the author of A Midlife Holiday, the first book in The Midlife Trilogy.
A Midlife Holiday is available to buy at: