Life as Older Parents
Jane Sanders Illustration
Years ago, our older son got in the car after kindergarten one day with the oddest little smile on his face. I couldn’t tell if it was due to amusement or embarrassment or both. I just knew something was up.
“Why do you have that strange look on your face?” I asked. He looked down at his lap and then up at me and then kind of mumbled apologetically, “My teacher thought you were my Maw-Maw.”
Oh, the horror! It was painful enough being mistake for my own child’s grandmother, but being mistaken for a Maw-Maw was more than my ego could take. Even I if were a grandmother, I like to think that I could deal with being called Grandma, Mimi or even Granny. (On second thought, maybe not Granny.) But Maw-Maw? In my mind’s eye, that is a gray-haired senior citizen with a bun, an apron and orthopedic shoes. Anything, please, but a Maw-Maw.
I bravely laughed it off, but, still, that smarted. When Harvey and I started our family at the ages of 38 (me) and 41 (him), we were, of course, aware that we were a bit behind the curve reproductively. OK, we were so far behind we couldn’t even see the curve. In fact, we’d already been married 7 years when, in our typical what-the-hey fashion, we decided maybe we should give this parenthood stuff a whirl.
I’m sure other people are always wondering what took us so long. I certainly do. Maybe it was because we were having so much fun without kids – or thought we were – we saw no reason to mess up a good thing. (Nowadays, we prefer parenting to partying.) Or perhaps hanging around our closest friends, most of whom were older than us, had given us a false sense of youthfulness. Or maybe it was simply because both of us are the type who will be late to our own funerals. Whatever the reason, it’s not like we didn’t know from the beginning that we would be older parents.
What we may have failed to consider was where we would be older parents. In the rural area we call home – on a farm in a sparsely populated parish – people tend to marry and have their children young. Very young. It’s mainly social and economic. Compared to more affluent urban and suburban areas, far fewer people here attend college or delay marriage and kids for the sake of a career.
Around here, people who have children in their late 20s are considered older parents. Women like me – who show up for their 20th high school reunion pregnant with their first child – are older-than-dirt parents. Harvey and I would be considered “mature” parents no matter where we lived, but here in Smalltown, U.S.A., we are practically revered elders.
It took me a while to face that fact.
With my first baby, it was still pretty easy to kid myself that I was a normal-aged mother, especially since I became pregnant almost immediately. “What was all this talk about fertility decreasing with age?” I scoffed. “Wouldn’t it have taken much longer if I was really old?” So what if my doctor kept bringing up the uncomfortable phrase, “advanced maternal age”? The next nine months went smoothly, too, although I did develop a complication associated with older pregnant women, gestational diabetes, which forced me to eat a special diet. Still, looking around my obstetrician’s waiting room, I somehow convinced myself that I was really no different from all the bright-eyed, smooth-faced expectant mothers waiting to be called to the back.
I was still feeling pretty spry when I found myself in the family way again three years later. That pregnancy also went fine, although it was not without its moments, either. When a blood test showed our baby was at a slightly increased risk for Down’s Syndrome, we were sent to a New Orleans doctor specializing in high-risk pregnancies. When I looked around that waiting room, I did not see the usual taut bodies and glowing skin. I saw tired-looking women with crow’s feet and slightly sagging faces that did not match their pooching bellies. It was startling. Did I look as freaky as they did?
Thankfully, the perinatologist that day was confident our baby would be normal, and he was correct. But between my eye-opening experience in the waiting room and the Down’s scare, Harvey and I adamantly agreed that we had rolled the dice for the last time. We were done making babies.
Now I am 52 and Harvey is 55, and our babies are 10 and 14. Every single one of their friends’ and classmates’ parents are younger than we are. Some are just a few years’ younger; others I could have literally carried in my womb. I will never forget my shock, a few years ago, upon learning that one of my “mom friends” – the mother of one of our older son’s classmates – was turning 30. It was depressing in one way but a huge relief in another. I no longer had to put any pressure on myself whatsoever to look as good as she did. It would be utterly futile.
My son’s teacher was certainly not the last person in our little town to notice that we are older parents. Apparently, our kids’ friends are starting to make comments, too.
The other day, I was getting ready to leave the house in what I thought was my cute new shirt when our 10-year-old caught sight of me.
“Uh, Mom, no,” he scolded me. “That shirt makes you look older than you are – like 60 or 70.”
Then he tried to put a more positive spin on it.
“You should wear something that looks young – like you!” he went on. “My friends can’t believe it when I tell them are you are 52. They think you look WAY younger than you are!”
(At this point, he has my full attention.) “
Then he says, “My friends are like, ‘You’re kidding! We thought she was just, like, 48 or 49.’”
That wasn’t exactly the “way younger” age I was hoping to hear, but, hey, I’ll take it. I’m just happy they don’t think I’m his Maw-Maw.