“She must have had a bad day,” my husband says, referring to our teenaged daughter, nodding his head up the stairs. He’s sitting at the dining table, sorting mail; I’ve just come down the stairs in a bathrobe, my hair in a towel.
“Why do you say that?” I ask.
“Heard her crying in the shower again. Wonder if those friends were mean to her today at school.”
“Could be,” I say, not meeting his eyes. “Or she could have done badly on that math test she was worried about.”
We both sigh, shake our heads. Our sighs and shakes say: It could be anything; it could be nothing. This is what it means to be a teenager, after all.
I’m too embarrassed to tell him the truth: it was I who was crying in the shower. Or at least, this could be the truth, or half of the truth. We have two showers, so sometimes my daughter and I end up showering at the same time, a chorus of sobs and streaming water.
While my daughter goes through puberty, I find myself going through what Margit Detweiler — founder and editor-in-chief of TueNight, a site for mid-life women — calls “the puberty of old age.” Menopause is defined by not having had a period for 12 months. But according to the Cleveland Clinic, perimenopause — the time before menopause, when the body begins to make less estrogen — can begin as early as 8 to 10 years before full menopause (though, take heart, middle-aged women: the average time is “only” four years.)
Some of the symptoms of perimenopause read remarkably like some of the symptoms of puberty. Irregular periods? Check. Mood swings? Check. Forgetfulness, crying jags, feeling overly emotional or overly sensitive? Check, check, check.
I can imagine a magazine quiz: Is it puberty, or is it perimenopause? Choose the picture of Gordon Ramsay’s facial expression that shows how angry you become when someone eats the last of the Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia you were saving for tonight. When you listen to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” are you young again, or just young? How many Kleenexes do you need when Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA commercial comes on?
Does perimenopause make you emotional?Before perimenopause, I had never been much of a crier. My father once told me he thought I was missing the gene for Irish sentimentalism. I always felt a little guilty when I saw other women cry over bad news, and perplexed when I watched friends cry over sad movies. I used to cry once every few years when something terrible happened — a family member died; our daughter was sick; I went on vacation and came back with only one of my favorite pair of shoes — and that was it.
But as my daughter began to go through the hormonal changes that come with teenagedom and puberty, so did I begin to go through the hormonal shifts of perimenopause. One night, watching TV together, tears ran down our cheeks as we watched a movie in which a beloved dog died. We looked at each other, laughed, cuddled, and cried harder, agreeing that this was the worst movie in the world, though neither of us grabbed the remote to turn it off.
Just as my daughter will cry over “insignificant” things, will make “mountains out of molehills,” will become a cocktail of dichotomous emotions, now that I am experiencing perimenopause, I find myself doing the same things. I have literally cried over spilled milk. (To be fair, it was morning, I was running late, and the milk was for my coffee.) I have had fights with my daughter over her borrowing my makeup and shirts; sometimes these fights happen over texts, until I catch myself thinking, Is chewing out my daughter for borrowing my mascara and not returning it so important that I rankle her during a chemistry exam?
There have been times when she has said “Leave me alone!” and has hugged me in the span of three minutes, and while this has flummoxed my husband, I’ve empathized: I too want someone who will understand me completely, give me comfort and solace, and also just leave me the hell alone.
In many ways, I am turning into my 15-year-old daughter.
I know that mothers and daughters often fight during this time of life. Given that a daughter’s hormones are surging while a mother’s might be diminishing, and that both females might be experiencing rage, joy, anxiety, and sadness in equal measure on any given day, it’s no surprise that there might be tension in this relationship.
My daughter and I fight sometimes; of course we do. But I also feel extremely close to her right now. She’s sensitive, not entirely in control of her emotions. She’s finding her voice, discovering who she is. She’s going through something difficult and beautiful right now — but she’s going to come out the other end stronger, wiser, smarter, and braver.
And with any luck, so will her mom.
This essay was written by Kelly Dwyer, a published novelist, playwright, and freelance writer.