There’ve been a lot of articles and blog posts zinging around the Interwebs lately about the right age to become a mother. Should you do it young, when you can grow up with your child and, hopefully-slash-presumably work your budding career in with motherhood? Should you aim for the middle-ish — not so young that folks tut-tut at you, but no so old you need a test tube? Or should you delay in favor of work and other child-free pursuits, trusting your fertility to stick with you?
The arguments on all sides are mostly noise to me. I had my two babies in my mid-to-late thirties, not as a considered choice but because, well, that’s the way it happened. I may have wanted, vaguely, to have a baby at 30, but when you don’t meet the father of the kid until you’re pushing 33, well. It’s math.
You get what you get. You make plans and nurture dreams and then you work with what happens. And what happened to me is that I’m the mom of almost-11 and almost-9-year-old boys, and I’m on the downward slope toward 50.
I’m the Older Mom of Younger Kids.
In some ways, this works pretty well. I’m just going to come out and say it: I’ve never really looked my age. So when I was 40 and toting a toddler to daycare, I was easily and often mistaken for a much younger mama. Time’s catching up now (as are the grays). But that’s vanity. I sometimes catch myself saying things like “My boys keep me young!” but that doesn’t sit right. They’re not a fountain of youth; they’re kids and they drain my energy (mental, physical, spiritual) at 47 in the same way I expect they would have at 25. Kids do that; they siphon off reserves of strength in the same way they used to empty me of my milk — ravenously and without apology.
Being an older mom has had other less-welcome effects, specifically, my penchant for in-the-head calculations I like to call Older Mother Math. As my boys have grown, the calculator in my head clicks constantly. When my son graduates high school, I will be 54. My mother was 38 when I graduated high school. What are my grandmother chances, realistically? What if my boys wait as long as I did, or longer? At a party once, I met a psychic who told me I’d have granddaughters. I do not believe in psychic ability, necessarily, but you better believe I clung to that prediction.
Last year, at a Mother’s Day tea in my then-second-grader’s classroom, the kids all read essays about their mothers, many of which included the mom’s age. “My mom is 27” piped one kid, and my head swiveled — who? But then another kid got up and said, “My mom is 50!” And it wasn’t me! I was on the older end (and the only mom in the group whose kid reported she only wore black T-shirts, which isn’t strictly true), but not the oldest.
Here’s the thing: All the adding and subtracting gets in the way of, you know, actually living with and raising my sons. My grandmother was, like me, an Older Mother — she had her only child, my mom, at 38 (also like me, by circumstance far more than true choice). I know for a fact that she added stuff in her head, too, and that it led her to express pessimism about her ability to stick around long enough to see a grown family (though some of her pessimism came naturally, too. She was Sicilian; it’s in the blood). And yet, she died at 87 having held two great-grandchildren (not mine!).
The math, the looks, the energy levels, the gray hair: Is it too simple to say you get what you get and you ditch the regrets? I’m working on it. Call me when I’m 50.
Denise Schipani is the author of "Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later" (Sourcebooks, 2012)