Much like my Catholic mother who had eight children by the time she was forty, I started my day today as I do most every day -- I prayed. Unlike my mother, however, I am 6 and ½ children short, haven't been to church in over five years and my prayers these days are mostly about bacon. Please, God, please don’t let me run out. I also pray that the clock will say 7:00am and not 6:00am by the time I hear Elmo Potato Head’s, high-pitched demands.
“Elmo needs a nose. Elmo needs a mouth!”
Please, God, please don’t let her find it in the toy box so fast. And God? Is it a sin to throw out your child’s favorite toy?
I don’t mean to trivialize the power of prayer or talking with God on a regular basis. On the contrary, I am a firm believer in it. I would certainly be lost without it. The reality is, though, that when you’re forty-one, raising a two and a half year-old full time and pregnant with your second child, your ideals change dramatically.
Take “success” for instance. Success this morning meant a ten-minute, hot shower instead of a lukewarm, two-minute rinse. Thanks to my husband, who was kind enough to gift me his shower. A few more long, hot showers and he’s totally off the hook for Christmas and my birthday. Valentine’s is still in negotiation.
Success today would also entail finding one last pair of clean underwear in my dresser. The chance of that happening, however, is not so good given that I can hear the Mt. Everest pile of laundry cackling at me from across the hall. My morning would radiantly glow with success if the dog completes both ‘little potty and big potty’ outside instead of inside, as Elmo's goofy pal, Mr. Noodle, shows my daughter how not to put on her clothes, while I fry up my contraband of bacon.
Yep, you heard me, Elmo: B A C O N. In case you and Big Bird haven’t heard yet, it’s in the Revised Webster’s New World Dictionary under, “Success After Forty.”
“Juice ME!” she shouts from the den. I better hustle in there before Barney starts up.
“You mean, ‘Juice, please, Mama.’ Here you go… Okay! So! Sesame Street is almost over and now it’s time for us to eat breakfast at… the table! Yay!”
My reasonably well-thought out, cheerful explanation is greeted with an operatically lilting, "No! Elmo LOVES me! Bye, Bye,” followed by the door-slam crescendo and mezzo-soprano cadenza, “BEE-YEE-EYE!"
It’s right about now that I wish for Elmo’s World to crumble and disintegrate into dust and for all of Sesame Street to hear what I hear -- glass shattering screams coming from our den. Hopefully, Hooper’s Store has lost all of its fine china by now, too. Let this be a lesson to the furry red guru who, in my humble opinion, uses the “L word” a little too often.
“Mama loves you more, my Tickle-Marie, so let’s eat breakfast. Mama’s got bacon…” I sing back to her through the door in my, I’ll be your best friend voice.
And then the tide starts to turn my way again as the doorknob gently moves counter-clockwise. Somehow, I never pictured myself bribing my little bundle of joy with greasy, center-cut bacon when I was fantasizing about motherhood in my twenties and thirties. The truth is, success after forty is no longer measured by the size of my bank account or my wardrobe or by how good my voice sounds or even how good my hair looks. It doesn’t seem to matter if I’ve got the right moisturizer on or if I’m wearing designer shoes or flip flops, or that I never sang on Broadway by the time I turned twenty-five.
As I remember it now, my goal of starring in a hit-musical was actually replaced by my goal of having a roof over my head and having something other than pasta “al-burro” to eat. I never did spend any rainy summer nights playing Ronnie Scott’s in London in my thirties, did I? But I did spend many foggy nights in San Francisco singing for close to free in no-name cafés where my scat solo was usually up-staged by the frother on the espresso machine.
In the old version of success, my forties were going to be my glory years, touring Europe, performing for sold-out amphitheaters and reveling in the applause of my adoring French fans who just could not get enough of me and my avant garde, five-minute solos. Success before motherhood, Freud might have even agreed, was a lot like a gigantic, unreachable carrot, and I, a short, hungry bunny with an enormous appetite for ego soufflé.
Luckily, today’s version of success doesn’t seem to have much to do with me at all. As a beginner-mom facing her “glory-forties,” success now feels exactly like two-hour naps under soft fuzzy blankets. It tastes like a fresh cup of coffee from a clean cup. It smells like an oven filled with warm peanut butter cookies and oozing, glazed cinnamon rolls. And it sounds like a two-minute tantrum instead of twenty-minute meltdown. On most days, it smiles at me from ear to ear like a blue-eyed angel with sticky fingers and purple Popsicle lips. It might even occasionally peek through a streak-free window and land on a dust-free dresser, stacked high with clean underwear. And you can almost bet on it to cry out at midnight while you’re trying to eek out time to write about success. But, by midnight and a half, it calms back down in your arms, butterfly lashes fluttering then landing over closing, peaceful eyes.
One of my decade-younger friends surprised me recently by telling me that I am one of the few moms she knows that actually enjoys being at home all day. I have to admit that I never would have described myself this way. That sounds more like my own mother during the Fifties. That notion disturbed me, in fact, but is it true? Have I abandoned feminism and all the things I worked so hard to prove in my twenties and thirties? Was I more like my mother than I realized? I do like to wear red lipstick in the mornings just in case the UPS guy stops by... and I am always talking to God and/or Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost socks. But I've never even owned an apron, except for the one I botched in seventh grade Home Ec. class.
Now I am anxious to find out the truth. Have I become a Betty Crocker wannabe? Do I secretly want to cook and care for an army of children like my mother did? Am I actually happier now, at mid-life, being a Stay-at-Home Mom? Is it more fulfilling than I had ever expected it to be? Or am I now part of an exciting new breed of mother – rediscovering and redefining success after forty? God? Are you still listening? Oh, please let there be more bacon in the freezer. And God? Have you seen Saint Anthony today? Can you ask him if he knows where I put that avocado-green apron from seventh grade? I'd search the garage, but I've got a snickering summit of laundry to fold.