By Josie Glausiusz
A former high-school friend of mine recently posted an old class photo on Facebook. The photograph, taken in 1980 or 1981, soon prompted a lively exchange among my friends: Who did what when and where we all are now.
When I looked at the picture I had two thoughts: first, how dorky and out-of-place I had felt as a sixteen-year-old pupil at the school; and second, how lucky I was to be alive. Two of the women in the picture no longer are.
In August, I will turn fifty—as, this year, will my school-friends. For some time now the thought of celebrating half-a-century on earth has left me feeling, well, elderly. At the same time, though, I’m a mother of three-and-a-half-year-old twins, which puts me in a unique category. Menopause is just around the corner, but I spend the early mornings, late afternoons and evenings playing with, reading to, preparing meals for and teaching manners to two lovely, loving children who have only recently emerged from babyhood.So while my friends are consulting herbalists, I’m explaining gender differences to three-year-olds. Or, as my son put it this morning: “Mickey Mouse has a penis, and Minnie Mouse does not have a penis, right, Mummy?” To which I responded, “That’s true, but Minnie Mouse has a vagina.”
I worked for the Walt Disney Company for more than a decade—and I have the plaque to prove it—as a reporter and editor for the then-Disney-owned science magazine Discover. I’ll admit that I never considered the anatomy of Mickey’s genitalia before. But there’s nothing like encroaching age for helping one to reappraise the workings of one’s own anatomy, sexual or otherwise.
A former high-school classmate of mine, Marina Benjamin, wrote recently in The New Statesman of her own struggles on turning 50, and the aching bones, popping joints and night sweats of the instant menopause that followed her hysterectomy. A college friend of mine, Susan Arno, wrote to me of her “sense of mourning for a lost rhythm,” and her need to rethink her “subconscious definition of ‘being female’ as ‘being fertile.’”Friends my own age who are parents struggle with feelings of loss or fear as their children leave home, join the army, go off to college or climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I struggle with setting boundaries for my children, teaching them not to hit, and or with my own frustration when my kids don’t listen. I struggle with feelings of fear as they test their own independence, not wanting to let them out of my sight for a minute in the playground. It is not that I don’t think of my impending loss of rhythm, but right now it does not feature prominently in my everyday cares. And because I gave birth to my children in my mid-forties, I don’t have to think about them leaving home just yet.
This, I think, helps me to feel very grateful. When I look at my children, I often feel simply amazed that I am a mother. Thanks to modern medicine—and a great deal of persistence, faith, hope and tears along my journey to motherhood—I was able to give birth to my twins.
I have other reasons for feeling hopeful. My grandmother, Amelia Harris, lived to the grand age of 98, and was connected to the world around her until she died in early 2004. Her father, my great-grandfather Meyer Shapiro, died in 1945 at the age of 96. In addition to raising two children—my mother Irene and my aunt Sonya—with my grandfather, David Harris, my grandmother had multiple careers in the course of her long life: boot-polish seller, seamstress, insurance agent, accountant, clothing factory owner. In her retirement she and my grandfather traveled widely and ran a boarding house for elderly gentlemen in their boldly-painted bright green home by the sea.
My own parents, approaching their eighties, are still alive and healthy. My father, Gershon Glausiusz, survived the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen as a child; my mother, as a three-year-old evacuee from London, escaped the blitz-bombing of that city during World War II. Together, they are coming to live in Israel on August 13—one week after my own 50th birthday. For my father, it is his second “aliyah”; he first arrived in Israel on August 11, 1949, aboard the ship the “Negba,” as a 14-year-old refugee from Hungary. He remembers how he and his fellow-passengers danced and sang on the deck of the ship before dawn on that day, as they saw the lights of Haifa in the distance. “It was like a dream that came true,” as my father told me.If I have inherited my ancestors’ longevity genes and my own parents’ resilience, then this is simply my first half-century, with many dreams yet to be fulfilled: to raise my children with my wonderful, patient, loving and kind husband Larry; to chant my way through the entire Torah; to continue to share love with my three brothers, my sister, my many nieces and nephews, and friends; to write, to travel to the far-off places I have as yet only written about—Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, perhaps—to eat wild apples in their place of origin, and to show my children these places. And to care for them and worry about them even as they grow, not wanting to let them out of my sight, but knowing that they must find their own way.
There is a Hebrew poem by Shmuel HaNagid, the 11th century Spanish-Jewish poet, scholar and soldier, that I have often read and have thought: I will quote that on my 50th birthday:
She said: “Rejoice, for God has brought
you to your fiftieth year in the world!”
But she had no inkling that, for my
part, there is no difference at all
between my own days which have gone
by and the distant days of Noah in the
rumored past. I have nothing in the
world but the hour in which I am; it
pauses for a moment, and then, like a
cloud, moves on.
But as I read the poem now, I realize that the last few lines are not true for me. Because I have everything in this world.