A Middle Aged Woman Laughs at Life and Looks for Conversation
By:  Mary Fran Bontempo

Speech—the one thing that truly sets us apart from animals. The ability to communicate thoughts and ideas elevates our existence above the merely necessary. We speak; we learn; our minds grow and evolve.

I recall conversations during my college years overflowing with fascinating topics: debates over authors, politics, art and music. (My husband more readily recalls conversations about beer, but that’s another story.) We deliberated over career options, and discussed the merits of classes, professors and their theories for hours, thrilled with our own intellectual cleverness. Unconsciously self-indulgent, we inhabited an insular world which encouraged our verbose ramblings and conversational gymnastics.

When the real world intruded after graduation however, things took a decidedly more practical turn. Work and the progress, or lack thereof, up the ladder of success, infused most of our talk with less cerebral, but still pressing concerns. (And the debate over beer continued, again, another story.) Still, I thought, we are productive people and the current subject matter, though perhaps not quite as lofty as what it used to be, was important in its own right. But I missed those old intellectually stimulating college conversations, which had no place in the nine to five universe.

For many of us, the next life-changing move, marriage and family, further transformed our conversations. As the scope of the world which was personally relevant continued to shrink around us, so did the variety of subject matter in our dialogues. We had verbally traveled from authors and ideas to business and economics, only to arrive at bills, sleeplessness and the astounding volume of bodily secretions dispelled by the tiny beings who now controlled our every movement. In other words, we talked about money, throw-up and poo, though the guys still managed to discuss beer.

And did I ever miss those “second rate” conversations about work and the nine-to-five world, especially since I had traded it for a twenty-four/seven, you’ll never have a minute’s peace for the rest of your life, world.

Moving on, at least in terms of the march of time, our offspring tested our patience, parenting skills and verbal eloquence, reducing our speech to often repeated rants, such as, “Are you out of your mind?” “What in the world were you thinking?” and the ever popular “Did you really think I wasn’t going to find out about this?” If fortunate enough to find ourselves in the company of other poor souls ensnared in the parent trap, we usually had little strength for conversation, limiting our exchanges to head shaking and sighs.

And yes, I really did miss those simplistic discussions about throw-up and poo, and the uncomplicated life stage they represented.

But last week, I found myself happily anticipating an evening out at a restaurant with some old friends. The kids, all safe and accounted for (yes, they’re in their twenties, but who are we kidding, I still need to know where they are), were removed from my consciousness, at least for the night. Finally, I thought, we can talk about something other than children, something interesting, intellectually stimulating, socially aware.

That night, we talked for hours. We debated about who had been most affected by the relentless pull of gravity on our various body parts. We discussed the merits of numerous wrinkle creams and cosmetic procedures. We talked, like a bunch of high school kids, about who was still together, who had broken up, and who we had heard was “cheating” on whom. We snickered about the “popular” kids’ expanding waistlines and receding hairlines. And I learned about medical uses for Botox injections in areas of the body which…well, let’s just say it has nothing to do with wrinkles. As for the intellectual content?

Maybe I’ll just join a book club.

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