Motherhood at 50

by Suzy Moser '71

When I was in my 20s and should have had children, I didn’t want them. When I was in my 30s and wanted them (sort of), circumstances militated against them-I didn’t have the right love mate, I did have a career, I still enjoyed my freedom, etc, etc. When I finally found the man of my dreams and married him, I was 38. He was 58. We talked about children, but he already had two. I was too old, we had other things we wanted to do. Besides, although liberated, I was no fool-I knew you couldn’t have it all. So, with only the slightest twinge in my heart, I happily gave up life with a child for life with the man I loved.

For 10 years, it was a pretty splendid life. Chris and I lived in New York and then Hong Kong, and we traveled everywhere. My husband was intrepidly curious and delightfully easy. He was successful and charming, witty and cultured. We gave each other room enough to pursue our separate careers, but even when we fought we were close. Our days together were magic.

Then in the spring of 1998, he died. I was bereft, lost, awash in tears and memories, and unable to think much beyond the next day. As life slowly slipped back into some sad, purposeless perspective, I knew I needed to love again, so, for my 48th birthday, I gave myself a small, absurd gift-I would look into adopting a child. I cracked open a door and walked into a new life full of lines at the INS, forms to fill out, and checks to write. Then came the long wait.

It was on Chris’s birthday that I got the call from the home-study agency to tell me that I was deemed a fit mother. And a year later, in a hotel room in Nanning, China, Shu Shu was delivered into my arms. I brought her home in April, 2000. That was also the month I had my last period. I entered menopause and motherhood simultaneously.

At 50, I suddenly became Mommy to this child who had none. Abandoned as a newborn, Shu Shu was two years and 10 months old when I picked her up. She knew three English words: “mommy,” “apple,” and “banana.” She was smart, funny, and willful then, and she remains so. The first weeks and months were rigorous adjustments. She missed all that had been her life in China, and I could do little to console her. Having just experienced the depths of grief myself, I cut her a lot of slack. Besides, I was scrambling to figure out how to be a mother.

Slowly, we found ways to amuse, comfort, and love each other. I learned to trust my instincts about Shu Shu’s wellbeing. I hired a Chinese woman who could come a couple of days a week and whose sound and smell would seem familiar. I enrolled Shu Shu in a highly disciplined Montessori school because I knew she wouldn’t get much discipline at home. I took nine months to attend only to her-to hold her, walk with her, count the trees, get the mail, read books, play in the car, do the shopping and the laundry, and teach her English. Now that Shu Shu has mastered English, I am trying to keep her Chinese alive, and she’s learning some Spanish in school and a little French in dance class. She twirls around the house, this lovely Asian child, singing “Buenos Dias.” And from the beginning, she’s been happily and proudly obedient, even in her fantasy world, which is currently populated by a brother named Palmtree, who lives with six cats and nine dogs in their house in Paris, where the cats clean everything and nothing ever seems to go wrong. I wish she would eat more green things and brush her teeth on her own, but never mind. She’s flourishing. Her teachers love her, she can write her name in Chinese, she has blisters on her hands from the monkey bars, and she sometimes even forgets to say goodbye when I drop her at kindergarten.

So today, I am a 53-year-old single full-time working mom. Yes, I started work again a couple of years ago at Caltech as a major gifts officer. It’s a wonderful place with extraordinary people, and we just launched a $1.4 billion campaign. I could easily work 60 hours a week but don’t and try not to feel guilty. I do wish I had an occasional day for myself. But it’s manageable.

Am I tired? All the time. Does having a child keep me “feeling young”? Well, when we dance around the living room singing Raffi songs, I at least feel ageless. But when Shu Shu is sick or sad and needs to be carried, I feel every aching, aging bone in my body. And sometimes, when my confidence wavers, I worry that I’m not good enough for her, or that I won’t be around long enough. But then, I see her giggle or strum her Lego bass guitar or maneuver the mouse around a Little Bear CD-ROM, and my heart fills with a mother’s love, a feeling that defies time.

Do I have regrets? Only two—that my daughter will never know my husband, and that I probably don’t have the youth and stamina to adopt another child.