At Midlife: All The Things I Think, But Do Not Say


My name is Carrie.

I am almost forty-four years old. I am married to Joe, and we have five kids.

As I approach the middle of my fifth decade, I notice more and more all the things I think but do not say.

woman in field
I have many things that I am thinking about but never speak about. (Aleksandr Kutakh/Shutterstock)

My body is changing

First, my body is changing — it is getting softer and wider and doing a lot of strange stuff. It seems as though, after ninety million miles on the treadmill, hundreds of yoga classes, and decent weights on the bar at CrossFit, it is betraying me. My hips, tummy, and upper arms are not living up to their end of the bargain.

And that’s not even the worst of it. Every month, there is a horror show that my doctor tells me is the start of something called perimenopause, where progesterone and estrogen fight their eternal battle within my soul. I lie sleepless and sweaty at night, praying for one to emerge the victor before I dissolve into the fire.

I do not say this. No one wants to hear about the changes a woman endures with her body, hormones,  visibility, or pride. No one wants to know about damp sheets and unexpected rage.

No one wants to know when a woman’s body is done having babies. There is no pretty announcement in contrasting colors, or a shower with gifts and cake, or even a conversation.

Why? Why is this such a secret? I long to know. I long to know why the end of fertility is strange, eerie, and uncomfortable when the beginning of fertility is precious tender, and special.

In our home, puberty has met perimenopause

Perhaps the worst part of it all is at the same time; my hormones are snaking through my body like hot, unencumbered electrical currents; I am raising a son on the autism spectrum whose hormones are equally — albeit differently — electrified.

That’s right. In my home, puberty has met perimenopause. This is an unlikely duo, to say the least. Its like the movie where Godzilla fights King Kong.

There are days when I want to eat all the food I can and have hot buttered noodles for dinner and maybe a martini and a cookie. I want buttermilk biscuits and pancakes and firmer abs than I presently have.

I don’t say this. This would mean I am greedy, have no self-control, and should care more about my nutrition. I mean, abs are made in the kitchen. Everyone knows this.

At the same time, I feel invisible. You see, moving a family forward every day is quiet and unseen. No one notices what you do until you don’t do it anymore.

My husband is more than the man I married

I want to tell this man I married that he is more than husband, father, friend, and late-night confidante.

He is my witness — my witness to all of the screams I swallowed, the countless times I wiped down the kitchen counter, all the permission slips I signed, the loads of laundry I fed through a hungry washer, and the meals I made even though cooking is not something I enjoy.

I don’t say this. This would mean I need too much attention, and I’m not grateful for these children, and after all, they should be enough, right?

We only have three more years with our firstborn son at home. You know, the one we brought home from the hospital in the car seat, and we put him on the rug in the family room and admired his skinny birdie legs and tiny feet. That night, he cried for hours.

It was yesterday. This happened yesterday; I swear it did. I can picture the rug in my mind as if I was standing on it now. I can feel the panic in my chest because I did not know how to stop the crying.

Three years.

Three years until he heads off to who-knows-where and begins a tentative life of his own. And one by one, like ducks in a line, the rest will follow.

I hope my children remember the good times

What if they don’t remember the good things? What if they don’t remember when I gently wiped their noses so they wouldn’t twist away from me, felt their foreheads for a temperature, and rinsed the shampoo out of their hair so it wouldn’t get in their eyes?

Please, I want to say. Remember the good things. Remember when we got McDonald’s and went to the park, played music on the way home, and sang at the top of our lungs?

Please. Don’t forget how hard I tried to make this thing called childhood good for you, even on the days I was winging it, and maybe I yelled.

You see, I want them to stay my little kids forever, but I can’t do this for the rest of my life, and I will miss them when they are gone, as though I am missing my own beating heart. I miss them already.

My son has autism and may never be independent

And yet, my son Jack may never be independent. He’s fourteen now, and there is a chance he may never move out of the house, support himself financially, or follow like the second duckling in a line of five.

This is because of his autism. It is because he has crippling anxiety, picks holes in his scalp when he’s distressed, and thinks a house might cost $500 if it’s on sale.

I have a child who may never live independently. I can hardly believe it myself, to be honest.

This can’t last forever; I think whenever he has a new habit or behavior, like how he talks to himself lately or last spring when he filled the kitchen sink with ice all day.

I would hear the clink-clink of the cubes and think, this can’t last forever.

But what if it does? I mean, the ice thing didn’t, but you never know about the talking.

But, I do not say this. Because it would mean I am giving up too soon, and I don’t believe in him, and we haven’t done enough horse therapy. It would mean I have given up hope.

Oh, I know all about the hope. Don’t even get me started on the hope.

Hope is the big heavy bag I strap to my back and lug through my day until I sweat and shake. It feels as though it is filled with a million little pebbles.

Then there is grief. If hope is a heavy bag, then grief is a small box I open occasionally, usually when I’m alone.

Inside the box are feathers; when I remove the lid, they drift around me, weightless and light. They float through the air, cloud my vision, and whisper my truth.

He’s reading at a third-grade level.

He won’t stop talking about Oreos.

He still picks at his fingernails until they bleed.

And yet, there is a third thing in the trifecta of autism parenting.

Once I get all the feathers back in the box — which can be hard, you know — I close the lid. I set grief’s heavy bag on the ground and give myself grace.

Grace is knowing this son of mine won’t cure cancer, solve the energy crises, or figure out the answer to the immigration problem, but still, the world is just a little bit better with him in it. The universe is bigger.

Change is good.

Hot buttered noodles are good.

Yoga is good.

Grace is very good.

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About Carrie Cariello

Carrie Cariello is the author of  What Color is Monday?: How Autism Changed One Family for the Better and Someone I'm with has AutismShe lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband, Joe, and their five children. Carrie is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, TODAY Parents, the TODAY She has been interviewed by NBC Nightly News, and also has a TEDx talk. She speaks regularly about autism, marriage, and motherhood, and writes a weekly blog at

One of her essays, “I Know What Causes Autism,” was featured as one of the Huffington Post’s best of 2015, and her piece, “I Know Why He Has Autism,” was named one of the top blog posts of 2017 by the TODAY Show.

Read more posts by Carrie

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