Let me preface this by saying that that prior to turning 40, I was never the type to experience any angst about my age. My 20's were great. Turning 30 was no big deal, because I was so busy- married for 5 years and pregnant with my third child.
But the Big 4-0... well, that was a different story...
The prospect of turning 40 didn't sit well with me. 40 is OLD. 40 is sore muscles, mom jeans, sensible haircuts, and holding things further away from you as you attempt to read them. Nope. I didn't want my forehead wrinkles to belie my youthful vigor. I didn't want to think that I hadn't made my mark on the world, in the way that we as young idealists insist that we WILL.
The problem was, the approaching chronological number didn't gel with my internal age. You know. About... 23, maybe? Still footloose and fancy-free... on the inside, anyway.
I suppose it was a typical mid-life crisis moment, but as the day of reckoning approached, I began to take stock of my life. How did my twenties fly by so fast?
I remember watching Friends way back in 1994, marveling at how sophisticated and adult they appeared to be. I admired their apartments, jobs, relationships, and their hours of lounging in trendy NYC coffee shops... it was so glamorous and "grown up". It looked ideal, yet was also completely foreign to me. My twenties held very little of these ideals, instead consisting of minimum wage jobs through college, getting married young and squeezing our domestic bliss into a tiny, basement apartment with nary a single Pottery Barn item to speak of. We were young, broke, and too busy working to slack off in coffee shops.
And then my twenties flew by...
Do you remember the show Thirtysomething, circa 1987 (why I was even watching the show at age 12 is beyond me...)? I remember liking it, despite the fact that I couldn't even FATHOM being that old, EVER. Mortgages... whaaat? Marital tension? Balancing work and home life and kids and adult friends.... it was all pure fantasy to me. And when my thirties arrived, they consisted of an avalanche of children, rent rather than mortgage payments, a transition from teaching full time to permanent stay-at-home mothering, the reality of hefty student loan payments, and a variety of curve-ball life challenges hurled at us along the way. Thirtysomething it was not.
And then my thirties flew by...
It's a cliche, but time really DOES fly by. And it made me melancholy for a bit, realizing how fast it's all gone by. I began to feel like I'd lost myself in the midst of being married, and in the flurry of building a home and a family. I had invested so much of that period of life into my family that I wondered: did really live MY life, or was I merely living it for everyone else?
(You know. All that mid-life crisis angst that comes with turning 40...)
I'm not going to lie. Yes, I spent a few hours bemoaning my lost youth, worrying about losing my youthful appearance, and mourning the things I'd never done, and might never do.
My 40th birthday celebration was comprised of a fantastically fun pre-birthday dinner out with friends and family at my favorite restaurant, followed by a backyard BBQ on my actual birthday the next day, with even more family and friends. I was surrounded by people that love me so much, and were so happy to celebrate this milestone birthday with me.
And that's when I realized what my forty years were really about.
LOVE. FAMILY. FRIENDS.
I had the good fortune of spending my younger years being raised in an amazing family, and I've been privileged to spend my adult years raising an amazing family of my own. There are certain things I haven't done, some I've yet to do, and some I may never do. But instead of being hung up about those things, I realized that I've been given:
40 years of being a daughter to two of the most loving & dedicated parents
38 years of being a big sister to the wackiest, funniest brother & sister on the planet
35 years of treasured friendship with my best friends
18 years of letting God lead the way, while meeting more of my best friends on that journey
15 years of being married to the love of my life
13 years of being a mom to six hysterical & loving kids that are beautiful inside and out.
6 years of advanced education, investing in my love of language and writing.
4 years of teaching and sharing my love of literature and writing with countless students.
While the idea of being 40 still feels... odd to me, I'm no longer hung up on the number. 40 used to represent a loss to me: a loss of a golden youth that disappeared down the road behind me. But now, I can see that 40 represents a good deal of quality living. And while I still feel like my internal maturity level is that of the average 23 year old- that will likely not change- I'm thankful that I've enjoyed so much in this life so far.
For all parents alike (a stay-at-home parent or a working parent), it's easy to lose yourself in the day-to-day mechanics of building and supporting a family. I've chosen to invest in my family for most of my adult years, and while that can require a good deal of self-sacrifice, I now see that I actually HAVE been living my life the way that I want to, with and through the people that I love. I'm literally surrounded with people that love me and want to be loved by me, and for that, I am blessed beyond imagine. It's investing in the people in our lives that matters, whether you're a parent, or a loyal friend, or an adult caring for aging parents.
While I can't always preserve my physical appearance (though that would be swell, huh??) or stop time from hustling along at a fast clip, I know that loving the people in my life to best of my ability is my true legacy.
And THAT is 40