On Turning 40

A few years ago I started writing a post entitled “things I want to do before I’m 40.” I had forgotten all about that post until I found it in the bowels of un-published content on my site. I hadn’t gotten much past the title, so I’m not even sure exactly what I was thinking when I first typed it out.

Well, maybe that’s not entirely true.

I remember the days when 40 was really really really old. I can recall being in high school when my dad turned 40. He had a party with all these tombstones and over-the-hill paraphernalia that made me think 40 meant you had one foot in the grave already. His friends teased him about being an “old fart” and my mom couldn’t believe she was married to someone so ancient. I could have cried at the mere thought of being that old, but my dad just looked at me with a knowing smile.

Then I grew into my 20s, at which point I knew 40 was really really old. I mean, as 20-year-olds we were young and vibrant. We had tons of energy and—with our decade and a half of schooling behind us—knew everything about anything. I knew the best way to parent, the best way to be parented, and pretty much the best way to do just about everything else. At that age, we are curious, driven, and ready to conquer the world (because we had to do it before we got really really old).

Eventually I turned 30. I was driving down the highway one day shortly thereafter when I felt myself slouching more than usual. So I tried to sit up straighter, only that didn’t really work. No matter how tall I sat, my stomach slouched over the top of my jeans. When I realized this, I was thoroughly and completely shocked. [Insert a scream like that guy who doesn’t like surprises on the Discover Card commercial.] I always had an awesome metabolism. I could eat my weight in chocolate (almost) and not really gain much at all. [Don’t hate. I exercised back then. OK, not really. But I definitely ran jogged talked more. Probably.]

Until I couldn’t.

That shocking revelation did a number on the whole 20-year-old-know-it-all mentality, and ushered me into the 30-something age of I-thought-I-knew-what-I-was-doing-but-maybe-not. In our 30s, those late night dinner dates are replaced by middle-of-the-night pharmacy trips for sick-kid meds. Sh*t happens to make us realize we don’t actually know it all (or much of anything). We revise our opinions about this and that, and settle down a bit. (It was, after all, in my 30s that I created a blog entitled “Still Not There Yet.”) Forty is still scary, but it’s also pretty close, and unavoidable.

I expected “it” to attack like a bitter winter wind that sucks the very life out of your bones. But instead 40 came more like a warm summer breeze that reminds you everything will be OK. After knowing everything and being proud of it… then knowing (almost) nothing and being petrified… forty feels surprisingly good.

just when the caterpillar thought  the world was over, it became a butterfly (Photo courtesy of Iskra Photo)

I have no desire to relive the earlier years. I know I am still pretty clueless about most stuff (and will be for the foreseeable future), but have enough life experience to be OK with that. It’s not so scary anymore.

Gray hairs?  —Psht. Whatever.
Cheesy butterfly quote on my blog post about turning 40?  —Good enough.
Stubborn belly fat because I still like to eat my weight in chocolate and hate to exercise?  
—Bring it on.
Peeing my pants when I sneeze/jump too high/laugh too hard?  —Who cares!? (They make stuff for that anyway.)

I’m glad I never finished that list of things to do before turning 40. Turns out this birthday doesn’t signal the end of life as I knew it after all, and the best really is yet to come.

“Yeah, that’s just what 40-year-olds tell themselves to feel better,” yell the 20-year-olds, with an eye-roll.

“Sounds too good to be true,” cry the 30-somethings, with a moan.

“I told you so,” say the 40+ers, with that knowing smile.