I have a confession to make.
Birthdays bring out the diva in me. When I met my husband, neither one of us had two pennies to rub together, and yet I had travelled just enough and had started to believe and dream big enough that I actually said to him,
“For my fortieth birthday, I’d like to own an apartment in Paris.”
I followed up that statement with the claim that I’m not a complicated woman. No, not at all. What I meant was this: I don’t need fancy clothes or a fancy home, lots of expensive jewelry or handbags. What I want is a lifetime of guaranteed travel. An apartment in Paris fit that ideal.
Since then, I have decided we don’t need an apartment in Paris. First, why would we buy an apartment when we have several friends with apartments in Paris who would gladly let us use their homes when they are on vacation every single August. Second, the market has gone up so dramatically in Paris that we could not possibly afford an apartment right now (though I might add that once-upon-a-time there were affordable apartments in Paris). (Ok, and I’ll admit that I’m actually looking online at Paris apartments now. Who knew?)
See, I’m not complicated at all. No, not at all.
And so here I am, turning 40 today. And working at being not complicated at all.
40. So much pressure. Have the perfect party. Don’t look your age. Do something BIG, like sky diving. Or GO somewhere bucket-list-y.
Boob jobs and trips to Paris abound for the woman turning 40.
I’ve spent a lot of time (& $) making sure I’m not 70+ years old staring at the foreign world from inside an air-conditioned tour bus, rolling through the streets of Paris. So, no Paris for me. I still have a travel list but, I insist, it is not a “bucket” list.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I considered the vanity project. What could I fix? How could I look younger? I see women all across the country hitting the gyms at about 39 ¼ years, working ferociously to be in the best shape of their lives at 40. I’m talking about beautiful, smart, kind women. Who are already so lovely, inside and out. And even they aren’t happy. The constant message to women is to look better than ever, at any and all costs, or you might possibly not be valuable anymore. By all means, work out and eat healthy, but do it because you know it is good for you all of the time. Not just so you can look good at 40.
I like to work out. But I like it in a sustainable way. And I’m not miserable in my body. I don’t want or need to look better at 40 than I’ve ever looked. I want and need to look, well, like me. Me at 40.
At around age 35 I found some pictures of myself at 25. In a bikini. Thinking of my 35-year-old body, I shook my head and said out loud, “what did I ever have to complain about? Look at that! I should have been walking around naked all the time. ALL.THE.TIME!”
And then I realized, when I am 50, I will likely say this same thing about my 40-year-old-body, too. Because we do age. It’s normal. Can’t it be graceful? Can we have little battles and not all-out wars with ourselves? Can’t we just finally love and accept ourselves?
If not now, when?
This is what I tell women (some even 10+ years younger than me) who seem to be in the fight of their lives to finally be fit enough, beautiful enough, enough, enough, enough. When they weigh X, they will be happy then. They will love themselves then.
If not now, when?
I am not exempt from the pull of vanity. I pluck and poke and prod.
I suck it in.
I stretch my arms up high and imagine that my boobs still sit where they are only when I’m touching the ceiling.
I meet my girlfriend in the hair color aisle at Walgreens to figure out how to color the bits of gray that show up at my temples in between my hair appointments.
I try fancy new creams and elixirs to make my skin look younger.
I’ve contemplated a boob job.
I’ve considered a tummy tuck.
And, yes, I’ll admit it, I do a bit of Botox.
Aging, turning 40, is about do, do, do.
There is so much do. And not enough be.
But why aren’t we insisting that turning 40 is about who we have already become?
Our culture has created so much fanfare and angst around this particular birthday.
As I turn 40, I am turning away from some typical turning-40ish-activities—mainly, I have not chosen to make it a vanity project, to take a bucket-list trip, or to feel sad about turning older. Not one bit sad. My aim is to look closely at my life, to examine who I am at 40, and then to look around at the people who have helped me be this woman.
Because, we are not guaranteed any time. I have been to a few funerals these past years. And I am always so grateful when I can sit at someone’s funeral and know that there is nothing left unsaid. I am always sad when there are things that I wish I had said.
If not now, when?
I am discovering that gratitude is delicious. Gratitude is a creative force.
Here is what my birthday month is shaping up to be: lots of pondering and writing, soul searching and gratitude.
I decided that I would think over the arc of my life and make a list of the 40 most influential people who have helped shape my beliefs, my mind, my vision, my dreams, my core.
Here’s what I mean: the people who have had the kind of massive influence on your life that, if removed from your personal timeline, you would wind up in a different NOW than you are currently. The people whose words come out of your mouth when you least expect it, whose guidance made you better, whose mentorship steered you this way, and not that.
I have written 40 letters of gratitude to my people. This project is difficult, fun, full of dreaming and memories, secret smiles and tears of joy and gratefulness. So much gratefulness.
I’ve written to my parents, my high school DECA teacher, a college mentor, an ex-boyfriend. To my children. To my first child, my nephew Bryon. My childhood best friend and her parents, the woman who gave me my first job, my boss in Paris where I taught English, my intern at ASU who looked up to me just enough so that I wanted to be worthy of her admiration, the woman who taught me about tithing 10%, my best friend from college, my Godmother who watched me get baptized in the Catholic church as a young woman. To my husband, who is the perfect match for me, in all ways.
Gratitude at 40 is fulfilling in a way that I’m certain losing 10 pounds or a boob job or yet another trip would not be.
Here is where I’ve landed on the whole turning-40-situation:
While a work in progress, I’m pretty fucking awesome just the way I am.
And what’s more, the ways in which I’m awesome have NOTHING TO DO WITH HOW I LOOK.
I’m going to go ahead and declare a new way to approach turning 40: take account of your life, who you have become, and who helped create this stunning human being that you already are.
And then get busy writing your own letters of gratitude. Gratitude is vital in life; it makes all the best parts of life shine brighter and the harder moments dull in power and significance
As a fellow mommy said recently,
“I’m up past midnight, because my life is too beautiful and it demands to be thought about and laughed about and remembered. I’m literally just sitting on a bed being happy. I can’t call that anything except time well spent.”
Well said, Jamaica, well said. And that is what turning 40 feels like to me.