I just read Lindsey Mead’s blog post “The Truth About Being 40.” She is a beautiful writer, and her words are wise and true. Many of her examples are things I, too, have felt. But as I read her heartfelt words I found myself mentally modifying each truth into my own cynical, jaded version. I turned 41 this year, so maybe one extra year on the downslope to death makes the difference between appreciative reflection and horrified disgust. (Plus, I often face reality with humor, and this was too scrumptious to pass up).
Here I use Lindsey’s lovely words as inspiration for my version of the truth about being 40 (or 41…whatever). Take the following with a grain of salt (or your favorite antidepressant):
Forty is a time contradiction and complexity, a.k.a. horrifying reality and inner turmoil. It’s realizing that these are the days of questioning every decision, wondering about regrets, and realizing that life is short, and getting shorter every freaking day. It’s when the terrifying reality sets in that yeah, THIS is life, and there are things you simply don’t have time to do even if you want to. Seriously — it is WAY too late to fulfill my dream of being an actress/comedienne with my own variety show. Nobody wants to watch a middle-aged mom try to launch a comedy career.
Forty is being totally annoyed that there is not a single musician today creating anything like the genius music that defined your childhood. It is having a strong feeling of nausea whenever your kids sing along to Taylor Swift (I know, she’s amazing… I’m over it). It is going on a tirade about how crappy today’s music is, and being told you sound like an old fart. It is refusing to take the classic rock station off the pre-programmed buttons of your car radio. (On the plus side, it is going to rock concerts of your favorite bands, who are now on their second or third revival and touring local casinos and outdoor amphitheaters).
Forty is being so damn busy that you can barely find enough time in the day to shower, exercise, or eat well. It is the age of putting everyone else’s needs ahead of your own. It is the time when it doesn’t much matter what you want – suck it up, buttercup, the kids have a game and the husband has to work, so get your ass in the minivan and don’t forget to pack a cooler full of snacks (since hubby signed up for snack duty this week even though he is out of town). It is wanting to be involved in your kids’ education, and devoting a healthy chunk of the evening to homework. It is likely there will be tears (probably yours) since nothing looks like what you learned in school and they don’t solve a damn math problem the way they used to.
Forty is answering the question, “Is this all there is to life,” with a resounding YES! Some more answers courtesy of 40: NO you are not special, NO you are not getting any younger, NO that new medical issue is not going away anytime soon, NO you aren’t going to get any sexier, NO you cannot party like you used to and expect to function the next day, and NO you cannot run off to the beach with your girlfriends for a week and sip cocktails and tan (and if you did, NO you probably shouldn’t wear that string bikini). Chances are your friends are too busy with homework, sports, and the PTA to take off with you for a frivolous vacation anyway.
Forty is being completely and totally over tucking kids in, reading bed time stories, and helping them find clothes, get dressed, brush teeth, and anything else that they are quite capable of doing on their own. It is letting them sleep in your bed when your husband is traveling, only to discover that they are no longer lovely little angels when they sleep but grunting, farting, tossing, turning boys with smelly feet and bad breath. It is wondering how much longer you have to do these things because you really want to be off duty before 9:00 p.m., just once.
Forty is being invited to weddings of people 20 years younger than you, and hoping the wedding is “Adults Only,” so you have an excuse to leave the kids home and have a date that includes dressing up, dinner, and dancing. And while these youngsters are getting hitched, your contemporaries are getting divorced. You wonder all the time how you and your partner have managed to survive this long, and hope divorce isn’t lurking around the next corner.
Forty is realizing all of your best friends live far away, and you are now forced to make new friends (usually with people you have met through your children).
Forty is knowing that while older people might laugh when you say you are middle aged, chances are you are indeed at the apex of your life. This apex is not very broad, either. It is pretty damn pointy, and downhill isn’t far ahead.
Forty is seeing my mother’s belly, thighs, and ass when I look at my own, and realizing that while my mom is a gorgeous woman, I am not ready to say goodbye to the version of my body that had more muscles than dimples. It is considering buying clothes that will “conceal” certain things. This really puts a damper on shopping.
Forty is wearing red lipstick and short skirts, then coming home and wondering if younger people thought I looked like a desperate loser.
Forty is your body changing without your permission, regardless of the amount of time you spend on the treadmill. It is realizing that while you used to be able to train for half marathons, it is now an accomplishment to run four miles without a break (sometimes to pee, sometimes to gasp for breath). It is paying for that four mile run with lower back pain and sore knees.
Forty is realizing that I don’t need a birthday to remind me I am in a new phase of life. It is understanding in a very real way that it is time to accept the life I have built, be thankful for it, and rage against my 40s in whatever ways I can, including saying NO to a minivan, skirted bathing suit, sensible haircut, and flat shoes.
(This post originally ran on The Huffington Post)
About the author: Jess Kapp is a writer and geologist, living in Tucson, Arizona with her mountain man husband and two precocious sons. She is the associate department head of the department of geosciences at the University of Arizona, where she is also a senior lecturer, teaching introductory geology to hundreds of less than impressed non-science majors. She writes a blog about everything from women in science to motherhood to the manifestation of her midlife crisis on her website jesskapp.com. She has written a soon-to-be published memoir about her transformation from sheltered suburban girl to bona fide adventurer while roughing it in the middle of nowhere, Tibet. She also writes short stories. You can find her on the Huffington Post, Facebook, and Twitter @jess_kapp.