This is 40: the thick, hot heart of life’s grand pageant


The last night of my 30s, at the summer camp I went to for many years and which both Grace and Whit now attend and love.

I turned 40 a couple of weeks ago.  On the actual day I woke up early at my parents’ house on the Massachusetts shore and drove with Matt an hour to the camp where I spent 9 happy, sunny years as a child and teenager.  We picked up Grace and Whit, who had been away for 3.5 weeks.  And we drove home.  I get carsick, so this was perhaps more time than I would have optimally spent in the car, but who cares.  When we got home we unloaded their trunks and I commenced what would eventually be 5 loads of laundry.  I actually love doing laundry (the smell, the creating-order-out-of-chaos thing), and though this was maybe a bit more than I would have chosen to do, I didn’t mind.  Grace, Whit and I visited one of our favorite places, the tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery and the fairy stream.  Then we had a simple family dinner at our dining room table and I listened to the children regale us with stories from camp.

As is often the case, my birthday wound up to be a perfect reflection of where I am right now.

So 40 was all about my real life.

A couple of weeks before my birthday, I shared a photograph of what I was reading on Instagram.  The pile included magazines, Reviving Ophelia, and Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?  A friend commented that those two books revealed that I was in the “panini years” (a great expression – pressed between the generations).

And oh yes, I am.  These are the in between years, the thick, hot heart of life’s grand pageant, busy and rich and exhausting, overflowing with demands, responsibilities, and love.

Life is very far from perfect – there are work stresses and health questions and far too many logistics to coordinate – but it is wonderful.  I was ambivalent about turning 40, I’ll be honest.  Some of that had to do with vain and not vain health reasons, but most of it was about my deep discomfort and unease with time’s relentless forward motion.  Reminders of time passing do not make me happy.  But here I am, on the other side, and I am so glad to be here.  Life has never been more dense with feeling, more full of magic.

40 is a time of contradiction and complexity.  It realizing in a deep way that these really are the days of miracle and wonder.  It is knowing this season is finite.  40 is solemn about what is coming and grateful for what is.

40 is toggling between John Denver and Katy Perry on the car stereo, knowing the words to both Cat Stevens and Taylor Swift songs, having strong memories associated with both CSNY and One Direction.

40 is overseeing homework and driving to sports practices and games.  It is recognizing the wisdom in the comment someone made years ago that some of the best conversations with adolescent children happen in the car.

40 has answered many – most? – of the big questions that haunted my young adulthood. 40 is about embracing the reality that those answers have built.

40 is being glad that my children still want still good night hugs and the sweet dream head rub before bed. And on the off chance they ask to sleep in my bed when Matt is traveling, it’s always saying yes.  Because this may be the last time they ask that.

40 is more emails about sad, scary illness news or chemo than emails with baby announcements.

40 is being absolutely fine that hockey practice is every single Friday night.  Which means no Friday night adult plans, ever.  40 is spending (a lot) more time with the parents of the kids my children play sports with any other adults.  And 40 is loving that.

40 is female friendship, and knowing how essential the few women who are truly walking through life by my side are.  It is taking time to nourish those friendships, to ask questions, to listen, to remember birthdays, and doctor’s appointments, and important dates.

40 is knowing that the ferris wheel of life is ticking ever forward, and that this is probably the tippy-top.  It is watching the decline of some in the generation ahead of us and the blooming of those in the generation behind us.  It is taking a breath and looking around at this spectacular view, and loving it, and knowing that it is changing even as I admire it.

40 is seeing my mother’s hands when I look at my own, and realizing that my daughter is much, much closer to being a college freshman than I am, and accepting that what I see in the mirror – a middle-aged woman – is who I am.

40 is recognizing that more years lie behind us as a family all living together than lie ahead, and existing every day in the shadow of the goodbyes and departures that loom.  40 is thinking parenting just keeps getting better, but also knowing that one day – sooner than I would like – this season will come to an abrupt end.

40 is having missed the window to start wearing red lipstick.  I always felt like it was too sophisticated and I would learn how to pull that off “later.”  Oops.  And now it’s too late.  40 is often trying on dresses to find them too short.  40 is still wearing a bikini, but not for long.

40 is learning to dance with the limp, as Anne Lamott says.  I have had a hip that’s bothering me all summer and abdominal pain (yes I am seeing a doctor and no, we have no answers yet) that shifts between absent and excruciating.  But I’m still running, and I’m still living my life.  I refuse to let this pain, and these questions, keep me from doing so.

40 is realizing that a birthday of chores and errands and a candlelit family dinner is exactly what I wanted.  It is understanding in a new, visceral way, that all I want is more of this.

41 thoughts on “This is 40: the thick, hot heart of life’s grand pageant”

  1. Hi Lindsey.

    Thanks for putting in such lovely words the whirl of feelings swimming in my head that sometimes keep me awake as I approach 38. It’s comforting to know there are others who also dwell on times’ forward march as much as I do:)

    Welcome back from the summer break!

  2. Nothing like a pre-7am cry! What a wonderful, wonderful tribute to 40. It is a rich time in our lives and you, as always, have written about it beautifully. Is it really true that we have more time living as a family behind us than in front? How did that happen!?

  3. What a poignant post, yet so full of celebration and awareness. I nodded my head with all of it, especially the realizations that you are teetering in between on so many levels. Beautiful Lindsey. I agree with Dee, wear the red lipstick!

  4. Happy Belated Birthday. I’ve been missing 40 lately as the next ‘big’ one looms closer. And college freshman now look like 12 year olds. How did this happen???? xo

  5. I had that same realization the other week: that my daughter is now closer to college than I am. It knocked the wind out of me when I did the math, that’s for sure. But then I thought about the “why” of that, and I was OK with it somehow. As always, you capture the essence of an age so eloquently and accurately (though my actual experience with female friendships at this stage has not landed me in the same spot, sadly). Except, going to agree with a few other commenters–NEVER too late for red lipstick!

  6. You nailed it! I turned 40 this summer too and relate to all of this. The overwhelming emotion of 40 so far for me is gratitude. Thanks for capturing this all so beautifully!

  7. Oh yes! I love this: “40 is toggling between John Denver and Katy Perry on the car stereo, knowing the words to both Cat Stevens and Taylor Swift songs, having strong memories associated with both CSNY and One Direction.” Happy belated birthday!

  8. Answered questions and contentment…a realization that you are right where you want to be and not trying to get somewhere else. Oh how I love this. And the way you capture, and inspire gratitude for, each stop on the relentless road of life.

    (And I’m right there with you on the love of laundry & the long-awaited “right moment” to start wearing bold lipstick…let me know if you get there first ;)) xoxo

  9. This may be my favorite post of yours although they all feel like that. But you have captured 40 so well! Yes to the top of the Ferris wheel. I love that. I am 41 but you have echoed my experience completely. Happy birthday!!

  10. lovely and true. we have two years left “as a family” and i find myself holding on to every day. and missing having a car for those important , unguarded conversations.

    you’re wrong about the red lipstick, though. it’s never too late to try something new.

  11. Time marches forward, but I think you’re doing a wonderful job of keeping up with it, of sitting with it and recognizing the seasons for what they are. Cheers to a fantastic year.

    I’m with you on the laundry. It’s probably the only household chore I enjoy. And wear the red lipstick already!

    P.S. Gorgeous picture!

  12. I love these posts where you reflect on a year, a season, a certain age. I used to do that in my diary, as a teenager (of course back then it was more about school, boys, etc. :)). Over time they’ll be a really special testament on how the seasons of your life have changed!
    I am 100% with you on the laundry (unless it’s ironing. To my mother’s horror I’ve decided I don’t do that). Red lipstick will look gorgeous on you at any age, although I understand your hesitation thinking about it on myself…

  13. Beautifully written. I am also (almost) at the top of that Ferris wheel and doing my best to enjoy it even though there are some days that it scares the daylights out of me!
    Your words are refreshing, thank you.


  14. I’m closer to 50 now than 40 (when did THAT happen?) but still relate to so many of your thoughts…especially this one: “40 is seeing my mother’s hands when I look at my own, and realizing that my daughter is much, much closer to being a college freshman than I am, and accepting that what I see in the mirror – a middle-aged woman – is who I am.” And the cool thing? I’m totally ok with that! Hugs and happy birthday! ~Jennifer

  15. 40 is realizing that all the nagging injuries aren’t ever going to go away, and gazing enviously at the young who never have to measure their effort, conserve their energy, or step cautiously.

  16. Happy Birthday! You are beautiful inside and out. And you could totally rock some red lipstick. I did recently for the first time and it felt AWESOME;) xo

  17. Yes, this is 40, and you capture it so well. Happy new decade! Wishing you so much *more of this*. (And, hey, at 49, I still paint my lips red now and again. And I’m secretly hoping to trot out a bikini when I’m 50…)

  18. A lovely reflection. Your writing always has a way of helping me treasure the “right now.” I love that about it, and about you. Happy Birthday, Lindsey. xo

  19. Oh, this is just lovely Lindsey! I am a new 39 and 40 looms ever closer, but rereading this post will keep my head on straight. Sounds like a perfect birthday to me (well, maybe a bit less laundry, ha).

  20. Yes, every single word. 40 is kinda awesome when you think about it like that. Happy birthday Lindsey!!! I think 40 is realizing if you are a red lipstick kinda girl or not and being ok with the answer. (I’m not, btw). Here’s to 40 being our best yet!

  21. Perfectly said! I am 42 and this is so my life right now. Especially the parts about kids asking to sleep in your bed (my 4 yo does this often, my 13yo sometimes, but it’s fading), my daughter being closer to college than me (she’s a high school junior), hugs before bed (they all three like to say a group family prayer before bed, then come all the hugs and good-nights), and the part about seeing my mom’s hands in mine (Whoa! I just made an Instagram post with a photo of my hands and my mom’s while we were having “coffee time” one day while she was visiting. I see mine in hers,and when I see hers I see my grandma). Thanks for sharing these thoughts with us!

  22. Happy Belated Birthday! Wishing you continued health and happiness for the next year and beyond.

    And thank you for sharing yourself and your thoughts so candidly. Your blog is the first one I go to when I get a break from parenting, “wife”ing, working, socializing, etc. because you always say something that resonates with me…and shortly after, elevates my spirit. You have a gift.

  23. Happy Belated Birthday!
    You always resonated with me. Sometimes the passage of time is tough, because I feel like my 20 something self with many rough edges smoothed. And then I look in the mirror!I love the part about dancing with a limp. I am now 45, and I would say the last 5 years have been the most gracious and beautiful–even though it has been filled with very difficult choices. I don’t feel like I need to explode onto the scene to be acknowledged, and I’m finally learning how to extend compassion to myself. I wish those for you, too, you beautiful thoughtful soul!

  24. Hi Lindsey!
    Happy belated birthday!
    I fell in love with your writing with “This is thirty eight” and “This is 40” just made me love your blog even more.
    Keep writing from the heart.
    With deep admiration,

  25. Hi, I saw your post on HuffPost and really love it, it’s so well-written. I turned forty in July and can really relate to so much of this.

    I wanted to say that there are a few things here that are much different from my experience of turning forty. For one thing, I had my kids in my mid-30s, so they are only 5 and 3, so I still feel like I’m in the thick of early childhood, with their whole youth ahead of them. (And after doing some math, I think at this moment that my daughter and I are exactly the same distance to college 🙂

    As such, for my part, many of my friends and colleagues are just now starting their families, having decided for whatever reason to wait till their late 30s, so I still receive baby announcements all the time.

    This past summer in June, I bought a bikini for the first time in ten years. I just decided, what the heck. I also only now am starting to wear red lipstick. I personally think forty is a great age to leave behind insecurities and go forth with a roar.

    I don’t feel like I’ve reached the top of the ferris wheel. Maybe reaching the top of the wheel has less to do with our age, and more to do with the age our children are at. When they are becoming adolescents, I can imagine how one can see how being in that space between small children and teenagers can make you realize that it’s more than halfway over, and cause you to look all around and soak in the view. I feel like I am just coming up for air from years of diapers and tantrums, and am only just now getting my bearings again.

    For me, I imagine being at the top of the wheel more towards fifty. That’s when my children will be in high school, but I also think that nowadays, “old age” is so rich, with the potential for so many experiences, that forty is still really quite young.

    I completely agree about the importance of nurturing female friendships, and I too look at my own hands and see my mother’s hands in their place, and wonder when that happened. And on my birthday this past July, I too woke up and did some laundry and some chores, took my kids to story hour at the library, and enjoyed a quiet meal. But the Saturday before that, I went out for margaritas (only one for me, this is also being forty) with a few good friends, and toasted this milestone. That combination of different ways of celebrating is what forty is all about to me.

    Thanks for this wonderful piece, I’m very happy to have found your blog.

  26. Serena,
    I’m so glad you commented and I’m glad to have found your blog! I lived in Paris from the ages of 3 to 7 so I feel a kinship with you (and your children!). I agree that my experience is skewed heavily by the ages of my children (and whoo-boy do those HP commenters agree with that). And many of my peers have younger children which does create a different moment in life. Perhaps I will throw in the towel and try red lipstick! I always feel like I am in costume. Which I take to mean it’s not working on me. I’m so grateful that you took the time to add this thoughtful comment. Thank you, thank you. I’ll be reading your blog. xox

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