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.