Well, I’ve been forty for a little over a month now, and I just bought mom-shorts. I guess there are some things about aging that are inevitable. I bought the shorts without trying them on because they were a good deal, and I wasn’t about to wait in a long line. I got them home to find that they’re exactly that length. Bell bottoms for the thighs.
The shorts are a timely coincidence when I feel like everyone who asks me “so how does it feel to turn forty?” is really asking “how does it feel to take on the Jamie Lee Curtis transition?” You know the one – the shift from hanging from a helicopter in a fitted little black dress in True Lies to being Lindsay Lohan’s awkward old mom in Freaky Friday. The desirable thief in A Fish Called Wanda – the dowdy empty-nester in Christmas with the Kranks.
I’ve never been one to get caught up in worries about appearances very much, but I can guarantee that anyone who says they don’t mind the physical repercussions of aging is lying. No woman likes making her resting face and having her daughter ask why she’s mad. No woman enjoys slipping money to a bouncer who once waved her to the front of the line (I can imagine this might be true anyway – personally, my bedtime leaves no opportunity for clubs). No woman enjoys when a mammogram machine gets to second base with her.
My body is older, and although I’m more fit now than I was in my twenties, my muscles and bones and forehead and liver will never reverse in time to what they once were. And then there’s the whole, ever closer to my earthly demise thing.
But the physical side of aging is all that I can think of about being forty that sucks. My favourite part of this birthday may be that I know myself so much better than I once did. I no longer golf to be a good sport, because I don’t like golfing. I leave the pie on my plate if I don’t want it, where once I might have eaten it, worried that people were wondering why I wasn’t chowing down (on another day I might eat two pieces!). I avoid heels and hangovers. I once thought that when I got older I wouldn’t need to stress out anymore – now that I’m here, I know that it’s in my nature to stress, so I avoid situations and people that put me in that mindset unnecessarily. These are some of the things it takes forty years to learn to just say no to.
As my earlier jokes about facing death may allude to, there is a certain rushing feeling to turning forty, almost like when you’re writing an exam and you look up, surprised to find that the clock hands have moved further than you thought. It’s a great time to take stock, and to become more focused about goals that may have gone off track, giving way to less-important priorities. I guess this is where the whole midlife crisis thing comes in, which may mistakenly have a bad rap (when you’re forty, you’re allowed to say “bad rap” if you feel like it, especially while rocking your mom-shorts). Luckily, I’ve made good choices for myself in the past ten years and my life doesn’t need a big shake-up. But you can bet that as my kids grow bigger and I have more time to dedicate to my own path, I won’t return to items that might look great on a resume, but that I don’t enjoy. A big learning for me has been that there are many things I am able to do, but that I should only be romanced by what I want to do. I mean, I could take a derivative in calculus if you really needed me to, but… I’m busy that day. And also “that day” for the next forty years or so.
Re-checking priorities applies to relationships, too. Am I spending enough time with the really important people in my life? (I type this as my son keeps calling down from the care of his sitters — Shaggy, Daphne and Scoob — to ask if I’ve finished this article yet). We can all get caught up, especially with young families, taxi-ing from commitment to commitment. But are they the right ones? Am I doing justice to the people who have gotten me through the first forty years? I hope so. Love is all there is, folks. At my birthday celebration I introduced many friends to other friends for the first time, struggling with summarizing meaningful relationships in a soundbyte. “This is my cousin,” but my cousins are almost like siblings. “This girl rowed for Team Canada,” but I don’t really care, she was there for me when I was single and lonely. “This is a friend from our neigbourhood,” and she helps me parent my kids. Only time allows you to collect a quality crew of amazing people. I hope above all else that I am a good friend, mother, sister, wife, and daughter, because that’s really all that’s important.
Whenever someone changed jobs at one company where I worked, the managers would send an email that said, “It is with mixed emotions that I announce…” and that wording applies here too — “It is with mixed emotions that I announce I have somehow become forty years old.” I guess maybe I’ll always feel about twenty-eight, and that the songs they play at the grocery store are still in the top twenty of today’s charts. I’m getting older, but I’m in a good place. Can’t wait to greet the insights that will take me into my sixties and beyond. But please, clock, take all the time you need to get me there.