The other day I saw a group of young women walking into Target, They were tall, had beautifully highlighted and trimmed hair, had really cool handbags, and were laughing a lot. They walked into the swimsuit clearance section, and it was obvious they were looking to stock up during the off-season. It was also obvious from their wrinkle-free skin and bag-free under-eyes that they were in their mid-twenties.
It was both a smile of the fond memories of being 25 with a wide open future, and also the smile of relief that comes when I think “THANK GOD I AM DONE WITH MY TWENTIES AND EVEN MY THIRTIES.”
I am 41, and the mother of an-almost-4-year-old. Life is not what I thought it would be when I was the same age as those bathing suit stocker-uppers. On paper, it’s actually pretty cringe-worthy:
- Single parent
- Lots of student loan debt/crappy credit
- No child support from co-parent
- In recovery (alcoholism)
- Family lives 1,500 miles away
- Major depression
All of that is stuff that I would promise myself I would avoid as an adult. In fact when I graduated from college at 22, 40 seemed like it was another planet. “It’s so far away,” I used to say. I made these grand promises that between graduation and then, my life would be filled with success after success: professional, financial, romantic and maybe a family. I would pay off all my debt, treat my mother to fancy dinners or girls trips here there, and that I would buy a lovely little house somewhere. Guess what? None of that has happened (though I do take my mom to eat when she visits me in KC, it doesn’t get much fancier than Arthur Bryant’s).
Forty seemed old, scary, and so far away. But now that I’m here and my life is what it is, I love it. Yep. I love this life I’ve cultivated myself, and I want to tell the insecure 24 year-old perfectionist that I used to be that it’s going to be OK. Because it is. Even when you find yourself unexpectedly preggers and living halfway across the country from your family.
It turns out THAT is where a lot of the fulfillment at age 41 comes from. Moving 1,500 miles for a job when I was 26 years old. I was fearless and somehow I ended up moving to my life. The job I moved for lead to friendships that have lasted as long as time in KC (14 years and some change). Connections that helped grow my career and grow my heart. A big career change that opened the door to new opportunities, and closed the door on my old frenemy, alcohol.
There is also this sense of peace that hits you when you turn 40. You sort of settle in. It’s not the same as “having settled” for something that is less than what you are worth, but settling into your own skin, your own mind, your own tastes, your own passions. You settle into a self that looks back at age 25 with a knowing fondness for your incredible youth (and hot bod), but is also proud of the direction your aging is taking you.
My body can no longer run ultramarathons or even walk without a limp. My skin is changing faster than a chameleon can change. I have wrinkles that mean I had to change makeup lines because the powder settles into the wrinkle lines. But I’m a really good mom. I love my job. My friends are amazing. My family loves me.
I loved turning 40, and I can’t wait to turn 50.