So I'm turning 40 this week.
It doesn't sound right, 40. It's just not an age that goes with me. I'm navy stripes; 40 is orange plaid.
This birthday angst is a whole new experience for me. I've always enjoyed my birthday, or at least been too busy to notice as it zipped by. Turning 30 was actually a relief; I had recently started a new job in which all of my colleagues were in their 30's and 40's, and turning 30 made me feel more legitimate somehow.
But now I've been legitimate for ten years. Now I have colleagues who were born when I was in high school.
But it's a number, right? Just a number.
It's not just a number. Those of you who have been here, you know it's not. For those who have yet to be here, let me explain how it happens:
You spend your twenties being young, pursuing your career, falling in love, la, la, la. You spend a decade glancing in the mirror and seeing yourself smiling back at you.
Then you enter your thirties and have a young child in your life. You may have a young child who is autistic, who doesn't sleep much, who keeps you running at a frenetic pace through most of your waking hours. You try to sleep when you can, but you subsist mostly on five or six broken hours of sleep a night. In these years when you remember to look in the mirror you see a different version of yourself peering back. This you is more puffy than the real you, and has darker circles under her eyes. She often has sweet potatoes in her hair, or blue magic marker streaks on her face. She seems happy, but tired. You hope that she gets a good night's sleep soon.
After several years of looking at this person in the mirror, the day finally comes and you get a spectacular night's sleep. You wake feeling rested and refreshed and ready to take on the world. You bound out of bed and rush to the bathroom mirror, eager to welcome back your old twenties face.
And then it happens. Refreshed, rested, twenty-something you looks in the mirror and puffy, saggy almost-forty you looks back, and you realize for the very first time that it's not just that you've been tired.
This is what you look like now.
And the surprises keep coming. You start to read a column in a parenting magazine. You trust this article, because there next to the byline is a picture of its middle-aged author, an older, more experienced mom who is going to share years of accumulated wisdom with you. You start reading, and one paragraph into the article you discover that she is four years younger than you.
They are everywhere, these old-looking younger people. And, it seems, there are more of them every day.
This aging thing is confusing. It's a big blurry mess of flash-forward/flash-back. And here's the greatest irony of the whole thing: I've got less than 48 hours left of my thirties, and instead of enjoying it while it's here I keep studying pictures of my current face, examining the new crinkles around my eyes, the extra skin that seems to be growing on my neck. And I imagine myself ten years hence, stumbling across these pictures and examining them again, startled by what I see:
My god, I'll think. I can't believe how young I looked.