Monday, August 28, 2006

Four-ohmygod

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.

15 comments:

Lisa/Jedi said...

For me it was when the bank tellers started looking younger & younger... then I started seeing an internist who was younger than me (although it's been fun scaring her with my tales of perimenopausal symptoms :). The worst was when a gynaecologist told me, 2 years ago, if I was her mother or aunt... (she'd recommend a D&C to confirm the perimenopausal symptoms weren't signs of pathology- they weren't). Her mother or aunt...! Generally, though, I'm pretty happy to be within spittin' distance of 50 (only 1 1/2 years to go! :)

Lisa/Jedi said...

ps: Happy Birthday!!! :) :)

Kristina Chew said...

Happy, happy birthday! (I've yet to hit the big 4-oh but it will happen sooner than soon.) Getting older hit me when I started to note that the birthyears of my college students were in the 1980s--soon they will be in the 1990s.

My mom decided some years ago to just let all the gray and then the white in her hair be---no more "highlighting." "I've earned it," she told me.

I keep wanting to type "older, wiser, better" and of course that's all true (especially in your case, sister blog-friend!), but then I remember what a certain singer calls "that teenage feeling" and wonder, where did it go......what did I do when I had so much (or thought I had so much) world enough, and time.

andrea said...

30 was okay; by then I finally felt like an adult.
40 was okay; by then I finally starting figuring myself out. I finally finished a college degree by then.
50 I'm not looking forward to, because that's halfway. Hopefully I'll have finished the next college degree before then. But hell, I'd rather be 50 with that degree than without!
But I've a bit until that point.

Mamaroo said...

It is crazy how much faster the years start moving as we get older. I basically wished this summer away. I gotta stop doing that.

Happy Birthday MOM! I am trailing you by three years and continuing to read your wise words of wisdom. It really is just a number. Have a wonderful day and keep being the excellent mom you are to Bud while enjoying the years you have ahead of you with him.

Kev said...

Happy Birthday :o)

I'm three years short of you but I know the saggy face feeling all too well ;o)

gretchen said...

Let me share another aspect of my freak-out last week:

I was listening to the local "alternative" radio station. They were promoting their annual birthday concert- 16 years this year. I started thinking about how long I have lived here and that I remember when that radio station was brand new (I came to this city for college and never left.) I started counting how many years I've been on my own vs. the almost 19 years I lived with my parents. My heart started racing and I kept holding up my fingers- counting over and over... It's been 18 years. 18! Somehow that mark is important to me- when I've been on my own longer than I lived with my parents... Well, then I'm really a grownup. How did that happen?

Happy birthday friend! I have a feeling that your 40s will be full of pleasant surprises!

Susan Senator said...

I wouldn't trade 43 for 33 ever! My thirties were a miserable jumble, plus I am 20 pounds thinnner now, and have been for 4 years! I have been loving the 'forties! Fear not. and Happy, Happy Birthday!!!!

Tara said...

Happy Birhtday! I turned forty-one this Spring and I hadn't really given it much thought until I brought my MORE magazine to work and the taut skinned, chirpy youngsters picked it up and exclaimed- Oh, that's for middle aged women, and promptly threw it down. I have always gravitated to women older than myself- I'm an old soul I guess. I wouldn't go back to my thirties- I'll work at keeping gravity at bay and enjoy things like not being carded for a bottle of wine in the grocery store!!

Kaethe said...

Many happy returns of the day, MOM-NOS! I turned 41 this spring. Really, once the year switched over, I started thinking of myself as 41, such that by the time I got to the actual birthday I had to stop and think: was I turning 41 or 42?

The thirties had some strong points, but I don't mind getting older. Like Verdi the snake, I just want to lie in the sun sometimes.

Christine said...

Orange Plaid, huh?

I LOVED this post. I'm not 40 yet -- but will be soon. And like you I often think: how can *I* be this old?! I also work with a lot of college students and it is especially traumatic when, after grimly looking at my own reflection in the morning, I then greet their shiny complexions.

So, will you embark on any birthday resolutions? Things you want to do differently in your next decade of life? Do tell!

Ashley loves Leo said...

Welcome to the club NOS (I'm 41). A friend once told me - in your 20s, it's all about figuring out who you are. In your 30s, it's all about proving to *others* who you are. And finally, my dear, 40s are all about *enjoying* who you are, and not giving a care to what others think. Incredible writing NOS, thank you!

for what it's worth said...

I have to tell you, being in your 40's means you can be who you are. As you said, in the 20's and 30's it's all about finding love, making a family and securing a career. Now that you are entering your 40's it's all about being self assured, and knowing what you want.
In the Eternal Words of Sylvester the Cat, " Ah, sssccchhhoooooot,if ya can't beat um, join um"

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!
I have been following your words for over 6 months now and am glad that you are getting older, wiser and more experienced. Your blog is like a guide book for young mothers like me and I pray that as we get older, we too learn to face challenges with the same spirit and enthusiasm, like you do.
Happy Birthday Mom-NOS!
Best wishes from an admirer far, far away

Wendy said...

I know I'm late but I hope you had a wonderful birthday! And 40 is young!!