Today is my birthday. I would like to say I'm turning 39, but that happened a few years ago.
Now that I'm in my forties, I guess I should accept the fact that I'm "middle-aged." Except that term has absolutely nothing to do with the way I feel. When you were a kid, didn't "middle-aged" mean OLD? Didn't you picture old, tired, boring parents when you heard the term "middle-aged?"
I tell you what, when I was a kid, "middle-aged" parents were usually the parents of teenagers or college students. Nowadays most of the people I know in their early forties have toddlers, preschoolers, kindergartners, or young elementary school-agers. Maybe that's what keeps us young? And by "young," of course, I mean "chronically sleep-deprived."
There are a lot of things about my life as a fortysomething mom that I would never have guessed when I was young(er). When I was a kid, for example, I never would have guessed that at age 42 I'd be in the best shape of my life, able to run 10 miles at a stretch and do 30 "real" push-ups. Or that I'd be a fulfilled stay-at-home mom and housewife. (Who knew?)
Or that I'd love my small Minnesota college town more than any other place I'd ever lived, including exciting places like Chicago. I never would have guessed that by my forties I still wouldn't have any gray hair. (Middle-aged people were OLD, remember?) Or that my first book would be published on my last day of being 40. (I hoped, of course, but I never truly thought I'd ever be a published author.)
When I was young, I never would have guessed how hard parenting is, how hard marriage is, how hard being a grown-up is.
Didn't being a grown-up seem rather glamorous when you were a child? OK, maybe not the "middle-aged" part, but adulthood in general definitely seemed exciting, full of freedom and promise and untold adventures.
Nowadays I know that "freedom" is a very relative term. Let me tell you, younger self, if you consider mountains of bills, obligations, and worries about retirement "freedom," then yes, adulthood is full of freedom. On the other hand, the freedom that actually comes in your forties is far more important than the type of freedom you imagined as a kid: not freedom from stress and rules and chores you hate, but rather freedom from self-doubt and insecurity and worrying what others think about you. (My favorite quote: "What others think of me is none of my business." --Martha Beck in O Magazine; not sure if she made that one up or was quoting someone else.)
And with that, I start a new year.