March 14, 2014

On Turning 40…or...Oh Shit. Is This a Mid-Life Crisis?

I sat here just days away from my 40th birthday...40. For real. 40…and wrote most of this post. It is now one week after the calendar rolled over to a new decade for me and I'm coming back in to tweak the post with my new-found 40 year old wisdom. So bear with me...

Up until I turned 38, birthdays never got to me. I never felt bothered by getting older. I never really felt like I was getting older. I was the same me. The same work-in-progress. But something happened in the last few years and I found myself far more bothered by age than I am comfortable with. Especially in these last few months as this particular birthday approached.

Because it bothered me, it got me thinking about some of the things that may be playing a part in my new-found issue with getting older (and turning…gasp...40):

Actually getting older…

There is no denying that I am actually getting older. I mean 40's not exactly over-the-hill these days. 40 is the new 30 or 20 or something like that. It's mid-life, not end-of-life. But it really isn't 20. It's just not. (Which is okay, but…) Regardless of how well you take care of yourself, you're still bound to wake up with a little discomfort from time-to-time by the time you hit 40. And wrinkles start to show. And grey hair pops out. And things aren't always as…perky…as they used to be. It's kind of like puberty, but different. Your body changes in ways that can sometimes make you uncomfortable. But I suppose we adjust, just like we did when we got boobies.

Having children…later…and losing sleep

Having children--especially having children when already in my mid-30's-- aged me, physically. Photographic evidence shows that more than 5 years has gone by in the last 5 years. (Seriously. Just look at my wedding photos.) Of course I love those 5 years. I wouldn't trade those 5 years for anything, including feeling and looking younger. But still. The lack of sleep, the disturbed sleep, I've gotten since having children has to have meant the loss of a year's worth of sleep at this point. And with a 5 and 2 year old we're still getting somewhat disturbed sleep more nights than we're not.

This is not a recipe for beauty.

And the day-in, day-out rigor of raising two small children takes it's toll. Again, I LOVE IT! But it's exhausting work. And, it's 24/7. Which means it allows for limited time to focus on myself and the holy grail of "self-care." (Oh the time I used to take in the shower! Oh the luxury of taking an hour to get ready in the bathroom!) And while I wouldn't change our experience, and I think we're likely better parents (and are certainly more financially secure) having had our children later in life, I think there is a reason that we're biologically designed to have kids in our twenties. I theorize that it is physically a bit easier to do this stuff when you're a little younger. I think the body has the ability to recover faster and better from the physical toll of having and raising small children when you have them a wee-bit younger than we did. Just sayin'.

Quitting work…and being the old one out

Now, I love being a stay at home mom. And I did not love my former career (sometimes I liked it, and sometimes I hated it, but I never loved it). I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I searched for meaningful work my entire career and never found something that really inspired me…until I had kids. I truly believe that how I spend my days now is a far better use of my time than how I used to spend them when I was working. But I think quitting work may have affected how old I feel. I feel more out-of-touch and isolated than I did when I was working outside the home. My wardrobe is decidedly less polished or trendy. And, to top it off, these days I often find myself spending time with women a few years younger than me-- because those are the moms with children my kids' ages. This is in contrast to my former work world where most of the people I worked with were a few years older than me. Sometimes I feel like there is a constant reminder that I'm just a little bit old(er). (Oh, you had a cell phone in college? Yeah, we didn't have those yet when I was in school.) But maybe that's just me.

Gaining weight

Then there is weight gain. First the crazy roller coaster that is getting pregnant, carrying a child for 9 months, giving birth, recovering, nursing and losing all the weight you gained. My body spent about 5 years on that roller coaster and did not survive unscathed. I may have returned to my pre-pregnancy weight after both kids, but I did not return to my pre-pregnancy body.

Follow that with the fact that I have gained a little weight with our recent move. Ten pounds. It's not HUGE, but it's enough to make my clothes not fit quite right…or not fit at all. (Do you have any idea how annoying it is when even your pajama bottoms are just a wee-bit snugger than you'd like? I'll tell you. It's massively annoying.) And it's certainly enough to affect how I feel about how I look. I definitely think even a little extra weight ages me…mainly in how I feel. I feel older with the extra weight. So I'm working on getting rid of it, which is, of course, harder after you hit 40. Poo.

Losing my old self

And lastly, all of these things…getting older, having kids, quitting work, gaining weight…they all add up to losing a bit of the person I was 5 or 10 years ago. And I can't decide if that's okay, or not. Maybe you're supposed to shed some of your self as you age. And maybe, with some of what is shed, we should say: good riddance! (Like worrying about what other people think of us.) And maybe some of it is just temporary. Like you have to put some things on the shelf for a while when you have small children. Then, when they're a bit older, you can take those things back off the shelf...just dust them off and be on your way. Or maybe I'm not doing this right. Either way, some things have been lost, temporarily or not, and that makes me feel older.

So that's a lot of explanation and a lot of theorizing. And after I wade through all of this intellectual spewage, this is where I land:

…mostly, I think it's just me. I am letting this number get to me.

And then it hits me.

Oh shit. Is this a mid-life crisis?

This is exactly when it's supposed to happen. If I was a man I'd think about getting a divorce, buying a sporty car and dating younger women. But I am not a guy (and none of that is even remotely appealing…I'm actually thinking about biting the bullet and getting a minivan, the antithesis of a sporty car). What I am is a stay-at-home mom and housewife. A kitchen-table, coffeehouse writer. So maybe 40 freaked me out because I'm financially dependent on another person (which was a tough transition for me when it first happened). Or maybe it's because I'm hitting 40 and my life isn't quite what I envisioned it would be.

But the thing is…a lot of it is. Maybe not everything. But a lot of it. I want to be a mom. I want to be in a great marriage. I want to have a warm and cozy home. I want a great family and amazing friends. I want to be writing.

I suppose I am not as far along in many of those things as I thought I would be by 40. I expected to get married and start a family when I was a bit younger. I expected to never stop writing, rather than to take a hiatus and then come back to it much later and have to play catch-up.

Or maybe nothing is really all that out of place.

As I've spent time, off and on, over the last couple of weeks working on this post, I think I've changed how I feel about it all. Which makes me wonder if I should share this post at all. Maybe this was never really a blog post. Maybe it's always been a journal entry…just written in the wrong location. I am being reminded a lot lately that writing is how I work things out. I had forgotten that. "Writing it out" is like talking to a friend when no one is really there. Or maybe it's a bit like prayer.

Regardless, 40 doesn't seem all that bad today. All of the stuff I've written here is still true. I do still think I've aged a lot since 30 or 35. And I do still think that there are a few things in my life that need to be…tweaked a bit. But I guess what I'm saying is that that's okay.

40 is okay.

Maybe 40 will even be great if I give it the chance to be.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

So, thanks for taking this journey from conflict to acceptance…or dare I say, embracement...with me today. It may have been more of a journal entry than a blog post, but I decided to share it anyway because one of the things I've learned in my 40 years is that we are all more alike than we are different. So maybe one of you is going through something similar. And I think the feeling of "Me Too!!" is a wonderful feeling when you're struggling with something on the inside. So...

Until next time, embrace your current stage, whatever it may be, and remember: everything can be tweaked.

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