Something happened when I turned forty a couple years back. People had warned me that they had “come into their own” at that age, or that they “had stopped caring what other people thought.” I don’t really know what it means to come into your own, your own what?
I cared too much about what other people thought since I was in my early twenties, allowing them to define what adulthood, motherhood, and all the other kinds of ‘hoods “should” look like. Then I turned 40, and discovered how much I no longer cared about anyone else’s definitions happened to be.
It’s a little odd to be as old as my parents were when I was old enough to pay attention. Their first birthdays that made any kind of impression on me were when they each hit forty. Which in turn meant that when I hit forty myself, I was a grown-up. In my mind, that was the age that grown-ups were.
Somewhere around 41, I had a very real moment where I recognized that my life was probably pretty close to halfway over. In my twenties, I had felt as if life spread out in front of me in this never ending road down which I got to travel. After forty, I can’t see the end of the road yet, but I know that the finish line is somewhere over the next hill or two.
There’s something very freeing about knowing that your time is finite. It seemed paradoxical to me when my mother said that to a teenaged me, but today I get it. (I even called and told her so, and she laughed at me. I get that too.) It’s not just that I no longer care for the opinions of others, it’s that I stopped listening to their rules – their mustn’ts, couldn’ts, and shouldn’ts. All of those rules about how life should look, sound, and be became white noise somewhere on the periphery of my life, completely meaningless. As they probably should have been all along.
Last week I went out and bought a skateboard for myself. I’ve never skated before and am completely useless on it so far. The board and my feet go forward and the rest of me seems to lag a second or two behind, but I’m going to learn how to do this. It looks fun, and I spend way too much time at skate parks to just be sitting and watching. From this side of the time line I can see that life it too short to spend it sitting on the bench.
That’s the magic phrase of 40 – “Life’s too short….” My kids say it’s my YOLO, and they’re not far off. There are a lot of things I’ve dared to try now that I’m older, and my children are too.
I’ve heard this moment in life described as a “mid-life crisis” or as a “second childhood,” but I’ve found it to be something much more profound. It has been a journey of rediscovering the girl I once was before life, especially the “mean girls” of elementary school and junior high, convinced me that the person I was needed to be someone else.
Those school years faded into college and then my twenties when the fog of mothering new babies with its blur of sleepless months, and my children’s never-ending need drained away the energy I might have had for resurrecting the girl I once had been. Now that it’s been almost five years since I last struggled though those early baby days, I’m taking a good long look at that woman in the mirror, and learning at last who I am when I’m not busy with the minutiae of mothering new people.
That face in the mirror may have crinkles in the corners of the eyes and a lot more silvery highlights in my hair, but it’s also a face that looks back at me with contentment and joy. It’s no longer a young face, or even a young body, but the girl who-used-to-be is once again peeking daringly though my eyes. I remember being her, the girl who climbed trees, played tackle football in the street with the boys, invented an entire universe of make-believe and spent summers living in it, the girl who lived wild and dared big.
I’ve missed that girl in all the years of being who what I thought I was supposed to be like, and then last week, I bought that girl a skateboard and from out of my mouth burst the riotous laughter of all those years ago.
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