I definitely don’t love many things about being in my 40s. My uncooperative left eyebrow, for example, which wants to slouch down lower than my right, so I’m always using my forehead muscles to try to pull it up and sometimes this gives me a headache. The fact that I am starting to develop crepey skin over my knees. My fingernails are brittle and break easily. My eyesight is starting to get wonky. I actually, literally do feel bad about my neck. My hair is grey and fragile and thin. I don’t remember what it feels like to not be tired, I’ve struggled with depression more than I have since I was 17, and the weight!
Don’t even get me started on being a 45 46-year-old woman with thyroid and adrenal issues and trying to lose weight.
There are definitely a lot of things I don’t love about this decade.
But they are all related to my body. And while I feel a deep sense of irrational shame over my body experiencing the aging process, I also logically know I can’t do a whole lot to influence it. I can exercise, and eat as healthy as I can, and use the techniques I’ve learned to not let my corticoid steroid levels gallop away. Moisturizer and creams and careful use of make-up. But I also think that, to a certain extent, I’m mostly not in control over aging.
And I do, actually, despite all of these on-the-downslope-of-life issues, enjoy being in my forties.
This is because I feel so much more in control of my emotional issues.
Well, maybe “control” isn’t exactly the right word.
I feel like every year I get older, I am learning what truly requires my emotional energy, and what does not. I am learning that it is OK to grieve for losses and that the difference between expectation and reality is a loss to grieve. I am learning to sit fully within my joy. I am seeing how the experiences I had at 18 and 22 and 29 and 36 prepared me for what I am experiencing right now, and so I am more patient in whatever struggle I am currently experiencing, as I feel able to look forward and know it will help me in some way in the future. I am learning to fully embrace who I am, instead of the person even very beloved people think I am or want me to be. I am getting better at setting boundaries. I am so willing to say “that is bullshit” and then to walk away from the BS.
This wisdom is not without pain; it is, in fact, gathered mostly from painful experiences. But I feel less inclined to kick in protest or to feel sorry for myself or to think I am beleaguered by God’s disappointment. Difficult things happen; terrifying, painful, devastating. Not just to me but to everyone, and being resentful about them makes them more difficult. So I am trying to continue to look for wisdom.
My life on the higher side of my 40s is not what I imagined it to be two decades ago. I thought I would have what my mother and older sisters had at my age: all of my family close to me, grandkids and family parties and using all of the plates at Christmas. I’ve projected my future grandmotherly self for many years, ever since Kaleb was no longer a baby and I realized that yes, he really would be my last. I have looked forward to being a grandmother since then (actually, since I was young and I loved spending time with my grandma, and she would say "one day you'll be a grandma; will you tell your grandkids about me?"), and I assumed it would just…happen. But that is part of the knowledge I am gaining: what it really is like for your children to grow up and leave home. They become who they are in reality, not who you imagined they might be, and that is incredibly amazing. I don’t have grandchildren or in-laws yet, but I do have my amazing adult children who are finding their way in the world, and my sweet Kaleb still at home. I still have my marriage. I have my sisters and my friends. I can still run, hike, garden, make things.
And there is a goodness in being here, right now. It is absolutely OK that my kids haven’t gotten married or had kids yet. Or ever. They get to choose; if I am ever a grandmother I will, of course, be thrilled. But if I am not, that is also OK. Because another thing I am learning is that on this side of my life, when there are fewer people who need me, there is a sense of freedom. I can do whatever: travel, change careers, go back to school. Finally become a real writer. I can discover the person I’ve been becoming during the past two decades of motherhood. I am different than I was when I started this journey, but I am also the same. Wiser, but only wise enough to know there is a whole (well, a half, I suppose) lifetime of wisdom to accumulate.
I love that I was born in the spring. I’ve always loved it; when I was younger it was because the four-month-long gift drought was over, and presents for an April birthday are delightful when you’re a girl: new sandals and spinney dresses and sunglasses and fresh make-up palettes. Now, I love it because it allows me to start again as the world starts again; to look for the new ways I can blossom.