The Big One:40

I am not a glass is half full kind of gal. Which is why, when my fortieth birthday arrived last week, my reply to well wishers was “Yup, it’s the big one. 40. Halfway to dead.” Although this is a rather pessimistic view of my impending mortality, not everyone agreed with me. One friend noted that I usually put myself in the grave any minute, so she was actually quite proud of my outlook. Another noted that it was optimistic for to think that I would live to eighty. What I meant, though, was actually quite glass half emptyish. The first half went so quickly, I imagine that the next half (if indeed it turns out to be a full half) will speed by. I don’t really have to imagine; parents with college students and grandparents in the supermarket love to tell me to enjoy every minute of my children’s youth, because “they will be grown before you know it.” And if they are grown, where does that leave me? I shudder to think.

No other birthday has had quite the same impact on me. Something about forty feels downright old. Perhaps this is because my mother died in her forties, so I wonder if this, too, will be my last decade of life. Or, perhaps it is because by forty one has really run out of excuses. You can “find yourself” in your twenties, while you hide behind graduate school and selfish splurges on vacations or designer boots. For many it is acceptable for the quest to continue into their thirties. And for others, like me, the thirties is a whirlwind of pregnancy, motherhood, the defining the work-life balance. But by forty, you’ve had the career, you’ve had the kids. Most everything should be accomplished. Our president and first lady are in their forties. You can’t get more grown up than that!
I won’t pretend that I have ambitions to be the leader of the free world, but I have ambitions none the less and I can’t help feeling like the clock is ticking. A glass half full person would argue that I have actually accomplished quite a bit. I imagine that self- reflective conversation with one of my more optimistic friends to go something like this:

Half Full: You could paper your walls with your degrees! A BA and two Master Degrees.

Me (From now on to be referred to as Half Empty): True, but what about that PhD I have always wanted? Can’t justify spending the kids college tuition on some self fulfilling intellectual journey that will only result in one last opportunity to march down an aisle to the tune of pomp and circumstance. And talk about no return on my investment! I will be more likely to lose money than make it.

Half Full: Okay. Okay. Well, you could actually write that book you have been talking about…

Half Empty: I am. As we speak. But the publishing industry is down the tubes. Really, what are the chances?

Half Full: (One of my half full pals who passed forty years ago.) The forties is a beautiful time when you really come into yourself, embrace your strengths, and appreciate all you have.

Half Empty: I bet you did not say that six years ago, when you turned forty. Forty looks good as fifty creeps up.

Half Full: Look, you have three beautiful children who are healthy and wonderful.

Half Empty: I started the decade thinking I would have no kids. Now I have three. I am forty. And I have a two year old. Think about that…

Half Full: It’s wonderful! He keeps you young!

Half Empty: He makes me tired!
I don’t resent my children, although it may sound like that to the reader. If I did not have them, I would be just as gloomy about this past birthday, but it would be their absence which caused me consternation. No, it is quite simply the fact, that even if I admit I am not old, I can’t deny that I have earned the title “middle aged.” And the middle is closer to the end. And this is an end that I don’t care to reach, so while I really don’t want to race, I know I have things to do. And maybe that pain in my hip is really more than a pain in my hip. Which would mean that I really need to get going. To the Doctor. Which I seem to be doing a lot more of these days…

Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 9:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

When We Were Kids

When we were kids I loved Halloween. The costumes, the candy, and the shaving cream we secretly slipped into our bags. One of the greatest joys was getting home and counting my candy, trading up with my sister and procuring a hiding spot for my secret stash before my mother assigned a permanent home in the kitchen for the rest of my stock.

When we were kids. But now we are adults. I had heard that having one’s own children was a way to recapture the thrill of childhood and perhaps enjoy activities like Halloween even more than when we were young. Our children’s excitement should be contagious, and the thrill of watching them choose a costume and run from door to door squealing as a snickers bar is dropped into their bag should be blissful.

I was reminded last weekend, though, that Halloween, for a parent, is overrated. Am I happy for my kids? Sure. Do I feel their excitement? It would be impossible not to; they make it quite clear. But the adult reality of Halloween just doesn’t live up to my early memories. Is it spooky? Yes. But for entirely different reasons, most of which have to do with my kids transforming from relatively reasonable people into sugar crazed monsters.

When we were kids discussions on October 31st began on October 29th. Now, Halloween starts at the end of the August.  While I am thinking about backpacks and sneakers for the new school year, the advertising industry has moved on to Halloween. As far as they are concerned, the first day of school is over in July, and Halloween is next. But since they have arrived, so have my kids. And so the fretting begins. What to wear, what to wear! My daughter spent more time on her costume then she did on homework during the month of September. She must have logged in a full 24 hours on the computer surfing for costume ideas. If only she would suffer alone, this may not have been a problem, but she dragged us down into her abyss, finally deciding on a bee costume. When we were kids, my mother would have made that bee costume. A little bit of black and yellow striped felt pinned to a black turtle neck with wings cut out from construction paper. Not anymore. I doubt that Julia would even find my efforts acceptable. So, by October 1st, a Bee costume from Party City hung in her closet. With a month to go I should have been relieved, but Jonah’s obsession begun, which culminated with the purchase of a Darth Vader costume, that ultimately he decided was to itchy and therefore was thrown into a pile on the floor in favor of some pirate garb which he had owned all along.

When we were kids, Halloween lasted a few hours in the evening, and there was no mention of it until we returned home from school on October 31st. Now, it is a multi-day extravaganza. Our school has turned it into a virtual Mardi Gras with sugar instead of alcohol. My kindergartener had Halloween themed homework all week. On Friday, the afternoon was spent in party mode: bobbing for donuts attached to strings, decorating pumpkins, decorating and consuming cupcakes. Of course this was all done in costume, so they would be ready for the grand finale: the parade. At precisely 2:15, the entire school, decked out as Superheroes and hippies, Star Wars Clones and witches walked the red carpet with parents  and grandparents cheering them on and snapping their photos. My fourth grader reported that they did not do a stitch of work that day; they watched Halloween themed movies. I know I am getting old, and possibly humorless, but my children attend  school for a mere 181 days a year, so why should even one of those days be wasted in tribute to a pagan holiday?

When we were kids, by the time we were nine- the same age my daughter is now- we went out trick or treating alone. My parents stayed home and manned the door, and sent me out with my friend, with instructions to be back in an hour. Today, I would never dream of letting my nine year old go out unchaperoned. So I spent Halloween night as an air traffic controller, flashlight in each hand, lighting the path up to each house so no one tripped. In between houses, I got to play cop as I yelled to watch out for cars as they darted into traffic in pursuit of their next piece of chocolate. And then when I actually accompanied them to a front door, I was Miss Manners, appalled at these vultures I created, who jostled each other to get the best view of the candy bowl and then, after spending far too long contemplating which piece of candy to take, forgot to say thank you.

But perhaps the worst part of grownup Halloween is there is no gate keeper. When we were kids my parents monitored my candy intake. I was not permitted to gorge myself on Milky Ways and Nestle Crunch Bars. If I was lucky, the candy lasted until Thanksgiving. But now, I am the gatekeeper, and I am not very good at it.  First, I make my way, not slowly, through the left over candy we bought for trick or treaters. Then I move onto my kid’s supply.  My daughter is on to me, as she has begun to find new real estate for her candy every couple of days. She clearly keeps a careful inventory, too, because when I did swipe a tootsie roll, she confronted me almost immediately. I am conflicted about this. On the one hand, I have found myself a reliable gatekeeper who will keep my waist line slender and my blood sugar stable. On the other hand, I need my fix.  Fortunately, my sons still seem to still be oblivious to their rapidly disappearing hoard. Which is bad for me, and my waistline, but good for my cravings.  My rationale is the faster I eat the candy, the faster it is out of my house. And then Halloween will be a distant memory, at least for another ten months.

Published in: on November 4, 2009 at 4:25 pm  Leave a Comment