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  

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