Forty is starting to loom. Even without looking at a calendar, I can tell that it’s approaching. There are more grey hairs catching the light (and sticking straight out of my scalp—one of nature’s many ways of giving us a congenial fuck you). My laugh lines never smooth out. I see the beginnings of a waddle that would make John Cage from Ally McBeal drool. I am aging.
However, I refuse to say that I am middle-aged. No one really knows when they are middle-aged. My mom was middle-aged at 25. My husband’s grandma at 51 ½. Middle age can be a definite number, but more so it is a construct: a time of crisis, a time of self-doubt.
It’s not a construct I’m buying into. In many ways, I feel like it is only in these past few years that I have really begun to live.
Like most, I have very few memories of early childhood. I remember pouring sand in a tree trunk because my best friend said that would make it regrow (she lied); sticking my fingers down my throat and being shocked at what happened next (can you guess?); being lured back from running away from home with the promise of a peanut butter cup (it worked). But these years are largely lost to me.
I have left behind the awkwardness of tweendom. I look back sometimes on those awkward early teen years and think, man, to live that time again. Not because I am insane and think that middle school was a laugh a minute, but because if I knew then what I know now, it would be different. For one thing, I would totally kick ass in English class. But more so, I would have the confidence to know that everyone—everyone—feels like a huge pimple about to burst in eighth grade. I would stand up for people who were not being treated well without worrying if it would impact my popularity. I would seek out what I wanted without worrying what other people thought. I would also not be wearing high-topped L.A. Gear shoes and would have started wearing deodorant slightly sooner, but that’s beside the point.
My 20s were all about learning. College, law school and then being plunged into the real world. It was learning how to use these skills. It was learning how to navigate new cities on my own. It was learning how to spend money wisely. It was learning when it was time to say goodbye to a relationship that wasn’t what either of us needed. It was learning to find the person who I was.
And then my early 30s were just one big ball of pregnancy and breast milk and small children and what the heck am I supposed to do with these little people? It was sleepless nights, and sore nipples. It was second-guessing and third-guessing. Sometimes even fourth-guessing. It was being so worried about doing it right.
And now, safely into my late 30s, it is starting to be about confidence. I have chosen my friends and my husband well. Really, really well. I am good at my job. I am raising three amazing little human beings. I am finding time to do things that I need to do to stay happy and healthy—things like running and knitting and writing.
My body bears the battle scars of my heard-earned confidence. My eyes are no longer 20/20 thanks to hard years spent at law school and in front of a computer. My face will never be smooth thanks to being surrounded by people (and cats) who make me laugh. A lot. My stomach will never be flat, and my breasts will never be not flat, thanks to three pregnancies and three years of breastfeeding. My heel is permanently in some state of plantar fasciitis thanks to thousands of miles logged.
I am not so naïve to think that my learning period is over. I would be terrified if it were—what fun would life be? I know that I have all sorts of bumpy roads to navigate ahead. Not least of which will be when my own children go through their teen years. I’m sure I will have plenty of other battle scars—as yet unknown—to chronicle in the mirror someday.
If I am lucky, my middle age is still a ways away. I hope it is. There is a lot I want to do and learn. There is a lot I want to see and explore. So what choice do I have but to take these battle scars? They are certainly better than the alternative. I may sometimes look in the mirror and grimace, expecting to see a face 15 years younger. I may curse the gravity-defying grey hairs. I may sometimes press my index fingers against the sides of my cheeks and under my chin, envisioning a tighter face and neck. But I am proud to be where I am, on the cusp of 40, and ready to really live.