I am the obnoxious type of birthday celebrator who has festivities for an entire week. My aunt always did crazy stuff like that, and it makes me feel closer to her somehow. So rolling past various milestone birthdays hasn’t really ever bothered me. I lost no sleep (beyond the usual), I shed no tears reliving my “glory days,” I spent no extra time elbow deep in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s wondering if this is as good as it gets. It has just always been a part of life for me.
However, the in the last two months, our little family has sold a house, downsized to a camper, lost a job, quit a job, chosen a new job, moved out of state, unenrolled our child from public school, started homeschooling, and all of the other stuff that goes along with that level of fun, and it all started the day after my husband turned 34. This has forced me to become painfully aware that I am growing ever closer to 36. Yes, I am the oldest — we are just all about breaking down stereotypes and traditions in our household.
How did this happen?! I am still 17 and geeking out over what time we should get to Friday’s game, right? How did I become the age of those moms in the mall whose Wrangler jeans shape their butts into some silly-putty filled glob of denim and who get their hair cut at a severe angle?! This can’t be real life. But, alas, I pass myself in the store window, and it is 100% me.
Here is my collective list of why getting older isn’t all its cracked up to be. It leans more on the side of hilariously confusing than the glamour my early-20s self imagined it would be.
1. My skin is preteen scary.
I was blessed with a clear complexion as a teenager, but apparently when you crash into your mid-30s, your skin is like, “Ahhh, payback!” I now have more hormonal acne than an early-’90s Clearasil ad, and wait…is that a mole?! Since when do I have shoulder freckles?! All of a sudden, my Friday nights are spent with a glass (or box) of wine, scrolling through Pinterest posts of how to naturally remove skin tags or how to tell whether or not that blemish could be cancerous. Most weekends, WebMD has me convinced I have less than a month to live.
Not wearing makeup doesn’t help since I wouldn’t know how to cover any of this with the skin-colored spackle sold in the drugstore if my life depended on it. And I have no desire to look like the Hollywood celebs who have Botoxed their way to a face so tight they are devoid of any expression of natural emotion. How much longer until I have arthritic grandma hands — the kind with the knuckle humps?
This is when we 30-somethings confide in our closest friend with the hopes that she, too, is moley, and then spend next month’s mortgage on whatever skincare products promise to reverse time.
2. It is impossible to dress myself.
Seriously. If I could, I would never remove my yoga pants and hoodie. It is laughable to even refer to these as “yoga” pants because I’m not sure I’ve done more than grocery shop and sleep in them. I feel too old to shop at Maurice’s because these dumps should never be crammed inside rhinestone-studded denim or sweats with “JUICY” proudly glittered across my business end. However, the median shopping age in Belk is 60, and I have yet to graduate to elastic-waisted “slacks” and holiday-themed sweaters. So which is it when you are stuck in the middle?
I thought I had found a way out when LuLaRoe got popular until I realized their only option for pants were leggings whose patterned prints, which when spread across the acreage of my thighs, looks like one of those Magic Eye posters, like if you stare at me long enough, a unicorn might pop out. Plus, the material isn’t flattering for me. My “Clearly, she grew an entire human in there” flap of lower abdomen doesn’t look any fancier all dressed up in floral print.
So do I dress how I feel, or embrace the fact that the 20-something me in my head actually died a slow and painful death since childbirth No. 1 and go ahead and make a place for my AARP card in my wallet in the place where my Forever 21 punch card used to be? Most days, it can feel like I am choosing wardrobes between early ’90s Britney and Rose from The Golden Girls. Which is it, people?!
3. What is success, really?
When you are on your way to 40, your friends are either well-established in their careers, climbing the proverbial ladder and looking forward to retirement, or they are that one kid who works at Best Buy for the discount and still lives in their parents’ basement, and sometimes you are kind of jealous that they don’t have to pay rent and they eat free food and sleep past 6 a.m. on weekdays.
I feel like this is the age where people start to sincerely wonder if this is what they have to do the rest of their lives to provide for their families, or if they should keep Shawshanking their way out of their cubicle and attempt to start over with a life that provides actual happiness. That is my answer for why so many people end up doing direct sales. They sincerely want to love what they do, but they also have to make money doing it. If someone would pay me to write or talk, I’d be set, but that call hasn’t come yet. So that locks me in to a never-ending revolving door of Facebook invitations to Thirty-One parties and jewelry that I can customize only to eventually lose the pieces.
While money may not buy happiness, I feel like having no bills would make the rest of this mess seem easier to handle. Deciding to downsize and go tiny was easily one of the best decisions we have ever made. This has afforded us to be nearly debt-free, and now we are able to plan to live the lives we genuinely love. However, we still must answer the monthly questions of where the money will come from. Thank God, we are in this together.
4. Whose kids are these anyway?!
When I was 7, my kids were a set of well-behaved twins who said “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir.” Did we all have twin make-believe kids when we were young? How bizarre would the world be if everyone was a twin? I digress.
The kids I ended up with in real life share less than a fraternal egg in common with the pretend kids I had in elementary school. These little blessings are elementary forces of evil in human form. I swear that God makes kids cute in an effort to save their lives. When my daughter throws her sippy cup down for the 100th time, splashing soon-be-soured milk all over the backseat, and looks up at me and smiles, that smile is all that is keeping me from the vision I have of testing my hand at pushing her out the sunroof. Tell me I’m not the only one.
When you are in your mid-30s, you are trying to figure out your own life and where it is headed (see point No. 3), but you are also somehow in charge of keeping miniature humans alive by feeding them, cleaning them, and making sure they get to school, practice, dance, recital, Boy Scouts, and in bed on time. Who the hell decided someone could single-handedly accomplish this?
I mean, really, who are these kids? I can’t take them in public. Forget that! We can’t make it past the dollar bins in Target without an epic meltdown. Seven-year-old me had a super-distorted view of real life. Someone should have warned her.
5. So what do we do now?
My husband and I waited a little longer to start our family, so while many friends and family our age are done having kids, we are left to wonder whether or not to throw in the geriatric gestational towel or take a risk that we couldn’t actually become worse parents and be the folks who require a rascal scooter and speaker for our Beltones to attend our last child’s graduation.
Do we have more kids? Do we stop and embrace the fact that we are done making tiny versions of us? Do we start to plan for retirement? Is that even possible? Will Social Security be around when we retire?
This is the age I feel like I should be smarter than people in their 20s, but I just want to get to bed at a reasonable hour and watch Survivor before someone spoils it on Facebook. It is hard to see where to go from here.
6. Are those really my parents?!
My husband and I were blessed with some pretty amazing parents. I feel like your mid-30s are when you start to say all the annoying things your parents used to say to you. You frantically slap both hands over your mouth, but it is too late. Your mom just came out of there. And worse yet, she was (gulp) right.
You should wear a coat outside because what if you get pneumonia? And I know you didn’t actually take a shower. The washcloth is still dry, genius! And don’t get me started on “Because I said so, that’s why!”
All of a sudden, your parents’ boring stories over dinner when you were just trying to rush out of there to meet friends become phone conversations you look forward to as you seek out their advice. It is all like some bizarre episode of The Twilight Zone.
7. I just want to Netflix And sleep.
Apparently your mid-30s are like a real-life version of every funny (and depressingly true) meme on social media. Yes, I pretty much operate on a steady diet of coffee and wine. I love Jesus, but I do, in fact, cuss a little.
While many 30-somethings paint a picture of familial perfection and age-defying beauty on Facebook, I’m over here looking at my screaming kid who is covered in what is either chocolate or poop, and I’m like, “Yeah, but did you die?”
I don’t need fancy clothes or expensive trips. I just need a nap and about 13 uninterrupted hours to catch up on the latest season of Orange Is the New Black. I don’t remember what it is like to wash my hair more than three times in a week or pee alone. When does that improve? I mean, when they are teenagers, they don’t still magically have 40 questions that all flood in right when I can no longer hold in my bladder, right? (And don’t even get me started on how I can no longer belly laugh or sneeze more than once without requiring a change of underwear.)
8. Target is my happy place.
Sincerely, all I want to do is have an unlimited amount of time to drink Starbucks and wander around Target. I want to roll my windows down on the way there while rocking out to the Big Wille Style album, early ’90s hip-hop, pre-breakdown Mariah, or NSYNC and NKOTB with zero judgment.
Somewhere between my mid-20s and after having my first child, going shopping went from a necessary evil — in and out, stick to the list — to a place of complete solitude where something overtakes my body and I just tune out the wailing and gnashing of teeth strapped into my cart, and I sip my latte and wander aimlessly through the aisles never leaving with the two things I went in for in the first place.
And how did I just spend $237 without even remembering the toilet paper I came in here for…again?
So store-window me stares back, brushes the flyaways from my exhausted raccoon eyes and smiles. I may not be the senior-picture version of myself that I expect to see even though it’s how I still feel, but I am more than that. I am strong. I have struggled a lot, persevered, and overcome even more. So screw you, late-20s. If this is the road to 40, I’m not looking back.
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