I am feeling my age. Age is a loaded word and concept, but in my case, what I mean is that I feel this year of 39 completely: this is not just another year in the life. When I was younger, the milestone birthdays seemed to be 13, 16, 18, and 21. I remember announcing what I believed to be the last of them at 25, a birthday I felt marked the beginning of when “everything counts” as well as my ability to finally rent a car on my own. But 39 has been a milestone too — maybe even more than 40 will be. I feel as if I am standing in a more significant threshold, leaving one place and entering another.
This is my 39, here at the beginning of 2014:
At 39, you splurge on Justin Timberlake concert tickets because you love him in a way that almost feels inappropriate — even though you still remember his hair circa the ’90s — but then you find that his concert homage to Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison” thrills you even more than “Suit and Tie.”
You do all your Christmas shopping on Amazon — not because you are all savvy and techy, but for the simple reasons that you cannot bear to deal with crowds and parking at the shopping malls and you don’t have time to shop on foot anyway. ( I once spent New Year’s Eve in Times Square. I went to Woodstock in ’94. When did I become such a wimp and so “busy?”)
People you love have cancer. Way too many people you love have cancer. It makes you angry. And scared.
Thus, you look at moles differently. You start staring in the bathroom mirror for long bouts of time, trying to figure out what is going on above your upper lip and what to do about your forehead and WTH that tiny bump on your temple is.
You dish with your college girlfriends about miracle devices that remove chin hairs and the most comfortable yoga pants for school pick up. Because, you know, that is hot.
Your husband remarks to you that Taylor Swift seems like “she’d be a really cool girl to have… as a daughter.”
You find yourself keeping the car running so you can finish hearing that Guns ‘n’ Roses song on the radio — on the easy listening station (the hell?) — because it reminds you of college. Hall and Oates take you straight to the backseat of your parents’ car on road trips to the beach when you were a child, and Paul Simon and Billy Joel sing the songs that you hold sacred, the songs that your parents used to play on a record player at parties that went past your bedtime.
You cry at commercials and flipping You Tube videos. You don’t want to watch violent movies. You wonder how the teenagers at the mall have parents who let them dress that way. You realize with a start that although you believed you were Carrie when you watched Sex and the City on HBO, you now think of Carrie and her friends as “young,” and they totally wouldn’t hang out with you.
You hear through the grapevine about friends separating and divorcing, a stark contrast to your 20s and early 30s when there was another wedding every weekend. It feels surreal; divorce seems like such a grown-up thing to do, even more than mortgages and minivans and babies. It’s threatening, like a tornado that might randomly hit you or someone you love. Even though divorces are not random at all, they feel random — which is terrifying.
You spend lunches with friends comparing local memory loss facilities and living wills for your parents in the same breath as preschools and tennis lessons for your kids.
Everyone you know is training for some kind of race — whether it’s a half marathon, a full marathon, or an Ironman (overachievers). Your friends wear CrossFit T-shirts and Zumba pants at the grocery store because they actually do those things. Fitness is the new mid-life crisis.
Still, you very possibly might drink a Diet Coke with your lunch of kale and quinoa salad. Details.
Speaking of beverages: hello, hangovers. Every drink after your first is now some huge risk and gamble on whether tomorrow will be absolutely miserable.
You squint more. You consider appliances a viable gift option. You don’t know any of the bands playing on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve — and you don’t want to — but you can totally beat your kids at Just Dance (and only Just Dance). It ticks them off in a very satisfying way, but you are pathetically sore the next day.
You find yourself wondering whatever happened to Winona Ryder and Natalie Merchant. You hope they are okay, because they feel like distant cousins you grew up with once upon a time. You have a soft spot for Ethan Hawke and John Cusack and you always will, like the boys next door growing up that you can’t forget. Jake Ryan will always be the hottest boy who ever lived, and no, you don’t want to see a picture of what he looks like now. Thanks.
Your parents are slowing down and retiring. Some of your friends are losing their parents. It feels like some kind of seismic shift to realize that our generation is now up to bat. We’re the ones leading our countries and churches and corporations and the world. It’s us. Donna Martin graduated and has four children now — and so do I. The same people I drank with in college are now in charge of universities and hedge funds and corporate giants and Homeland Freaking Security. Gulp.
That blows my 39-year-old mind, because I feel like a teenager in middle age clothing. I still feel like someone else should be the grown up. Still, I do feel ready to take responsibility for life and my place in it. I am not afraid to speak up for what I believe. I accept that not everyone is going to like me, even if it still hurts. I know I am never going to be perfect, and I no longer even want to be. I feel like I know what I want from my life, regardless of the expectations of others; unfortunately, I also know that my own expectations for myself are the hardest to bear and the least forgiving. I’m still getting used to the idea that this blur around me is my life happening, but I am getting there.
So, I’m happy to wear ballet flats instead of stilettos, and I have finally decided that Spanx are not actually worth it — I don’t care who is going to be at the party. And I have realized that I am the only mother my kids are going to get, so I better treat myself well and let them know that as imperfect as I am, I’m still valuable . Someday, they will all be imperfect, valuable 39-year-olds too.
I cannot lie: 40 scares me a little bit. This is the big-time. But it scares me in a good way, the kind that feels all tingly and full of possibility. If this is 39, I think that there is a lot to be hopeful for in my 40s. As long as I can figure out that whole what’s-going-on-above-my-upper lip thing.