Nonsense. Grown-ups remember the first taste of independencew, the thrill of a first kiss, learning how to drive, and running around with their friends. They have forgotten that being a teenager feels a lot like a hormone sundae with uncertainty and doubt drizzled all over—with bad skin the cherry on top.
I want to tell kids this: Your teenage years are not even close to the best years of your life.
This year, I’ll turn 45. How did I get here already? I wonder. I remember my father’s 40th birthday party, complete with a singing telegram that my father giggled all the way through, and a slightly naughty cake my cheeky mother ordered for him. My dad turns 72 this year, and it feels a little like a wrinkle in time, to quote Madeleine L’Engle.
Speaking of wrinkles, I have them. There is no denying their presence around my eyes, especially; they are laugh lines well earned. They are the topographical map of the evidence of my life. Sure, I could opt to get Botox or some kind of filler, and it doesn’t seem quite as horrifying as it once did. On the other hand, being in midlife has given me the gift of embracing my face and body, more or less, as is. No warranty. What you see is what you get.
And that’s the beauty of this period of life, when your brain settles down a little and starts seeing things more the way they really are and less how you hope for them to be, for better or for worse. Instead of seeing regret and mistakes, I look behind me and see the road clearly. There is only reflection on how I got here and what the lessons meant along the way. Sometimes, the road traveled appears to be the more difficult one, like an eating disorder in my 20s and an unhealthy relationship spanning my early 20s to early 30s. My 40s, on the other hand, are the culmination of half a lifetime of stops and starts; I can finally see what is best for me.
For me, this is what my 20s looked like:
– I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.
– I am not grown-up yet.
– My body is my enemy, and all I see in the mirror are flaws.
– Love conquers all.
– College graduation: Oh my God, I have to support myself now.
And then my 30s:
– Love does not conquer all.
– Divorce can knock you off your feet and make you doubt everything.
– Starting over is scary.
– My body and my brain have formed an uneasy truce.
– Who am I? Am I grown-up yet?
If my 20s and 30s felt like a patch of sea grass bent to the whims of the wind, then my 40s came along, like a firm flagpole planted in the sand. I listened to the advice of a good friend and figured out what I want from a partner before I committed to marriage a second time. I overcame difficult times that made me stronger. I am a mother now.
I think I am almost grown-up.
I see my body for what it is: a vessel of strength and, yes, beauty; this is the body that has come a long way. My arms are meant for hugging, not for criticizing my triceps. My legs are meant for walking and running, not for analyzing the size of my thighs. My torso housed a growing baby, and I was cut neatly open to retrieve my son, the light of my life.
At 44, I am not threatened by other women. I have learned that pulling up others means that I am also lifting myself. I may be a little envious of other women’s figures, but I don’t need an excuse for why I don’t look like a fitness model, thank you. I’m here to tell you that I have come to terms with the fact that I like ice cream, and I’ll trade a little roundness here and there to enjoy it. Knowing my body feels easier in my 40s.
Do you know what else doesn’t suck in your 40s? The confidence of knowing. I know what I want from my life and I know what I deserve, and the hard knocks along the way don’t hold me back. They buoy me every day. Another benefit to being 40 is knowing my career path, and reveling in my decision to take a blind leap of faith from a full-time job to a part-time freelancing career, and finding that the network I have built over the years has come to fruition.
There are plenty of things to worry about, if you let them. But don’t let it be turning 40. Forty is the new…40. It doesn’t have to be anything else; 40 is the perfect midpoint, the fulcrum of your existence. Throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care and roll with it.