A few weeks ago, a friend of mine shared that Kurt Loder just turned 70. Remember Kurt Loder from MTV News?
It can’t be, I thought. Not possible.
Wikipedia verified it: Mr. Loder officially became a septuagenarian on May 5. While I wish him a most happy birthday, this was just one in a string of events lately confirming that I am getting older.
Another involved a conversation with an early-twentysomething coworker in which I found myself emphatically saying things like, “This is the time in your life to try new things!” and “Trust me, it only gets harder so keep your options open and really enjoy these years.”
And then there was the recent trip to the beach where my beautiful 8-year-old daughter eyed me in my bikini and exclaimed with the most heartfelt sincerity and not an ounce of meanness, “Mom, you would be so cute if you were young.”
It has not gone unnoticed by me that I’m getting called ma’am more often these days. Or that, on more than one occasion, I’ve made a reference to some piece of pop culture from the ’80s only to realize that the younger person I’m talking to has no idea what I mean (“You see, Three’s Company was a show about a guy living with two girls … Oh, forget it.”)
When I blow out my birthday candles in just months, I will formally bid adieu to my 30s. These days, it feels like 40 is barreling down on me, and in my mind I keep asking: How did this happen? How did I get here? How can I possibly be turning 40? I don’t feel 40.
And yet, I totally have the life of a 40-year-old. I’m a decade into marriage and have two kids and a mortgage. I drive a wagon and go to PTA meetings. I wear glasses when I drive at night, regularly visit the dermatologist (the result of being a child of the ’80s who rarely wore sunscreen), and have looping conversations in my head about things like saving for retirement, and whether or not Botox is a good idea or just a slippery slope to an eye lift.
My trouble with 40 isn’t about vanity or lost youth. It’s not about unfulfilled dreams or what could have been. In fact, if you’d asked me at 20 what I wanted my life to look like at 40, this would be it, to a T.
But 40. 40. The Big 4-0. Nope. No. No. No thank you. I don’t like it.
I have a kindergartner. When we do math homework, we spend a lot of time talking about addition and subtraction, specifically “adding to” and “taking away.” And it occurred to me the other day that, up to this point in my life, I have been in the business of “adding to.” I added a partner, a career, kids, a house and friends. These have been building years, time spent in service to creating a life.
While I’m not so simplistic to think that the years ahead will be devoid of adding anything new (Hello, I still need to get a dog! Hint, hint, hubby …), the reality is that the second half of my life will inevitably involve some subtracting, loss and taking away. My children will only continue to get older and more independent. My parents, whom I love so dearly, will get older too, a fact I’m not ready to accept. Friends will move away or move on. Little by little, pieces of this life I’ve been putting together across four decades will fall away.
I’ve never been sentimental about things and would make Marie Kondo proud with my decluttering skills. But it’s as if the thought of turning 40 has tripped some kind of internal hoarding instinct, making me want to hold on, cling tightly to the people I love, stop time and push pause, just for a little while. Yet I know I can’t.
I’m no mathematician, so when I’m looking for wisdom or guidance, I turn to words—writers and poets and music. I can always count on my girl, poet Mary Oliver, to show me the way. And so it was that I came back to this gem:
To live in this world
You must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.
I know that in the next 40 years, I will be called on to let go—and I’m not afraid to say I resent that. But, for now, I’m going to go on loving, holding my people against my bones with all my might, and hopefully, adding to their lives.