Yesterday I was at a mommy-and-me class with my babies when an older mom joined my group of early-30s-aged friends who were discussing weekend plans. When someone mentioned a 30th birthday party she’d be attending, the older mom took a deep breath.
“You guys are so young,” she said, half smiling. “I’m such an old lady,” she joked.
Clearly she wasn’t an old lady, but she was definitely past 40, and I felt a little bit bad. Here we were, time on our side, still young and having fun, and there she was, doing older stuff with older people.
Except that wasn’t yesterday anymore. That was eight years ago. And now here I am, on the other side of 40, watching baby-faced moms stroll their infants down sidewalks and load them into car seats. Weeks turned to months which turned to years, and I can see the passing of time on my face, in lines that don’t settle when I’m done smiling and in silver roots in my hair. It’s the children old enough to help themselves and new pains in my back when I stand. But I’ve got something to tell all those crazy kids out there.
Don’t feel bad for me. I’m having more fun than you are. And anything “crazy” or “out-there” I do that you’re tempted to call a midlife crisis, just shut it down, because that’s not it at all. Now let me tell you a story.
I turned 9 the day my father, Barry, came home with a 10-gallon hat. We lived in Staten Island, the New York borough known for its garbage dump and Italian food. And my father, a Brooklyn-born tough guy, suddenly listened to country music. His car was filled with Johnny Cash tapes. He traded his velour Fila jumpsuits for cowboy shirts with lots of snaps and patterns. He wore big belt buckles, and now he was sporting that enormous hat everywhere. The whole neighborhood suddenly called him Buffalo Barry, and we all had some good laughs over what was clearly his midlife crisis.
Fast-forward a bunch of decades. A few years ago, I started listening to hip-hop music and I rediscovered a love of grunge as well. Around the same time, on the edge of 39, I decided to get that tattoo I’ve always wanted. I got a few of them, and I started wearing muscle shirts to show them off. My shorts got a little shorter in the summertime as I got tired of hiding my “mommy legs,” and I started wearing heels again since I no longer carried a baby on my hip. I leased a convertible (we call it dad’s car), in which I drive down highways blasting hip-hop music in my short shorts and heels. I stopped speaking to some people who didn’t make me happy, and I started making more plans with friends for nights out.
None of it was a cry for help. My younger self might have called it a midlife crisis, and even my mother asked if everything was okay. But it’s so much simpler than that. I just wanted to do those things. Not because I was getting older or was bored or sensing my own mortality — I just wanted to.
If you’re lucky, becoming middle-aged grants you a bit more clarity. You still feel young but realize there’s no sense in not doing things that make you genuinely happy. You care a little less what other people think, stop going to things just because you’re invited, and stop trying to be friends with people who aren’t worth your time. You know you’ve got tons of life ahead, but you realize it’s not forever. When I think back to when I was 9 years old, I see that my father was just doing what he felt like doing, not because of his age or in spite of it.
When you reach a point where you start to let go of what people think and stop making time for toxic people and things that aren’t worth it, that’s when the real party starts. So don’t feel bad for me ‘cause I’m just getting started.
And whatever you do, please don’t call all the new fun I’m having a midlife crisis.
Actually, call it whatever you want. I couldn’t care less!