I'm Not Who I Thought I'd Be at 40, and I Think I'm OK With It

by Kathryn Streeter
Originally Published: 
A semi-side view of a red Ferrari vehicle in a parking lot

I’m in my 40th year of life, and today I sat for most of the morning at the kitchen table working on my seven-year-old son’s model Porsche, a beautiful red Boxster—at least that’s what the picture shows on the box. School is out and he and his older sister have asked: “Mom, are you going to be using the kitchen?”

“Well, noooo,” I answer cautiously.

Turns out that today is Car Day and the chosen venue is the kitchen. My son has decided that he’s not waiting for the weekend when Dad can help him put his new model car together. He’s emptied the contents all over the table before I realize what’s happening. Forget my personal ambitions for the day; my to-do list will have to wait.

My son cheers me on as I painstakingly follow the instructions to assemble the Porsche. Then he deserts me, running off to continue a game with his sister that involves toy cars of every kind imaginable, unearthed from their hiding places around the house and now all over the kitchen floor. Unbelievable. It reminds me of games they played as three and five-year-olds. But apparently that stage isn’t over, even though they have long aged out of it.

Honestly, assembling model cars is not my forte. The little tiny pieces, the absurd directions with drawings that don’t match up to the pieces I’ve neatly laid out on the table, the pre-drilled holes that aren’t big enough, the wimpy, poorly manufactured screws—so little and easily lost—all are mind-boggling

“Oh no!” A rebellious screw goes ping, ping, ping down onto the wood floor and immediately becomes invisible. The kids let out a sigh of dismay: “Moooom!” I lamely remind them that it wasn’t my idea to dive into the Porsche project; normally, this is Dad-duty. We all scramble over the floor, brushing aside dust-bunnies and cracker crumbs until we rescue the all-important screw.

But, screw it. This is my life at 40, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. These little voices begging me to stop working on the computer (“You love the computer more than us!”) so that I can witness some new skit they have for me. Or a newly constructed house—which resembles a Dr. Seuss creation—carefully made out of three deserted shoeboxes for their pipe-cleaner people.

Or the snake of cars winding through chair legs in the kitchen.

I used to think I’d be an amazing sophisticate when I turned 40, probably too busy to put together a model car for my son. Don’t be too harsh. Forty sounded so out there—I imagined I would be this better-spoken, better-occupied, better-disciplined, better-dressed woman. By 40, I’d actually feel a daily sense of accomplishment, enjoying a life where I was leading the agenda, not reacting to strawberry jam stains on my daughter’s favorite white shirt that needs to be perfect for school tomorrow. Strict work time carved out for writing great stories, irresistible essays. Shouldn’t you find yourself concentrating on things of weighty significance by 40?

“Mom! We have eighty-eight cars. With the Porsche we have eighty-nine!” my daughter shouts triumphantly. How the heck can one family have so many cars?

Clearly, I wasn’t entirely right about how age changes a person’s life. The scene of the 89 cars in the kitchen says so. There’s quite a lot going on as I hit this milestone birthday, and much of it is sweetly familiar. It’s good to discover that for now, time mercifully allows change to happen less drastically than I’d imagined. I’m glad I’m sitting here in jeans. After all, I’m dressed appropriately for concentrating on things of weighty significance—the kids, and yes, the model car. A sense of accomplishment? You bet. My little clients are happy, even if I couldn’t get the darn headlights attached.

A version of this article appeared previously in Dubai’s Khaleej Times Weekend Magazine.

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