Embracing our age is easier said than done. And, as an aging parent, the reality is that we’re often exhausted and sometimes filled with self-doubt. Will we have enough energy to parent effectively — and to stay awake while doing it? I had these thoughts as I sat in the doctor’s office for my third visit in three weeks.
I assure you, I’m not a hypochondriac. But I had to appreciate the absurdity of it all. My first visit was for a flu that knocked the stuffing out of me. The second visit was due to a cracked rib as a result of the coughing from the flu that knocked the stuffing out of me. The third visit was for a sore back from sleeping funny from the cracked rib, from the coughing, from the flu that knocked the stuffing out of me. I realized that I’m starting to sound like The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly!
As I talked with the doctor, I joked that I had planned to embrace turning 40 with grace, but I’m failing miserably. As I uttered what was meant to be a lighthearted comment, I unexpectedly broke down and started crying. I realized that no matter what my intentions, I only had so much control over my health and the reality of my continuing maladies was bringing me down.
When I was pregnant with my first child, my Lamaze teacher talked to us about the reality of birth and beyond. One piece of advice she offered was to go out to a sporting goods store and purchase a large, colorful sweatsuit so that when we had the baby we would have something comfortable to wear that would fit and lift our spirits. She spoke of the unattainable image of the elegant new mother, wafting through the house in a long, flowing, white nightgown.
As we departed class that night, all the other things she said left my mind. I looked at my husband and very clearly stated that a large, colorful sweatsuit was not what I needed. In fact, I was going to attain the image of that elegant mother no matter what it took, white nightgown and all, as I nursed my baby back to sleep in the middle of the night.
I wore my white nightgown. It got stained and gross — and so I got several white nightgowns. I accepted my teacher’s unspoken challenge to be the mother I wanted to be. And, in the same vein, I faced the challenge of turning 40 with an attitude of positivity and grace. My friends warned me that my wrinkles would worsen, my weight would be harder to manage, and I would begin to feel aches in places I didn’t ever notice before — not to mention the flabbing of my upper arms that I always so proudly displayed in tank tops during the summer. As with the Lamaze sweatsuit (as we so fondly call it), I refused to accept that 40 would beat me.
Another birthday. Well, as they say, it’s better than the alternative.
I thought turning 40 would be a piece of cake, after all I survived a chaotic cross-country move not two years ago and turning 40 couldn’t be that big a transition. I was all set to embrace it with grace, beauty, and elegance. I stepped up my normal workout routine. I went in for some skin peels so I could glow in the warm light of my birthday candles. I had all the motivation to be healthy. I want to stay active with my kids, continue to seek adventures with my husband, and to live a nice long life and eventually enjoy my grandchildren. My 40th birthday arrived and it was a great day — and then I started to fall apart.
Forty is a milestone. No matter what the skincare commercials tell us about it being the new 20 — it’s a reality check. For many of us, our 40s pose some serious life challenges. Our physical selves are deteriorating and require more maintenance, our parents are aging at a rapid pace, our children are entering new stages with stronger personalities, and we face the next chapter of our own lives. We’re also meeting younger parents and colleagues, a constant reminder that we are now the older and, hopefully, wiser adult in many situations.
I guess this is mid-life, time to re-assess and face the next years of our lives. As my children grow and change, I admire their spirit and enjoy their company. They still need me, but in very different ways from just a few short years ago. I even find myself preparing prematurely for the time when they leave the nest. I am not ready for that, and thankfully I have some time. Professionally, I am at a point where I can leverage my experience and position and grow, and yet there is a whisper in my mind that perhaps I am aging out. How do I continue to be relevant and engaged at the same time?
The key is to develop confidence based on the wisdom of experience and the knowledge that we really don’t know what’s to come. We can find solace in the fact that we have made it this far and there is still much joy to be had. I’ve come to believe that there is beauty to being 40. I’ve got forty years of experience navigating this complicated world.
I’ve still got enough life in me to seek adventure of spirit (and sometimes of body). And most importantly, I have my family. I am a role model, a caregiver, and advocate for my three children. We can control our choices, but can’t control everything that will happen to us. It’s not what life hands us but how we deal with what life has in store for us. Some days will be harder to embrace than others, but we can rely on our families and communities to help lift us through those moments and also to give us reason to be lifted. It also helps to have an empathetic doctor upon whose shoulder you can cry. That is how 40 can truly be embraced — by embracing all that we have done, all that we have around us, and all that lies ahead.More On