Me, with my family, on my 40th birthday and on Jackson’s first day of kindergarten.
The topic of aging is probably not too far from most of our minds on any given week. How could it not be when we are bombarded with societal messages, from advertisements to doctors’ advice, about getting older and how to: combat aging; embrace aging; and maintain our health as our bodies age. But the last couple of weeks there’s been a particular uptick in comments on DW about aging, specifically about women who dare to live publicly past the age of 40 and, gasp, even pretend like they’re happy about it! There was a comment last week that was so nasty that I deleted the whole thing, but the gist was:
Women who are 40 and older are no longer beautiful or desirable. There was the comment this week from a 24-year-old female who politely suggested that those of us who read and comment on DW are probably, like, 40, and a bunch of “old hags” who are bored and miserable. True, she seemed off her rocker, but her sentiment is hardly an uncommon one. Even BGM, who who is known for his under-stated commentary (ha), said, in response to a few people saying they’re actually happier as they age: “I think this notion that ‘older people are happier! is right up there with the concept that ‘more money equals more problems!’ Uh huh. Sure. Yeah, right. In other words, it’s pure cockamamie delusional bullshit that people tell themselves so they don’t simply up and blow their fucking heads off.” Well, call it cockamamie bullshit if you want, but I am way happier now at 40 than I was at 24, and aside from the initial days after I got microbladed and looked like total freak, blowing my head off is about the last thing on my mind.
You know what IS on my mind? My kids and their well-being (including organizing play dates for them, taking them to their doctor appointments, chaperoning field trips — which I’m doing again today, signing them up for activities and classes and summer camp, and just generally making sure they are well cared for and know they’re loved); my husband and planning dates with him (tomorrow we’re celebrating the 11th anniversary of our blind date, and I scored a reservation at a Michelin-starred restaurant a short walk from our place!); planning vacations; fostering friendships near and far; the well-being of my parents and sister and other family members and figuring out when and how to see them next; my health (regular exercise, eating well, cutting back on alcohol and sugar, and getting regular check-ups); my cats’ health (they’re 12 and 18 now — THAT is getting old); resistance (not about aging, but about you know who and his dangerous agenda); my work and how to squeeze it into my life in a way that is intellectually, emotionally, and financially rewarding without sacrificing too much time and energy that I devote to all of the above (not such an easy feat!).
I’d be lying if I said aging wasn’t on my mind at all. But it comes after all this other stuff, and then in the usual ways: I think about the legacy I want to leave behind (most importantly for my kids) and how I can best take care of myself so that I can live long and well enough to enjoy my kids as adults, travel extensively as a senior citizen, and maybe even enjoy being a grandmother one day. And I think about the wrinkles on my neck, the way it’s harder to lose weight now than it was when I was 25, and how the skin on my face is losing its elasticity. But let me tell you, I’d take all of this — every bit of it, even the sagging skin and the sagging everything else — for the life I have now (vs. the life I had when I didn’t worry about neck wrinkles).
When I was young, I worried about whether I’d find lasting love and whether I’d be a good mother if I even got the chance to be. I worried about “finding myself” and/or my calling and “making a mark” and “being someone.” I worried endlessly — endlessly! — about finances. I worried about what people thought of me. I worried all the time about how my actions or behavior might be taken by other people and the way they would judge me because of them. At 40, I don’t worry about any of this anymore — either because it’s been sorted out or because I don’t give a flying fuck — and that’s incredibly liberating — certainly liberating enough to make up for any vanity I feel about my damn neck.
So, yes, I’ve traded young people’s worries with middle-aged worries, and maybe the baggage of each weighs the same. But I’m stronger now after years of training, and I’m better able to prioritize my needs (and the needs of others I want to meet). I have more patience now. And I know in a way I didn’t at 24, 25, 28 that shit’s gonna work out ok. It may not work out exactly like I want or hope for or anticipate, but it’s gonna work out. Whatever problem I have today will be traded for a different set of problems one, two, three years from now. That perspective that I didn’t have fifteen years ago goes a long way in managing anxiety and expectations, and it also gives me some permission to let go and enjoy the moment. Instead of feeling like I have to figure it all out right now, I work on what I can and let time and fate take care of the rest. These are lessons I learned from aging, and they are serving me well.
How are the lessons you’ve learned from aging serving you? What is better about your life now than when you were younger? Would you trade the lessons you’ve learned and the abundance you’ve created to have your youth — and all its baggage — again?