As a surprise for my 40th birthday, my husband whisked me away to Vancouver Island to an idyllic resort overlooking Brentwood Bay, sans children. It was beautiful, perfect, more than I could have imagined. Which, on reflection, makes my meltdown on the actual Big Day seem even more pathetic.
The day I turned 40, I stayed behind in the workout room to do additional ab work, as if the extra crunches somehow would undo the baby bulge left over from the birth or our youngest, then eight years old. Instead, I found myself in a hot, sweaty heap of desperation on the floor of the gym, overlooking the bay, literally mourning the passage of my youth. This was it - 40. It was the beginning of the end.
Oh, if only I could go back to that moment and whisper to my younger self: “Just so you know, the really good stuff is just beginning.”
By forty, I had survived the awkward tween years, bad breakups, bad hairdos, and other misadventures of youth. In the good news column, the four decades of experiences also taught me a few life lessons such that any mistakes I made along the way need not be repeated. Honestly, life is so much easier when you are no longer tripping over yourself.
By my fortieth birthday, my husband and I had been together for seventeen years. That was plenty long enough to move past the turn-the-light-out-when-you-leave-the-room arguments and to sort out an acceptable division of labor to keep our household running. Translation: more time to enjoy each other’s company and less time squabbling about whose turn it is to do the dishes.
Forty was the beginning of the stage when we could travel broadly with our kids. They could pull their own luggage, understand their way around an airport, join us on long hikes, last longer than twenty minutes in a museum, and find something at a white table cloth restaurant to eat while we enjoyed our grown-up meals.
After forty, our children also moved beyond learning basic life skills (feeding, bathing, and dressing themselves), and started to become independently thinking and functioning people. Even better – we loved their company. Hands down, some of the wittiest, intelligent, and captivating discussions (and also some of the most ridiculous, let’s be honest) that I ever have engaged in have been at the dinner table with our family of four. Who would have thought that was possible when just a few years earlier I was pulling smashed peas from their hair and mopping up spilled milk?
At forty, I also began to appreciate the fragility of life. The upside is that this discovery was a powerful impetuous to start chipping away at those bucket list items. Climb that mountain, write that novel, run that marathon, surf that wave, learn that language, sing loudly at that concert, laugh whole-heartedly with the people I love! The experience of finally doing the things I had dreamt of, but put off for so long, is simply a blast. I highly recommend it.
I turned 46 this month. On that day, I ran 13 miles with my husband just because we could. I talked with our daughter away at college and smiled with news of all of her adventures. I shared a blanket on the couch with our son, eating birthday cake and watching the third installment of Harry Potter, the simplest of pleasures. Where I am right now, at 46: I am blessed and I am joyful. All of those years, every single one of the building block moments that together constitute my life, brought me here, and I could not be happier.
If only my 40 year old self would have known.