Sunday, August 10, 2008

On Turning 40: The View from the Top of the Hill

I am not normally one to obsess over birthdays, but I'm turning 40 later this month and I've given a lot of thought about what that means. My first reaction is that it seems unreal to reach that milestone. I am no longer the ingenue, the cute young one anymore. On the one hand, thanks goodness, let's move beyond that! However, there are some harsh realities that become more apparent when you reach this age.

But before I get to that, first I want to share some positive observations about where I am on the journey into motherhood. My daughter is almost 9, which means that we are halfway to 18. So as I reach "the top of the hill" as a person, I am halfway through the childhood years as well. The view is nice from here. I can still vividly remember the baby days, and empathize with the challenges of adapting to motherhood. I attended a lovely baby shower today and had a great time hanging out with new Moms, Moms-to-be, and their friends. I can still channel those early days, which is a good thing as I revise Mojo Mom.

At the same time, I can look ahead and just about see 18. That may sound crazy, but I can wrap my mind around 9 years of motherhood and project another 9 years into the future. My daughter is growing up quickly, but she's still a kid, and I am really enjoying that. Big changes are just around the corner, so I appreciate where we are at the moment. I have taught fifth grade Sunday school, mentored a sixth grade girl through her ninth grade year, and I taught high school and college, so now I have worked with just about every age from birth to adulthood. I know that I can't predict exactly what is ahead for us but I've seen the landscape. Life experience is a good thing.

So what sucks about turning 40? Well, the blissful denial that envelops and shields most teenagers and twentysomethings has pretty much fallen away. You might call that wisdom, but it's sure not a lot of fun at times. By the time we reach 40, we've all lost someone dear to us, we've seen relationships fall apart, and our parents may be reaching some challenging years. I've faced one family crisis or another pretty much continuously for the past two or three years. I've crossed over the threshold of the "before" and "after" time, when you realize that the rules really do apply to your life: we won't miraculously and exceptionally escape aging, illness, loss and death after all.

Not so much fun, eh? I can see why magazine headlines are all about escaping this--how to stay young, fit, beautiful, sexy and rich forever. While I am on this line of thought though I'll share another hard truth: Even if you do everything right, if you are the best girlfriend/wife/mother/friend/employee ever, you can still get screwed over. Just look at what Elizabeth Edwards is facing. I'll collect more thoughts on that for a separate post, but she is pretty much the model of an exemplary wife, and yet that didn't inoculate her life or relationship against heartache.

If I unpack that thought a little more--many of our "good girl" thoughts are deeply ingrained and require unpacking--it's obvious that shit happens and we can't prevent all of it. To believe otherwise would be to endorse a shadow flip side that implied that when husbands strayed it must be because the wife had done something wrong or contributed to it somehow, and I certainly don't want to say that. But girls are socialized to believe that if they are just good enough, they'll be rewarded, and that strategy make work really well for many years. But by age 40 you've seen enough to know that there are no guarantees, and that each of us needs to be prepared to take our future into our own hands.

I brought some of that practical perspective into the first edition of Mojo Mom and I will continue to do so, with more personal perspective on what is at stake. I think I understand a little better where Leslie Bennetts was coming from in her book The Feminine Mistake, but I also believe that these important strategies need to be delivered in an empathetic form that all women can take in. There is no need to panic, just some really important groundwork that needs to be laid by each woman to build her own safety net. This will protect not only herself, but also her children and potentially her spouse, in the case of a Mom who finds that she unexpectedly needs to become a breadwinner or care for a family member.

So, after all that, Happy Birthday? Maybe that's not the right question any more. I've already had enough birthday sizzle to satisfy me, courtesy of my wonderful cousins who knew that I needed to mark this year. Beyond that, I feel content that I am in the right place, in relationships with the right people, doing what I need to be doing to be happy on the home front and in my writing career. That in itself is a fabulous reward.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amy - I am where you are looking toward - in my late 40's (turning 49 in a couple of weeks) with my 18 year old heading off to college next week. I'm looking at schools with my 17 year old who is an incoming high school senior and also have an incoming high school sophomore and seventh grader.

As you are working on your rewrite Mojo Mom from your new vantage point as a 40 year old, please see some of the career reentry moms profiled on the home page of www.iRelaunch.com - divorced moms returning to work, career changers, people returning after very long career breaks, and more. Also, please re-examine the 7 step return to work strategy outlined in Back on the Career Track that you blogged about last year.

iRelaunch is the career reentry programming and events company my Back on the Career Track co-author Vivian Steir Rabin and I formed for mid-career professionals in all stages of career break and the employers and universities interested in updating and recruiting them. For those in the D.C. area, we are offering our all day return to work conference, the Career Relaunch Forum ,at the George Washington Marvin Center on November 12, 2008. More details to come on www.iRelaunch.com.

Vivian has five kids ages 11-19 and as I mentioned, I have the four teenagers. We have both been through the process of building careers, taking multiyear career breaks and then resuming work in very different ways. Vivian went the entrepreneurial route and I took a conventional full time job at a company. Since then we have spoken to thousands of women in all stages of career break and are aware of career reentry success stories in every field and work configuration. We know it can be done, with strategy and determination. I hope you include this perspective and these experiences in your book.

Thanks so much, Carol Fishman Cohen
Co-founder, iRelaunch.com
Co-author, Back on the Career Track

10:54 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Hi Carol--I am a big fan of your work and I definitely recommend your book Back on the Career Track for women who want to relaunch professional careers.

11:03 AM  
Blogger adena said...

Amy - happy birthday, first of all - I remember well that 40 was a traumatic and scary transition for me - I've been pleasantly surprised at my 40s - the biggest surprise is how much more comfortable I feel being MYSELF and how the opinions of others matter so much less - and I hear that the 50s are even better.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Tina Louise said...

I'm 46 and when you say:

"But by age 40 you've seen enough to know that there are no guarantees, and that each of us needs to be prepared to take our future into our own hands."

... you sum up well how I feel. By this age you have encountered enough to feel confident that you can handle anything coming up, you also (if you're lucky) realise that the worst that can happen - doesn't usually happen ...or if it does, it isn't as bad as you were expecting.

I 'released' my precious daughter this year (she's 21) - I didn't have to and I could have selfishly held her close tight for much longer ...but I can't wait to see who she 'is' as a woman and she can only become this when she exerts her-self without a watchful eye and guiding hand.

Up until now, she has been who she is, with her mummy - I want to meet her as who she is growing to become (continuously!).

Lovely to read you - my first encounter with your words.

Namaste,
Tina Louise

7:03 PM  

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