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