Monday, May 13, 2013

On Turning 40

Dear Helen and Connor,

Today, I'm 40 years old. I don't know when you'll read this, but however old you are, I hope you know that I'm not the kind of person who pretends I'm a different age (though if you ask me how old I am, I swear the number that comes to mind is 27, and I am almost always surprised when I calculate that it's much higher than that). I claim my years. I'm proud that I've made it through every imperfect one of them. I know how lucky I am to be alive.

I'm also lucky to be your mom. I've seen your first steps, heard your first sentences (Turn 'da mixer off! and Helen made a mess!), and you've given me a million memories to fuel my soul. Why I have trouble recalling those memories sometimes, I do not know. But they're in my heart, and many are recorded on this blog as well. It's a great joy for me to reread them. Connor, you have mentioned that it would be nice if I made you a book full of photos and stories. I haven't yet told you about this blog, but that wish brought me a lot of happiness. I hope you find what you're looking for in these blog pages.

I've thought a lot about what I would tell you on turning 40, and the thing that always comes back to me is how exceedingly lucky I am. I hope you never underestimate what a huge role luck plays in your lives. We don't have a lot of control in this world. Terrible things happen, wonderful things happen - and almost all of them are completely unexplainable, or their explanations ring hollow if given more than a moment's thought. I urge you not to dwell on either. Just keep moving forward - luck can turn on a dime. And wear a hat when it's sunny!

When you are your age, your lives are filled with good news. Something new is happening - a discovery on the playground, a friendship develops, a teacher gives birth, you learn to tie shoes (even you, Connor, and trust me we are all amazed)! When you hit your twenties and thirties, friends are getting married, babies are being born, careers are being realized, you learn to demand a raise! Announcements typically mean good things. When someone comes up to you and asks if you have a minute, they almost always divulge some lovely secret that is filled with hope and promise. Wonder abounds.

As my children, you both provide a great buffer to news at 40. Because news at 40 is not as kind as news even 20 years ago. Forty tries to beat you down. A friend has cancer, a friend has ALS, a friend dies, in fact, more than one friend dies. Friends of friends are dying. It almost seems impossible. When I was 24 and a very close friend died, most of my peers really couldn't know how I felt. Today? I can mention in passing some awful piece of news I'm digesting and the friend next to me knows exactly what I'm going through. Chances are, they're going through it, too. At 40, you know what to wear to a funeral. You wished you had to call your mom to ask, but you don't have to anymore. (And some people even wish they had a mom to call, and I am so lucky that mine is still around!) You even receive notes that say "if you want to say good-bye, NOW is the time to do it". Those notes are dreadful, though I'm grateful they are sent. I have never regretted responding immediately, rather than waiting for just the right thing to say. Trust me on this one, when you receive these notes, don't wait. Just act.

Forty, as it turns out, can be lonely. Forty will sometimes find you crying silently and biting your lip. Forty sometimes bursts into tears. I am learning that forty requires a very positive attitude. Forty makes you grateful for the memories you built at 20 - and before. Forty also sometimes mixes words up. Forgive me for this, it confuses me, too.

Your dad recently told me that he thinks people often mistake me for someone younger than I am, and he thinks it's because I smile a lot. I hope when you're forty, you smile a lot, too. I mean every one of those smiles. I love being in this dimension. And for as many days as you are granted here, I hope you love them, too.

Forty comes with confidence. You can ask a complete stranger in the bathroom if she has a spare tampon. You can send work back when it's not done correctly, rather than staying late and correcting it yourself. You can remain calm when the world around you spins out of control. Forty can say "I'm sorry" - and mean it. Forty also allows you to accept that help that you were too proud to accept before because you really did believe you needed to do it all. On the rare occasion that I find myself with a child at the grocery store, I say "yes" when asked whether I'd like help with my bags. I appreciate that help, and I don't mind waiting for the checker to find someone to help.

Forty allows you to sing really loudly on the way to school. Forty can tell the officer that just pulled you over that indeed, you missed that stop sign. And when that officer asks if it's your first visit to the park, you can confidently answer back "No sir, I've been here dozens of times. I have no explanation for missing that stop sign." And if you're me, he will check your license and tell you to have a nice day. Because at forty, you're somehow able to communicate silently that you're doing the best you can, and sometimes, no foul no harm is the name of the day. I do promise I'll stop next time, though.

Forty with kids celebrates life. Just this year, I've enjoyed a bike ride down to the cherry blossoms with Connor self propelling the whole way and Helen happily cruising along on the trailer bike waving to onlookers as if she were in some sort of parade. I've watched you both play soccer. I've seen Connor hit the ball hard, catch the ball, and run with more determination that I would've thought possible a few years ago. Where did that little wandering boy go? I've also enjoyed both of you coming up with mostly logical answers to sometimes perplexing problems. It's a lot of good news, to be sure. I am even learning to laugh inside at the foot-stomping insistence of an absolute untruth - as Helen refuses to believe the world operates in a way other than how she imagines it. I hope by the time you read this you're still standing your ground, Helen. Insistent and smiling can be a formidable force.

You both remind me how much fun snow can be (even when it falls on March 25!), how many colors of flowers exist, and wondering if, in fact, it's possible to ever touch the sky. We've tried so hard, jumping and bouncing. If anyone can do it, Helen, it's you. Ad astra per aspera. We've danced in the rain, gone on scavenger hunts, and enjoyed a lot of ice cream together. I will warn you - all this ice cream has a downside at 40 that didn't seem to be present before this! Really. At 40, you have to choose which dessert you're going to sample at the party, instead of eating them both. Until then - eat them both and love every minute of it. And when you're 40 - start lifting weights and running. Cross your fingers that the pounds fall before the knees give out. It sometimes feels like a desperate race. But I'm living proof that the race is far from over. Since November when I entered a 5K with no training outside of chasing kids to now, I've seen my race times drop from 10 minute miles to 8:43 miles. I'm gunning for 8 minute miles now - and then I'm going to start increasing race distances. Run, Mommy, run!

I've spent the past year trying to live a more contemplative life while at the same time trying to live in exactly this moment. I've been thinking about how powerful 40 can be. It's a large enough number to demand to be taken seriously. It's got enough punch behind it to know that the person turning 40 likely has a strong foundation from which to draw. It's an age that begs of the owner to shed the weight (both physical and meta-physical). It's an age ripe for challenge. Bring it, 40. I'm ready!

And just in case you're listening, 40 - you may be intent on kicking my backside with all your unfortunate news. But you know what? I'm going to crush you. I won't spend one moment hoping for 41 or wishing for 39. Because this year? I am 40. And oh, how lucky I am - to be forty.

Hope to see you the same time, next year!


  1. Happy birthday and know you are an inspiration and full of grace.

  2. Oh my. I am reading this through tears. You pretty much nailed what it's like to be 40. So far, 40 hasn't kicked my ass, but it sure has brought the lessons more than any other age. What it's teaching me so far is to be softer, more gentle with my heart and the hearts around me. After reading this, I see that you don't need that lesson, my friend. Thank you SO much for sharing this and happy, happy birthday!


    1. Thanks, Pamela. We can build a softer, kinder world.

  3. How is it that I did not know that you and my mother share the same birthday?!?! Happy Belated Birthday! You are the best. Love, H.