Sometimes, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror while cleaning the toilets, I catch a glimpse of someone who looks slightly startled at her reflection. There are more grey hairs than I thought, there are faint little crow’s feet that I can see if I lean in real close. I look tired most of the time. I can remember bouncing out of bed at 6:00 and going for runs by 6:30 when I was single and in my twenties. Now, when I get up in the morning, it takes me at least an hour and 2 cups of coffee to limber up. I’m asleep by 9:00 at the latest. Ask my friends.
I will be turning 41 in just a couple of months although, I’m not quite as upset as I was about turning 40. Truth be told, I think I had been having a hard time with 40 for the past few years. I may or may not have had an early mid-life crisis now that I look back. I headed toward 40 digging in my heels, kicking and screaming Father Time dragging me by the wrists. I tired to evade it at every turn. I didn’t want to be “old”, but wanted to stay “young”. I remember my own mother turning 36 and thinking she was old. I remember she married for the second time at 40. I was there. I was in college.
A hundred and fifty years ago, 40 was ancient. You were absolutely a grandmother by the age of 40, if you weren’t already dead. You were over the hill. You were worn out and washed up.
These days, 40 is so much different. Life isn’t over at 40 like it was back then, but we’re not exactly Spring Chickens either. We’re told “40 is the new 20”. Is it really people? Is that why I’m at the gym 4 times a week doing a thousand crunches? Because I have absolutely no recollection of doing that in my 20’s. If “40 is the new 20”, then how come when I have more than two or three glasses of wine in one sitting I feel like I have Swine Flu all the next day? Because trust me, in my 20’s I imbibed way more than that and still made it to classes on time.
My 20’s were all about getting through school and making as many bad decisions as I could, as often as I could. Check.
My 30’s were all about marriage, babies,completely losing my sense of Self and making all of the best decisions of my life. Check.
But 40? What the hell am I supposed to be doing at 40? I am too old to go to the clubs anymore. The college students would say “who is that old lady out there? Why does she only come on 80’s night? Why does she keep requesting Gloria Estefan?. I’m also not having anymore babies, so that’s out. My two boys are old enough now that I’m becoming less of an urgent or constant need for them, which feels good and lonesome at the same time. Mostly good.
I feel a bit lost I suppose. At almost-41-years-old, I’m feeling a bit un-moored, like a lot of my 11 and 12 year old clients must feel. They’re not kids anymore, but they’re also not teenagers. They’re in this weird in-between place where girls start getting hormonal and cranky and withdrawn and boys get these ridiculous peach fuzz/mustache combos that are embarrassing, but a sign of budding Manhood, so they wear them for far too long; they’re too old to play kids games anymore, but not quite old enough to have a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Essentially, I guess I feel like 40 is not in fact the new 20, it’s the new 12. No clubs, no babies, but not yet time for Menopause………so what?
So, I bought myself a camera. I real, honest-to-goodness camera. I drove all the way to Best Buy one day, when I was angry at the world (in particular my husband), and told myself I wasn’t leaving that damn store without my own camera. I told myself that I deserved it. I had attempted to purchase myself a real camera twice during my 30’s, but was so overcome with guilt and shame at such an extravagant indulgence, that I immediately returned them the next day. Both times.
But not this time.
I kept the camera.
Each day, after work, and after dinner has been served and eaten, I find myself grabbing my new camera, hanging the strap around my neck and venturing out to my backyard to explore. It has given me a chance to look at my surroundings in so many different ways. Before, my backyard was just my backyard, strewn with discarded toys and the occasional chicken strutting around. But now, I step out onto the cool grass with my bare feet and feel so eager and excited about what I might find.
I look at things more closely. I walk around my backyard more deliberately now, taking time to really look at things I took for granted. I’ll look at the same things from different angles. I’ll alter the focus so that different things are in focus at different times.
For instance, had I ever noticed how lonely the clothespin bag looks, hanging outside all alone, without any clothes?.
Or what about my Barred Rock Ginger? She’s actually kind of pretty, even if she poops in the very water she drinks.
I’ve learned that when it’s 5:30 am and I’m on my back deck, alone having my coffee, that I much prefer the foggy mornings.
There is probably some existential symbolism in there somewhere about how, at 40, you start to look at your life differently, from different angles. Maybe even relationships and people too. That your age and wisdom has given you a new lens through which to see everything around you, and therefore a greater appreciation for it. Sometimes I think I’m just bored and need something to occupy myself. Who knows. Maybe it’s both.
My older son asked me recently, “Why are you so into pictures lately mom?” (a bit of irritation in his voice, as he himself stands at the cusp of his own grumpy tween years) to which I replied, (my arms spread out wide for effect), “Because it’s all I have for a hobby right now! It’s all I have that is just mine for nothing but enjoyment! So please, let me have my pictures!! And get over here and stand right here for me please because the sun is going to set soon!!!”–He looks overjoyed to be my subject.
I imagine a lot of other moms might be able to relate. We spend our 20’s “finding ourselves”, spend our 30’s “losing ourselves” to our children and then comes 40 and we wonder what we’re supposed to do next? Or maybe not. Maybe other women have figured it out earlier than I have.
A friend of mine, who is decades older than I, posted on my Facebook Timeline last year for my 40th birthday, “Now the fun begins”.
I’m going to hold on to that one. It gives me hope. I trust that I’ll know what he means at some point. Maybe my camera is helping me get there. All I know is that at the moment, I just can’t stop taking pictures, so I’m thinking I probably shouldn’t.