40: The tween years of adulthood, minus the braces.

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.

 

 

We’ve all got our blankets about something.

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s the place in between that we fear….It’s like being between trapezes.  It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer.  There’s nothing to hold on to”.  –Marilyn Ferguson

 

Maya sat cross-legged across from me, on my proverbial “Therapist Couch”, and fiddled with the long, dark hairs on her leg.  “My cousin came over the other day and said, ‘Ew!  Why don’t you shave your legs?  That’s not very lady-like'”.

Shifting in my rocking chair, I stifled my contempt for her cousin and asked, “What did you say?”.

Maya shrugged her shoulders, “I just said, ‘Whatever.  I like it'”.  She ran the pads of her finger-tips up and down her shin.  She was 16 and looked more like a teenage boy than when I first met her.   I have watched Maya grow, incrementally, into the person she wants to be over the last year.  The changes she has made to her physical appearance, the questions she has asked, the decisions she has made.  I have had the honor of witnessing someone shed who they were told they were supposed to be, and slowly, (often painfully) begin to accept and become who they  have wanted to be.  Who they truly are.

But with each step forward in her accepting ourselves, there is always someone nearby who will not.

“But then”, Maya continued,”my cousin….she caught site of my boxers and said, ‘What the hell are you wearing boxers for?  You tryin’ to be a boy?'”.

I allowed myself the private, fleeting fantasy of me punching her cousin in the throat.    After my indulgence, I swiftly pushed the thought away and again shifted in my seat.  “It sounds like your cousin is a bit scared”.  Maya looked up at me, suspicious and confused.

“Of what?” she asked, “Me?”.

“Not you exactly.  But, maybe your courage to do what you want to do.   Your bravery to be who you want to be.  That’s scary to a lot of people because they’re too afraid to do it themselves”.

Maya and I had been meeting for just over a year.  She first came in with long, thick, hair down her back and a shy and quiet demeanor.  She had sought therapy because of her overwhelming anxiety.  Today, a year later, she wears her hair extremely short, often comes to my office on her skateboard or BMX bike, and fidgets on my couch.   She tells me about her classes and her family and her new skateboard tricks.  She also tells me about the how alone she feels.  And judged.  And scared.

Today, the more we talked, the more restless Maya became.  She would try to say something, but the words would stay lodged in her throat and she would give up and go quiet.  Or, she would contradict herself and then shake her head and say “never mind”.  She leaned forward on the couch and ran  shaky hands through her short hair, rocking back and forth a bit.  “I’m just.  I’m so confused.  I don’t know.  My mom says that I shouldn’t be worried about this stuff.  She makes comments about other people like me that I overhear.  Like my cousin”.

I didn’t know what to say.  I could have lectured her on how ignorant so many people are.  About how fearful they are and how it has nothing to do with her, but I didn’t.  I just sat there with her.  Sometimes it’s all you can do.

I noticed that Maya had stopped rocking and simply sat cross-legged on my ouch, her arms folded tightly across her chest and her head slightly bent down.  Her face had become red.  And her eyes were glistening.  I watched her avoid my gaze.  She seemed to be using all of her strength to hold something in.

“Figuring out who we are– growing into who we are truly supposed to be, can sometimes take a long time.  And sometimes it sucks to go through”.

On the heels of my comment, I watched her tears spill over the edges of her brown eyes.  Her shoulders lurched forward as she bent into herself and finally gave up trying to hold back the glacier that had been coming.  “But when will it stop?  When will I know?”.  And she cried.  And she covered her face with her hands and she cried, and my tiny room was filled with her exhausted voice.

“I think I know more about myself than I think I do”.

**********************************

A few months ago, my older son Silas and I were sitting in the truck outside of Bob’s Meat Market.  My husband and younger son had gone inside to get some things for grilling that night.   After a long week’s work, I’ll admit, I was surfing Facebook on my phone and zoning out when I heard my son from the backseat.

“Mom, is that a boy, or a girl?”.  I looked up from my phone, looked out the passenger-side window, and saw a person getting into their car just next to us, a paper bag full of things for grilling, just like we were.

“I don’t know honey.  I’m not sure”.  I looked back down at my phone.  Figuring out if someone was a man or woman is not high on my list of priorities.  I really don’t care as long as they are a decent human being.

Silas was silent for a few seconds, until he then explained to me, “I bet I know.  I bet that she was born a girl.  But then, I bet….I think maybe she was born a girl, but felt more like a boy on the inside.  I bet she felt more like a boy and so she wanted to start dressing more like a boy so that how she felt on the inside matched what she looked like”.

I again, looked up from my phone yet this time, much more engaged in what he was saying.  I smiled and touched the side of his face with my hand.   “I think you’re exactly right honey.  I’m so proud of you that you understand that”.  I had explained that reasoning to my boys on more than one occasion, but I honestly didn’t think they were really listening to me all that closely.  And then, just like that, just as if he and I had been talking about the weather, he asked the next question on his mind:

“What are asteroids made of?”.   We asked Siri, “What are asteroids made of?” and watched a YouTube video on it because really, what asteroids are made of is far more interesting.

 

linusLimnus

 

So, do you think “DJ Bizzy Mom” has a nice ring to it?

It was only 7:45pm but I was already fantasizing about my pillow.  I’d had a hectic day of dropping the boys off at archery camp, clients, doctor’s office calls about the burn on my son’s foot, picking them back up, and our regular Tuesday evening hockey practice.  I was tired, and I had just inhaled two and a half pieces of pizza.

Oprah said never to eat after 7:00pm.

As I sat in the passenger seat of my husband’s truck, burping onion and mushroom pizza in between yawns, I casually looked to my right just in time to see a car-full of teenage-ish girls pull up right next to us.  There were four of them.  Sun-kissed with long blonde hair they all kept flipping back and forth with their hands.  Their windows were all down, music pulsing, and their bright white teeth sparkling as they laughed and looked up at me.  Surely, they’d seen my husband’s F-150 truck and assumed it would be carrying young, strapping sun-kissed boys.  I am assuming they were marginally disappointed to, instead, be met with an over-tired mom 20 years their senior who was about to unbutton the top button on her shorts.

I discreetly alerted my husband to the flock of beauties in such a way that my boys would not pick up on my shallow and vapid comments about the gaggle of giggling girls next to us:

” Hey…….honey, 3:00.  Check out the Talent over here”.  He gingerly leaned forward in his seat a bit, “Yeah, you’re right….that is a nice car”.

To be perfectly honest, they all looked exactly the same.  Tanned.  Bleach-blonde long hair.  Make-up.  Skimpy clothing.  I was less intrigued by their youthful looks and much more keen on the beautiful, naive look in their eyes.  A look we all had when we were on summer break from college, with our BFF’s while it was 88 degrees outside in mid-July.  That time in life when we’re still financially coddled by our parents, but have enough independence to spread our wings a bit more.  The perfect and safe balance of still being a kid, but thinking we’re adults.

Looking at them through my $8.99 pair of sunglasses that I bought at the local Jolley near my house, a big smile spread across my face.  I couldn’t contain it.  Yes, they may have all looked like clones of Malibu Barbie, but you could tell they were having So.  Much.  Damn.  Fun.

What I envied was the fact that they were at the point in their lives where they could go in a thousand different directions.  They had a million choices.  Their lives were still filled with more questions than answers:  “What do you want to study at college?  Which college do you want to go to?  Are you gonna hook up with Andy tonight?  Are you coming with us to Cancun next Spring?  Where are you gonna work this summer?  A time in their lives when their futures were still wide, wide open.

As any parent knows, when you decide to settle down with someone and have children, the decision greatly decreases the plethora of different paths you may have taken.  Of course, that is exactly why many of us chose to have children:  because we were sick of ourselves.  Sick of only thinking of us. We wanted to create and foster another life and love someone in a way we’ve never known.  And we would never want our lives any other way.

However…..

I’ve been daydreaming of learning how to become a DJ the last few months (does anyone know of any classes around Franklin County Vermont by the way?).  In Junior High I used to compose songs on my Yamaha keyboard, and overlay pre-recorded melodies with other melodies using my boombox and then call up Tami on the phone and torture her by making her listen to them.  (I love you Tami).

I’m also toying with the idea of a subtle, yet tasteful tattoo (okay, okay, it would be of my sons’ names, but hey, I’d still be slinging ink).

I want to write a book, and dye my hair and I want to wear my Converse sneakers to work sometimes and I’d love more than anything to go stay in a tiny cottage in Scotland for a while and learn how to shear sheep by an old, cranky, drunk farmer named Seamus (I know he’s out there waiting for me).

It’s a tricky balance, parenthood.  A tricky balance between sacrifice for your kids and your family, which you feel good doing most of the time, and which fulfills you in so many ways…… and an incessant desire to also indulge your own needs and wants as a human being, separate from making everyone’s favorite meal and making sure they packed their cleats.

I will be 40 in a few months and most people might say I’m having some kind of quasi-mid-life crisis, which I really don’t agree with at all.  I look at it more as me tipping the scales; balancing out the last decade of my life.   I spent my twenties indulging in my every whim and my thirties having babies and focusing on their all-consuming needs.  Now that my boys are older and don’t need me nearly as urgently and constantly as they once did, I’m hoping my 40’s will be more of a better balance for myself.  A new era that may or may not include me trying to pull a Maya Jane Coles.  Although I’ll really need to work on being able to stay up past 8:45pm.

As the car-full of shiny, laughing girls pulled away off into the sunset I yawned, keenly aware of the fact that at 8:00 my day would be ending and theirs would just be starting and I was happy for them and happy for me.  As much as I may miss the freedom that being an almost-adult can bring, I really wouldn’t want to be 19 again.

Okay maybe just for a day.  Or a week.

A month at the very most.

 

 

Petit Biscuit.

Silas and I got into my Jeep and headed out for a drive to bring my husband’s truck to the mechanic.  My younger son Sam wanted to ride with Jon in his truck because he loves him more than me and reminds me everyday.  That left me and Silas riding together, following them in my Jeep.  I prepped him before we left.

“Okay, so listen, I just bought this new album on iTunes and I was thinking we could start listening to it on our drive into town”.  Silas buckled himself into the back seat and pushed his glasses further up on his nose.  “Okay, what is it called?”.

“Petit Biscuit”.  He’s a 16-year-old teenager from France.  Do you know what the word ‘petit’ means in french?”

“No what?”

“It means small or tiny or little”.

“Oh, so his name is Little Biscuit?” Silas asked, dubious.  “I guess so!” I answered.

We started out the driveway and I hit Play. Petit Biscuit falls into the Electronic/Ambient genre I’ve been drawn to the last several years.  The first track I wanted to hear was called “Sunset Lover”.  I told Silas that was the title and was relieved when he didn’t ask what “Lover” meant.  Buying a new album for me is a process.  Especially if I really love the artist.  I have to slowly listen to one song at a time, over and over and over again until I’ve digested it enough to be able to move on to the next song.  I kind of have to become good friends with one song before I can move on to the next.

Riding in the car with Silas is much like riding in the car by myself.  Neither one of us does much talking as we’re both too much in our heads.  We  usually just sit there looking out the window, swimming around in our own thoughts, emerging every now and then to ask a question.

“Hey Si, what do you think of this song?” or “Mom, why do we have to have gravity?”.

There are times when I run across a picture of the boys when they were infants, looking almost nothing like they do now.  I reminisce about nursing them, being needed in such a fundamental way.  Being their world.  And for a moment I feel a bit sad that they have gotten so big and so much more independent.

But then, there are moments like this, when Silas and I are both loving the same song and talking about the different instruments and how the song makes us each feel, and I am reminded about how equally awesome it is to connect with him in this way too.  He’s going to be 9 in a few weeks.  He’s almost to the double digits.  He’s only 25 pounds away from weighing as much as me.  He’s up to my shoulders already.  Sometimes, if I can’t find any socks to wear, I’ll just dig through the clean clothes in the dryer and pick out a pair of his.  I sometimes look at him and can’t fathom that he came out of my body.

The song comes to an end and for a brief few seconds, the car is filled with silence.  If I were alone, I’d just put it on “repeat” the entire time, but I try to take into account that other people in the car don’t necessarily want to hear the same song for 35 minutes.  When abruptly, from the back seat, Si asks, “Mom, can we hear that one again?  And, can you please put that on my Boyz Jamz playlist??”.

I hit play again, turned up the volume just a bit more and enjoyed the ride with my Little Biscuit.

I would highly recommend putting some ear buds in and listening to this guy: