When I turned forty I must have written ten (fifteen?) blog posts about how it felt. Never had a birthday spelled such introversion and consideration. How did I feel? Well: incredulous and marginally crazed and exhilarated. I felt like there would be a changed future. My turning forty coincided with various other life events so it took on mythic proportions; all hail the new me. Of course now I am a couple of years in I can report – it’s not all that different really. There was a sizesmic shift in my self-perception but outwardly – same ole same ole, right? A few more wrinkles.
All in a good way. Getting comfortable in one’s own skin is a life long endeavour.
When I say ‘self perception’ what I mean is I became acutely aware about how I came across to the rest of the world. No longer a career woman but a full time mother, no longer thirty-something but over forty. No longer a young woman with a gaggle of blonde toddlers but instead a seasoned parent with a teenager and a pre-teen. No longer so carefree but weighed down with the responsibilities that we had readily taken on – house, kids, jobs, money worries, the rigmarole of family life. It’s a curious phase. Having a teenager in the house exaggerated how I felt. I witnessed a young girl/woman thrive and grow as my life shrunk down to the monotony of routine. I don’t begrudge it, but I recognise it. I felt like after the age of forty, little decisions became more loaded; what sort of parent was I? Should I really wear those clothes? Was I measured in my response to others? How does my life experience affect how I think? How many times in a day did I wipe the kitchen surfaces? How may hours in the car? The burden of care shifted from young children (physically exhausting) to older children (mentally exhausting).
But on a much wider scale I looked up and started to notice the women around me. Owing to the school drop off (my twice daily commute) there is a close-up view of my contemporaries over each academic year. The ones nearing the end of schooling, the ones who’ve just started and still have babes in arms, young brothers and sisters in the wings. Women of all types who are conforming to a societal norm of ‘modern mother’. Do they seem happy? How are they doing in their forties? Meanwhile, I realised that every single outing outside my house constituted book research. And so I observed.
I have to say the results were mixed. Some looked fine and said they were fine. I noted some women who were clearly deeply unhappy. Some seemed lost, even with all the trappings of marriage and family to guide their way. Some said they lacked focus despite all outward signals of contentment. Some were bored. Some were too busy and hadn’t had a good night’s sleep for a month.
I found myself pondering whether women of my age are happy? Is this an abyss of middle age? I looked around for reassurance. I asked some questions, I was met with a barrage of self-promotion; ‘everything is fine’. Yet outwardly the behaviour of some of the women I saw didn’t seem fine. Old friends of mine would text me: ‘is this it?’ Educated clever women who seemed stuck in a vortex. Contentment an elusive thing.
I thought don’t overthink it: don’t sweat the small stuff. Do more yoga. Stop watching the news. Worry less about your kids. Trust the process. See friends. Share. Oh no, wait; share less. Everyone overshares, baulk the trend.
I have no conclusion. But I do note that there is a vacuum in your forties where you contemplate all of this and more and the mid-life crisis rages on inside. I am heartened when older women leave me comments saying it goes this way, it will be OK. And I then feel like I should point out that it’s not as if things are bad exactly; things are good, great actually (genuinely ‘fine’). It’s just that it’s a strange time. Maybe with all of the oversharing, of which I am surely guilty as I type this and send it out in to the internet, we are too tuned in to moods. After all, I can sense from the tone of a Facebook comment how someone is feeling.
I see now that my forties is the time where I look around and decide if I made the right choices. My thirties did not feel like this AT ALL. I was so in the moment; I’ve said before there are great swathes of my thirties that I don’t even recall. I mean can anyone recall anything significant that happened in 2003? Not me. I feel like in the haze of small children I missed out on five years of world events!
And as for those wrinkles…yea, they are there. No denying that. Got to embrace it, live it and see what wisdom comes.