It’s February, and I’m still trying to shake my new year’s angst. I made a single resolution this year – to get more sleep – and I think I liked life better when I was too exhausted to focus on the big picture. This is the first time in 10 years that I haven’t been pregnant or with a child under the age of 2. When I started I was in the last days of my 20s. Now I look up and 40 is two inches away from my face.
It’s not that I’m depressed – I am just stunned that I went from young adulthood to middle age in such a daze. Truly I’m grateful for my kind husband, amazing children and the crazy whirlwind of pregnancy, nausea, nursing, bottles, diapers, cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry and sleep deprivation of the last decade. I think I enjoyed my 30s. But really I never stopped moving to take it in.
I guess it’s midlife is when you’ve passed the big happy milestones – adulthood, college graduation, marriage, births of children. Midlife is the sober realization that the big milestones ahead are sad ones. The big picture is tough to take.
The little picture isn’t so bright either. This week I examined my face in a magnifying mirror for the first time in years. I bought the mirror a year and a half ago when we moved into our new house, immediately realized it was a mistake and stuck it in the back of a drawer. Since I don’t blow dry my hair or wear makeup, I find it pretty easy to avoid mirrors. But in my broody state of mind I decided to face my age, writ large. What a shock. My forehead looks like a topographical map. I have funny bumps that didn’t exist before. I have laugh lines even when my face is frozen in horror.
It’s been a cold January. After this week’s ice storm, we’ve been in a glassy landscape here. Everything is covered with a shiny glaze, as if the world has been lacquered. The trees are like crystal.
I saw the amusingly insightful Nora Ephron speak about getting older at Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference a few years ago, and she said if she knew then what she knows now, she would have walked around in a bikini until age 30. Such is the irony – we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. But maybe that’s the key to a happy middle age. I’ve lost some – it’s been years since I expected my lost train of thought to return, and I patiently scan for visual cues when I wonder why I came to the pantry – but these are only hints that serve as a reminder for me to appreciate and care for all that is still here.
I look at the young girls in the mostly-teen dance class I take each week, and they are hunched over, tentative, awkward. I want to say, “Stand straight! Be confident! Don’t be so serious! Enjoy your youth!” But they wouldn’t understand.
Experience is the great gift of age. I give thanks daily for all that I have. I know who I am. I’m blessedly free of youthful feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness. I stand straight, and I say what I think. I understand much more of what I see and realize that much of my experience as a younger person went over my head. I get it now.
In my youth I lived too much inward. Now I have the confidence to look out. In the next decade I want to pause more to take in the moments that fly by faster each year. I don’t want so much time to pass me by again in a hurry of busyness.
As for the mirror, it’s staying out. My face will need some better care in the coming years. And though it looks old compared to ten years ago, I know that in ten years I will look back and think how young I looked then.
In 39 years I’ve learned a few things. January is cold. February is short. Winter comes, but in time spring comes too.
Happy Chinese New Year, everyone. This is the year of the rabbit.
This was an absolutely amazing article!!! It is so well written! I do not think I had this kind of clarity until I reached the age of 50! That is why 50 was my favorite year. I am now 70 and wish I had been even more excited about the 50’s and 60’s. Whatever, “Life is good!”. ENJOY IT
One thing I might Add: Wear a little make-up…..it helps!!!
Great article. Awesome photos! Just wanna add sommat..
40 is the best, peak of a woman’s confidence. Hear us roar!! Middle age is 10 yrs later after the teens have sucked all that confidence out of you. If even just 1 in 4 of them ä¸äº‰æ°”ï¼Œyour hair can turn white in a day. But hopefully you will avoid that!! A happy childhood and secure marriage is probably the best thing you can do for relatively trouble-free teens.. 😀
thanks, yanny! a good reminder to appreciate the mommy clamor now, before the kids get older and i turn into the greatest embarrassment of all time. =)
Chinese Grandma…I love you! I just blogged myself. We must be both having introspective/observant weekends. It’s so great to read such honest and beautiful thoughts. Thank you for sharing. PS. Let’s thank our lucky stars we got the Asian genes. oxo
jojo! so great to hear from you. loved your post. the kids are amazing – zach’s self-description…priceless! beautiful photos, as always.
I loved this. Thanks for writing it. I’m turning 40 this year too and have had many similar kinds of thoughts lately. I thought it was such an interesting perspective and observation to say that 10 years in the future we’ll look back and think how young we looked now! Also, I just wanted to say that not all the big milestones ahead will be sad ones! Your children will grow up and graduate and get married and have grandchildren(!) as well as I’m sure do dozens and dozens of more amazing milestone things. Midlife means having those things to look forward to as well. 🙂
Happy New Year to you too and hope you are staying warm out there! Thanks again.
thanks for all your thoughts, pei! you are right – having kids gives us those new and exciting lives to share. we are lucky! hugs to you and your sweeties.
Glad I came back to re-read this post. Exceptional.