In a few hours from now I will turn 40. Forty. Years. Old.
While that isn’t as scary a prospect as it used to be, I still find it hard to reconcile that I could possibly be that far out of high school; that I’m old enough to have kids who no longer need babysitters; that I’m the old person at the bar who thinks the clothing is ridiculous and wishes someone would turn the music down; and that I have to scroll back so far on the little dial on-line to pick my year of birth.
I thought I’d have more to say on this milestone birthday, but I have been struggling to find any words of wisdom. So instead, I’m just going to tell you a few things I’ve observed about turning this ripe ol’ age.
First of all, you don’t care. I mean, you care about lots of things, but the things you shouldn’t care about, you really, truly have learned to not care about. I rarely get embarrassed anymore – not because I’ve turned a corner and become cool or coordinated, but because embarrassment is rooted in fear of what other people think. And that, I think, is the greatest gift of age and maturity; not caring about what people think. I have never suffered a confidence problem, but I have watched so many smart, wonderful people be crippled by the fear of what other people think of them. It’s easy to pretend you don’t care – Lord knows, I spent some time doing that in my 20s – but the freedom of actually not caring is a very soothing feeling.
You’ve been officially upgraded to “Ma’am.” The days of “Miss” are in the past, and on the rare occasion someone gifts you with an errant greeting at the grocery store or something, the exchange is fodder for at least one braggadocious work conversation the following day.
Your back hurts all the time. You’re not able to isolate exactly where – is it along the spine, under the shoulder blade, is it a disc problem, or is it a pulled muscle? You may never know. And you’ll certainly never understand what caused it in the first place, or even what exacerbates it. All you know is that it hurts and it never 100 per cent goes away.
People start coming to you for advice, which is terrifying. None of us really knows what we’re doing, but I guess we must look pretty good winging it, because the younger set looks to us for guidance and direction. People ask me for recipes and about RRSPs, how to get the stains out of baseball pants, how I plan to vote, and if that’s a good price for chicken. I’m the adult? When did I become the adult? I hope you have a backup, a more adult-y grown-up.
You value experiences more than things. I remember back in the early 2000s wanting a pair of Prada shoes so bad that I would have sold my organs on the black market if I thought they’d bring in enough. Now, I want to go places and see things. Places like Greece and New Orleans, sure, but also long drives an hour from my house and hiking up the Skyline Trail, and going to the movies with a girlfriend just to spend the evening catching up. I don’t have a list of desired birthday presents, but I do have a list of destinations and soon-to-be-had conversations and experiences. I want to live, not accumulate.
You’re suddenly very aware of pensions.
People your age look a thousand years old. You start playing this cruel little game with yourself when you’re out at a function or watching television, where you see someone and wonder how old they are because they have to be at least 10 years older than you because they look so old. And then you find out they’re actually 35 which means they weren’t even in high school yet when you graduated, but look how old they look, do I look that old? No, I can’t possibly. I’m aging so well, I still look 23 for sure. And that deluded inner conversation continues until the end of your life.
So here’s to the 1979 babies, the grads of 1997, who are moving into middle age; may it be a smooth transition.