I turned forty last month.
Forty. As in 4-0.
It looks more strange in writing than it feels in reality.
The funny thing is, I remember my own mother turning 40. My dad had a party for her with some friends. I can still picture the chairs spread around our living room, making a big circle. She had on this yellow shirt with black letters that said, “I’d rather be 40 than pregnant.” (I raise my glass to that)
I’m not sure how you’re supposed to feel when you turn forty. It’s built up like some kind of magical threshold crossing, like some special club you’re suddenly part of when you reach this decade. Truthfully, it doesn’t feel any different, other than the idea I’ll never be in my thirties again. And maybe I’ll have to check a different box when I take an online survey. Or see the numbers 4-0 every time I fill out a form with my age.
Being forty doesn’t feel as odd as looking back at pictures of my family growing up and seeing my mom at my age. Seeing my siblings close to the ages of my own children. And it’s not the realization that I’m turning into my mother, but more the realization that I’m turning into that mother. The mama who is done having babies and won’t offer you unsolicited advice, but actually feels like she has something to offer to young mothers if they ask. Not because I have all the answers or have it all together, but because I actually have some experience at this thing and some perspective as I look back.
Being forty doesn’t feel as odd as looking back over my life and realizing how fast it went. Those days of early marriage where we could just hang out with friends whenever we wanted and could still take afternoon naps on the weekends. I think back to those days and wonder if it was really me who lived that life because it seems like I was watching someone else’s life instead. I spent my 30th birthday in the hospital, introducing my day-old second child to my seventeen-month old daughter. The last decade has been filled with being pregnant, nursing, and sleep deprivation on repeat. The hard, hard years of having multiple young children and the demands on my body and time in general.
Being forty doesn’t feel as odd as thinking ahead to when I turn fifty. When I’ll have 3 college-aged young adults and 2 teenagers. When my baby will be 13 and these years of raising young children and all the hard stuff from their early years will just be a blur. In some ways, it already is a blur. And I’m not naive enough to think we won’t have new hard stuff to deal with. I’m finding it harder and harder to remember specific stories about each of the kids at different ages, wishing I had more videos of them to remember what their voices sounded like and to capture the small, everyday moments I took for granted.
Being forty doesn’t feel as odd as seeing pictures of myself aging. I don’t feel like I’m old by any means because one day just feels like the next. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see my age (okay, maybe I see the dark circles under my eyes). But I see my age when I look at pictures. The crow’s-feet by my eyes, the wrinkles on my forehead, the baggy skin below my eyes, the gray hair I want to dye silver but don’t have the guts (yet). I look at pictures from my twenties and thirties and think, was I a baby or what?
Time is the devil, is it not? And yet, time can be such a gift. A double-edged sword.
What mama out there doesn’t say, where does the time go? How is my baby such-and-such an age? When did they grow up before my eyes? And yet, rarely do we stop to acknowledge that as our children get older, so we do too.
When I was younger, I was guilty of always wanting what was next. I was always looking ahead. In high school, I couldn’t wait to be in college. When I was in college, I couldn’t wait to be teaching. When I was teaching I couldn’t wait to be married. When I was married, I couldn’t wait until we bought a house. When we had been married a few years, I couldn’t wait to have kids. And then I became a mama and now I suddenly want the world to slow down already.
If I could tell my former self one thing and one thing only, it would be this: be present. Be present in your current age, your current season, your current circumstances, your current place in this world. It’s okay to look ahead and to dream and to hope and to be excited for the future. But don’t let that take away from what’s right in front of you.
Being present is something I’m still growing in. I still fail miserably. I still fail to have patience with my kids when I’m rushing everyone off to our next destination. I still get distracted by technology when I should be focusing on listening. Even in my mind, I’m still thinking ahead to what’s next, rather than looking at what is. And I’m so tired of it. So very, very tired.
So my message to myself here in my first month of being forty, is to heed the advice I would offer to my younger self: be present. With my husband, with my kids, with my friends, and with the people I run into every day. We’re moving into a new season of life and it’s so hard to not just want it to be here already. But I don’t want to look back and realize that I missed so much by simply not being present in the here and now.
Some people wish they could turn back the hands of time. Take what they know now about themselves and the world and live differently in the past. I don’t share that perspective. I think the past best belongs right where it is. I love this stage of life. And while yes, I’d rather be forty than pregnant, I’d also rather be forty and present, than get a chance to relive it all.
I’d rather be right here, in this moment of my life, and be all here.