I turned 40 on April 3rd, 2019, amidst the turmoil of moving into our new home, an unrelenting barrage of grading, the daily challenge of balancing sports schedules and coaching duties, and the never ending stress of family concerns. My head has been spinning since last summer and I am just now able to breathe deeply, and come to terms with my new middle-aged reality.
A few days before my birthday, I was checking out at Giant Eagle when the cashier asked for my ID before scanning my much-needed bottle of rosé. Flattered, as most over 30 people are when carded, I handed my license over graciously. After locating my birth date, the cashier’s eyes shot up, looked me over again and said, “Wow, you really do not look 40.”
While I’d like to be above the unfair and illogical infatuation our society has with youth, I most definitely am not. Looking “young” is ingrained in every element of our culture from the endless selection of face creams at Target to the barrage of advertisements and testimonials we’re subjected to at every turn. I realized that I unintentionally passed this superficial value system to my children when they tugged on my sleeve and congratulated me for getting carded at the grocery store. I’m happy that I don’t “look” 40, but then I have to wonder, What exactly does 40 look like?
Age wears differently on everyone and I definitely wear mine better on some days more than others. I have a tumultuous internal struggle with the signs of age I notice on my body. I wear moisturizer and sunscreen to ward off the wrinkles slowly creeping on to my face, but I know that the lines around my mouth and eyes are remnants of giggle fits with my best friends and joyful moments with my family. The deeper lines spreading across my forehead, though, are evidence of the endless worrying I’ve been doing throughout my 30s: A habit that I can’t seem to break, even as my children become more independent and I’m realizing that I can’t fix and/or control everything.
The more I age, the more whiskers grow on my chin, and the more sunspots appear on my skin. I am resigned that the small pooch on my belly is permanent and that the 5 pounds I gain over the holidays from indulging in stouts and comfort food takes twice as much time and effort to lose.
My hands have always been the oldest looking part of my body and no matter how much product I buy, they will always be the truest representation of the life I’ve lived. I hate the appearance of my hands and have never allowed them to be photographed, not even the obligatory ring photo for our wedding. Still, my hands bear my wedding ring, held my babies, cooked family meals, wrote on the whiteboard, and directed players. They are me at 40.
Forty is much more than what I look like; it’s also what my life looks like. My twenties were about growing up and “finding myself.” My thirties were all about navigating the life I chose and learning how to adult. I’ve decided that my forties will be all about living my best life.
My friend Elizabeth told me that the most jarring part of turning 40 for her was realizing her mortality. This thought resonated with me: Statistically, the first half of my life is complete. Wow. What does one do with that reality?
My first fear of death came moments after my son Mateo was born. Who would take care of him if I died? I resolved then to do everything in my power to stay alive. I quit smoking. I drive the speed limit. I eat healthy. I exercise.
I’ve also become a bit of a scaredy cat.
In my youth, I jumped off cliffs and on to motorcycles. I loved the thrill of roller coasters and whitewater rafting. I shunned tourist traps and opted for horseback riding through the mountains with locals and living in a Volkswagon Bus in the Florida Keys for Spring Break. I’ve eaten alligator in the middle of the Everglades and am pretty sure I even tried gas station sushi. After I became a mother, though, the adventurous Nicole drifted far into my past.
The same girl who once reveled in flying down a street on the back of a crotch rocket, now hyperventilates when her husband is less than two car lengths away on the freeway. I’ve morphed into a very responsible adult with very adult responsibilities.
My days are filled with grading papers, cleaning toilets, making meals, checking homework, running practices, attending meetings, paying bills, balancing schedules, breaking up fights, did I say paying bills?
While I often find myself overwhelmed and stressed beyond capacity, I also love everything at the core of my life. I love my job. I love coaching. I love volunteering. I love my family and friends. I adore my husband and children. They all make me happy.
Therein lies the challenge of my 40s: finding a happy balance
The worries and responsibilities of adulthood and parenting have somehow managed to subdue the easy laughter and thrilling joy that the adventures of my youth invoked.
My happiness now is tamed and tempered by the underlying fear of mortality and stress from every day duties. Maybe this is why so many of us are infatuated with youth. It’s not just about how great we looked when we were young, it’s about how great we felt-free from the shackles of responsibility.
So how does one find balance? As with all dilemmas in my life, I’ve begun to do some research. So far, I’ve begun a preliminary list of guidelines for living my best 40s life: gratitude, forgiveness, serenity, and resolve.
My life will still be filled with bills to pay, work to complete, practices to run, and problems to solve. This will not change much from my 30s; however, I can be grateful for a full life with friends, family, students, and coworkers. I can forgive those who have broken my heart and disappointed me, while still choosing to keep only healthy relationships in my life. I can continue to fight for a better world for my children by speaking out and acting on issues like the environment, racism, gun violence, and social justice, but remember that I cannot change the world alone or overnight.
While walking with my kids and dog the other day, I squealed with delight as a groundhog emerged from the brush and scampered across our path. Mateo laughed and said, “Mom, you get excited about everything.” His innocent observation confirmed that young Nicole is still alive and well inside middle-aged Nicole’s aging body and cluttered mind. It also reminded me how important it is for me to enjoy youth with my children and show them how to find joy and adventure at every stage.
So there it is, this is what I’m pledging for the next decade: finding my happy balance and loving the second half of my life because while statistically, I have a solid 40 years left, the reality is that I have absolutely no idea how long I have. What I do know is that I want each and every moment to count.
So easy, right? Just find your joy and live life to the fullest and every other meme-worthy cliché out there.
Well, I’m resolved to try anyway and I’m putting this out there in public cyberspace for my loved ones to hold me accountable, as I’m sure that I’ll slip up several hundred times. For now, I’ll keep the rosé chilled and Cardi B playing as I work on this best life in my 40s thing.