Today is my “someday.” Forty.
I’ve never thought I was the type for a midlife crisis. Maybe I was allowed to think that, because I couldn’t imagine myself being “midlife” in the first place. I’m low-maintenance (to keep the Harry & Sally theme going) and have never been particularly bothered that I’m not twenty anymore. But forty. Forty is serious.
The past few days I’ve been puzzling over why this feels like such a Big Deal. What is so different about forty? Thinking back on my previous “big decade” birthdays, I had an epiphany.
When I was 10, I got my ears pierced. I was about to be a teenager; getting pierced ears was The Big Sign of getting older, not a little kid anymore. (All I remember about this is the noise of the “gun” shooting that tiny hole in my earlobe… and me bursting into tears! My mom and aunt finally talked me in to getting the other ear done; thanks to them, I have not gone through the last 30 years lopsided.)
When I was 20, I got engaged. I was about to be a spouse, a partner. I was finishing up a college degree, experiencing a call to ministry, preparing for a move and a wedding and a home and a life together. I was looking for a job that might actually put at least part of my education to use.
When I was 30, I was massively pregnant. I was about to be a mother. There’s a not-so-lovely picture of us having afternoon tea at a fancy estate in England on my birthday, about three weeks before the birth of my first child. I was puffy everywhere (and, as I recall, putting away scones like they were going out of style). I was on the brink of the event that would change me more than any other.
Now I am 40. I’m way past teenagerhood (and though I went through a brief double-pierced phase, the original two have stayed with me). We’re nearing 20 years of marriage, and our oldest child is celebrating his first decade in a few weeks. All of my old “about-to-be’s”—all the anticipations, those shifts of relationships and personhood—are by now well-settled. At forty, I am not “about to be” anything new; there’s no grand transition around the corner of this birthday. Maybe it’s no wonder that forty feels like a bit of a disappointment; it’s not a signpost to a new direction, just another milemarker on this established route.
I am really good at “about-to-be’s.” But “so-what-now’s”? Not so much.
So—forty. What now?
Maybe forty, with no Major Life Transition looming, is the time I get to remember the person I’ve been all along. Maybe at forty I’ll rediscover the fearful-but-being-brave-in-spite-of-tears child. Maybe I’ll unearth the student of words and languages; perhaps I’ll write poems again, and study up on my French, and re-learn the things I might have learned in school (had I been paying attention).
Maybe at forty I can daydream again, and begin turning the dreams into realities. Maybe I’ll pore over travel websites the way I once did over booklets and brochures; maybe I’ll even price airline tickets and tour companies, and start planning a budget to get me there.
Maybe forty is when I’ll find my voice and my vocation. Maybe forty is when I will finally begin to feel comfortable in this skin.
If so, then maybe forty is the someday I’ve been waiting for my whole life.