On Turning 40

Last month I turned 40. I can’t really say that I ever thought on that age with dread, but it does seem strange to have reached it. Can I be at that point already? Did my thirties fly by so quickly? Am I really twice the age I was when I walked that college campus, just beginning to get to know adulthood?

I wonder if the age of my children makes the whole thing seem more incongruous to me. I didn’t meet my husband until my late twenties and we didn’t marry until our early thirties, so I reached 40 with an oldest child of eight years and a youngest of one. When my mother turned 40, her children were 17 and 15.

Yes, 40 feels strange. But it’s not unwelcome. It’s even kind of exciting.

Lately I’ve been thinking on the arc of my life and looking back to how I felt on the cusp of my twenties and thirties.

At twenty, I didn’t have any idea what lay ahead. Where would I live? What would I do for work? Would I marry? Travel? Have children? Twenty was thrilling and terrifying.

Photo of Julie in college

(College photo shamelessly stolen from a friend. I’m in the white.)

My twenties, thankfully, ended up being quite good. I did interesting, fulfilling work. I traveled to seven countries and twenty states. I lived in fun, walkable, urban areas with coffee shops and ethnic restaurants a-plenty. But the decade was also hard. Oh, was I lonely. I spent those supposedly “best time of your life” twenties pining for a husband and children. I couldn’t enjoy where I was because I was worried I’d be stuck there forever.

Then lo and behold, at thirty I married the husband. Which was also thrilling and terrifying. What would marriage be like? Would we be happy? Could we have children? Where would we settle?

Wedding photo

That decade, too, turned out to be good. I welcomed healthy, happy children. We bought a big, beautiful Victorian. I stayed home and kept house and cooked from scratch. But my thirties were also hard. Wonderful and beautiful and hard. Three months into them I married and two months after that I became pregnant with our first child. Thus began a decade of morning sickness and sleepless nights, of frayed nerves and aching joints. A decade of change and acclimation and learning to put others’ needs before my own. Indeed, a decade of learning that my life is bigger than me.

And oh, was I down. I spent my “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” thirties pining for freedom, for quiet, for physical autonomy. I couldn’t enjoy where I was because I was worried I’d be stuck there forever.

It’s only in the past year, as I’ve nudged up against 40, that my vision has cleared and my attitude has brightened. A whole series of small realizations have unburdened me of baggage I didn’t even know I was carrying. And I’m finally feeling the gratitude that my mind has acknowledged all along.

I am so privileged. I was born into a wonderful family and I am raising a (new) wonderful family with a wonderful man. I have had a string of beautiful, life-giving experiences and I have had opportunities and successes that I did not deserve.

And yet for years, I’ve focused more on what I did not have than what I did.

I know how obnoxious that sounds. I apologize for being that person. I am sorry for my gloom, for my pining, for wasting chances to be, and to do, good.

At this point all I can do is thank the good Lord that something has shifted within me, and move forward.

Forty is not thrilling and terrifying. It’s a sort of hopeful-joyful excitement. At forty, I know what my adult life looks like. I know that it’s centered on a family of five noisy, inquisitive, passionate kids and a blessedly patient husband. I know that it involves an exhausting, never-ending amount of work, but that it also comes with the most precious of rewards.

Photo of Julie's children

I know that my quiet moments are becoming less rare and more fruitful, and I’m hopeful that in my forties I can forge the divide that defined my previous two decades. In one I focused on career and longed for family, in the other I focused on family and longed for career. This decade will undoubtedly bring its own challenges. (You never know what life has in store for you!) But I am hopeful that this will be a decade without pining — one in which gratitude is keenly felt, and one in which I can be both wife and mother and… something else. What else exactly? I don’t know. But I’m excited to figure it out.

Photo of Julie

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6 thoughts on “On Turning 40

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