Forty - FamilyEducation

Forty

August 31,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I learned this past weekend that despite my pep talks to myself (written and otherwise) I still do not feel particularly good about turning forty. I had a strong urge, all weekend long, to head to some solitary retreat and wrestle, alone, with these turning-forty demons. I'm certain that in some culture, somewhere, turning a landmark birthday involves that type of retreat--maybe to experience some solitary and pivotal rite of passage (through fire? wandering alone in the woods?) after which the person returns to their family, whole and happy again, and ready to seize the new decade by storm. Or, maybe, they go to their favorite thrift store and engage in some shopping therapy. Either way, I was kind of an emotional roller coaster this past weekend--snappish with Scott, prone to over-dramatizing minor events (I have TWO STACKS of papers to grade on the weekend before my birthday! WAH!), and even almost shedding tears over the fact that you can not, in the entire state of North Carolina, apparently, buy a bottle of pisco; a fact that is sad when you got it into your head a long time ago that you would celebrate your 40th by drinking a one of these because you'd seen it made on this show and just felt, well, intrigued by it all, superficial though that may seem. When I turned thirty Scott and I were trying to get pregnant with our first child. We had a quiet celebration in our apartment, and talked about what the new decade would bring: hopefully a child, a relocation, new roads to follow. Turning thirty felt easy for me, somehow, even though I had friends who mourned that milestone birthday. I couldn't wait to cross over into that new decade, to roll up my sleeves and embrace it all. It was the last birthday, I think, that I remember being completely impatient for the new year, for launching myself, arms outstretched in a swan dive into it. Less than two months after that birthday I found out I was pregnant with L. and, while I could easily have sat back and thought to myself, by the end of this decade my baby, this new little person, will be nearly ten years old, I don't remember ever thinking about it in those terms. Yet now I keep thinking about the ending point of this decade, that 49th birthday far ahead. I see today and that year in the future as two bookends and the years in between? I don't know--it's the uncertainty of those years that weighs on me--years when anything is possible, wonderful and otherwise; years in which my own parents will grow older, my children will slowly morph into teenagers, and we'll find new rhythms to fit the life around us. So I haven't quite found peace with my new forty-year old self, yet. I think this is going to take time--more time than I thought it would. I'm grateful for this birthday, don't get me wrong, but forty doesn't fit right yet; it hangs awkwardly around my shoulders, and trips me up still when I walk. I can't see all its beauty yet, only the heavy, plain sides of it. Forty I think is like a gift you're given by some older, wiser-than-you person; someone who sees more in it than you do, someone who understands you'll come to value it more than you really know, someone who believes heart and soul in what you'll learn to do with it.