I know a lot of people struggle with turning 40. It’s a pretty huge milestone that has always been seen as the quintessential marker of middle age. Oddly, I had a much harder time with turning 30. So when 40 came around, I thought I was ready. I had been through the mild depression over the loss of my youth. I was already fully entrenched in the soccer mom culture and prepared for all the stuff that I thought would come along with my fifth decade. Therefore, I was painfully surprised by the odd and uncomfortable bits of awful that have revealed themselves these last few years.
1. Gray hair is super thick.
I expected gray hair, but not the thickness part. And as someone who had always had thin-ish hair, I never understood the struggles of thick hair. My sister had to get her hair thinned several times a year to keep it under control and I was always baffled. But as the one or two more-annoying-than-depressing gray hairs multiplied, it became clear that gray hair is much thicker than non-gray hair. Like, much, much thicker. Instead of humidity being a minor annoyance, humidity now makes me look like the bastard love child of Ronald McDonald and Roseanne Roseannadanna.
2. Loss of skin elasticity.
I was unsurprised by wrinkles. I knew that, like going out to dinner at 5 p.m., the crow’s feet were inevitable. But, remember when you were a kid and you could sleep for 10 hours, with your face directly on top of a zipper, and within six minutes of waking up, your skin was back to normal? Now, sometimes I hold my sheet too tight — in order to keep my cat from scratching holes in my neck — and when I drag myself from bed the next day and look in the mirror whilst brushing my teeth, I notice the dents and lines marring my chest and neck skin. But what horrifies me most is when I pass a mirror again after a cup of coffee or three and they’re still there, thin and creased, reminding me that my skin is multiple years older — and way less cool — than the leather in my favorite jacket from high school.
I’ve always been a huge fan of kickboxing or any other exercise that allowed me to kick things. From the soccer days of my youth to the karate classes of my early mom years, I only considered it a true workout if I was yelling and swinging body parts like a kangaroo on a three-day bender. I have spent decades fervently admonishing yoga and its peace and tranquility. It was, therefore, shocking to discover that something called a “sun salutation” could make me sweat as much as a few rounds with my heavy bag and have the added bonus of easing a sciatica flare-up. Which brings me to my next complaint.
4. Back pain.
I knew there would be a few aches and pains. But back pain is so cliché. I mean, I know that my younger self did not put a lot of thought into bending at the knees when dragging passed-out friends away from the beach bonfire five minutes before curfew, but come on. I audibly contemplated my own pathetic-ness the first time I had to slowly lower myself to the ground — without bending at the waist — to retrieve a pen I had dropped, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. WTF?” and then, “I wish I had telekinesis,” and finally, much quieter, “what if I do?” then ending up with a migraine because I thought too hard.
5. A happy marriage.
I’ll be honest. I had no idea what would happen to my marriage after kids. And for those first few years, it was sometimes difficult, between sleep deprivation and hormone imbalances, to always remember that I was still married to anyone (except for the uncomfortable relationship with a Teletubbie that haunted one too many nightmares). But as I exit the early 40s and delve into that older and wiser mid-40 range, I am the happiest I have ever been. And I can attribute a whole lot of that joy and wonder to the guy who refuses to listen whenever I start a sentence with, “OMG look at that cute dog!” We laugh and joke. We relax and have fun. We even hold hands in public. I know the teenage years won’t be all laughter and sunshine but we’ve lived through toddlers vomiting all over our entire bed, up to and including us, and elementary-aged children who asked us to define hermaphrodite. At the dinner table. I feel like teaching them to drive and making life-long decisions like where to go to college and who they should marry won’t be nearly as hard.
The 40s have been quite a smorgasbord of shock and awe. Seeing as I haven’t really planned past now, the rest of life should be pretty interesting. I’ll keep you posted on that. In the meantime, if you (or someone you love) vomit on the bed in the middle of the night, the day after you removed the waterproof mattress cover, you can absorb the liquid that is seeping into your mattress with some baking soda. Just pour it right on that wet spot and vacuum it off in the morning. If you were busy hauling all the bedding down to the bathtub so you could deal with it when it’s not pitch black outside and it seeped in a bit too much, you can follow the vacuuming with this solution from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Or just burn the whole damn mattress and start over. Either is reasonable.
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