Somewhere between October 13 and the end of the month, I lost it. Not so much that an observer would notice or I failed to get my work done or anyone’s needs other than my own went unmet, but somehow I went from planning a burst of self-improvement during my last month before hitting 40 to not surfing, barely writing, accumulating overdraft fees and gaining four pounds.
Really, Jennifer? At this point in the game, you still haven’t learned enough to stop before you make the mistakes instead of after? I’m so annoyed with myself. Just because I’m working eight-to-nine hour days at a job that challenges my mental and diplomatic skills, and chasing Nick’s blood sugar from one extreme to the other, while struggling to escape from debt, and trying to be a good mother by cooking crêpes in the morning and vegetable-laden dinners every night, and keeping a full social schedule, plus planning our big Surfrider anniversary party and movie nights at Arcata Theatre Lounge… well, no excuse exists. This is the kind of life I have always led in one form or another and if I can’t do it all and do it well, then why night chuck all my goals and spend the evenings eating defrosted burritos on the couch?
I just had this idea about the final four weeks of my thirties. I’m a sucker for milestones, admittedly, always use them as a motivation to plan those self-improvements and accomplishments that have eluded me. New Year’s. Birthdays. Monday mornings. Mornings. Today, for example, is only at the beginning. I have a chance to do everything right today. But if I blow it by noon, then heck, might as well write off the rest of the day and dissolve into the evening with a bottle of wine and an armful of self-loathing.
That sounds like I give up too easily, doesn’t it? The problem – one of the problems – with not writing more regularly is by the time I do, so many thoughts have accumulated, they tend to fall out of my head most sloppily. Like opening an overstuffed closet and being pelted by falling paraphernalia. So many people I know move through their days with grace, have bigger problems, less support, instinctive confidence whereas I feel like I have so far to go. In fairness to myself, I must admit that despite my laziness and occasional shoddy behavior, somehow I keep moving forward, acquiring interesting jobs, learning new things, making up for past mistakes to the extent that I can.
Turns out even those people I think have it all together sometimes hold fears, worries within their hearts. A discussion with some other parents of teenagers, parents I would characterize as having greater resources and confidence than I, revealed that they, too, wonder if they’re doing the right things in their attempts to shepherd their children through these dangerous years. That they, too, are winging it with little but love and instinct to guide them – and often unsure those will be enough. Parenting is so stupidly hard sometimes and the price for failure, steep. I wouldn’t recommend it if anyone asked. To love someone as much as one loves their children is as much pain as joy; to love so strongly, so deeply, from a place beyond mind or sense, well, it’s a great risk to place oneself in such a vulnerable position. Far better to gird oneself against the inevitable suffering by overriding or outsmarting those biological urges. Celibacy. Birth control. Whatever works. Oh sure, once you end up with the little monsters in your house, the laughter and bliss and endless stream of seemingly magical moments might lure you into thinking it was all a great idea, but once that first trip to the ER occurs and you find yourself pushed aside by doctors and nurses working to quell your child’s seal-like cough or re-hydrate your limp four-month old or pump insulin into your already skinny son who is now nearly skeletal from a disease you knew nothing about, had no way to prevent – well, you realize you might as well rip your heart out of your chest and serve it to the world on a platter. You cannot protect them from everything, force them into the safest behavior, keep them from making you cry from fear and frustration. Ah, I love them so much.
What does it mean to turn 40 with three teenagers, one of whom is out of the house? What does it mean to turn 40 at all? I feel smarter and stronger than ever, yet unable to completely forgo my dumb moments and historical weaknesses. Is turning 40 cause for shedding lingering childish ways? Or for realizing that we’re all complicated messes of flaws and nobility and should therefore judge each other less? Do we become more accepting of ourselves with age or just give up on improving? Does the fact that I failed to finish a novel before turning 40 condemn me to a life not as an author? I haven’t even traveled yet! I have so much yet to do and then again, sometimes the idea that, with luck, I’m only halfway done with living seems exhausting. Really? I have to keep this up for another 40 years? Good grief.
All right. Next blog post will be linear, concise and free of “to be” verbs. I promise.
About eight weeks away from forty myself, this post touched me beyond the grasp of words right now. Thank you, Jen.
Jen – I have found that one of the great things about being in your forties is that you simply care less about all of these things. You learn more about who YOU are and what makes you tick. Some of the self judgment stops and simply being okay with who you are begins. One never stops worrying about kids but that’s just part of the parent trip.
hmmm, I’ll be 45 this weekend, and I still haven’t figured this stuff out. Does it ever end?!?!
I remember thinking, when I was 21 and working with people in their 30s and 40s, how silly they were for still having such drama and confusion at their age. Ha!
Yes, the endless parent trip… thanks for the encouragement! All my girlfriends who’ve passed 40 report satisfaction, so I’m not totally freaked out. But sometimes focusing on what I’ve accomplished is harder than thinking about all the things I was supposed to have done by now.
This is stellar: “The problem – one of the problems – with not writing more regularly is by the time I do, so many thoughts have accumulated, they tend to fall out of my head most sloppily. Like opening an overstuffed closet and being pelted by falling paraphernalia” So true!
A woman whom I admire told me when I was at this threshold, (and I am paraphrasing quite liberally) that the 30’s were all about working and worrying, whereas once she hit 40 the worrying part got so much better. (She said it much more eloquently). I think now I can second that!
I found you through a dear friends blog and although I have not spent very much time here,
today I read this and find that you really have a wonderful way of expressing many of my own thoughts and feelings. It is so nice to find another parent who responds ( and can write about) your children in such a real way. Thank you for taking the time to express your self here.
I, too, have kicked myself plenty for not having a novel under my belt yet. But I console myself with this article about late bloomers:
So, welcome to the Late Bloomers Club! I mean, in terms of writing novels. In terms of life, you sound right on time and, perhaps, even precociously genius in some instances.