I read an amazing new book this year. It’s actually a collection of essays edited by Lindsey Mead called On Being 40(ish).When I am in the mood for a good collection of essays, there is nothing that can take me away from it. This book was no exception. I devoured the essays. I ignored my family and my life a little bit until I finished the very last essay. Go buy this book and then read it. You don’t have to be 40(ish) to love it.
As I was reading the essays, all written by extremely talented female writers (some who I’ve admired for a long time and some who I only recently discovered), I kept thinking to myself I’m 40ish, I am a writer, how come I never seriously thought about what being 40(ish) meant to me? How come I never had some great big realization at this point in my life? And how come I never wrote about it? I did write an essay on spending my 40thbirthday in my late mother’s closet but that was about a lot of other stuff and not so much on being 40(ish.)
So here I am at age 45, which I’m going to say is still 40(ish), and I find myself nodding my head vigorously in agreement with so very many of the thoughts, feelings and realizations included in the essays in Mead’s beautiful anthology. Here in mid-life, I feel at long last the freedom to not care about what anyone else thinks of me and how I live my life. I choose to spend my time with people who I love and like — people who inspire me, teach me, challenge me and generally make me feel good about myself. I’ve figured out how to say no to people and projects and circumstances that don’t make me feel this way. I am more fulfilled by my work and more excited about my forthcoming book than just about anything I’ve ever done professionally, including the day I met the Pillsbury Doughboy at work.
Like many other 40(ish) women, I’m freaked out by the numbers and circumstances that surround me. My kids are full on teenagers and are much closer to the ages that I feel like I should be. My father and aunts and uncles are at those ages that I so clearly remember my grandparents being. I find myself comparing them to my grandparents all too often. I guess that makes me rightly so comparable to my parents at the ages they may forever be etched in my mind — which is just about 45.
I am most definitely freaked out by the fact that I am just about five years behind the age that my mother was when she was diagnosed with cancer — the cancer that took her life. I don’t know what to do with that information.
I look at myself in my bathroom mirror each morning and am sometimes startled when I see my mother’s face staring back at mine. I stare back at this face. This 45-year-old face, which in many ways does resemble my mother’s. I am perhaps more startled by that fact that I can finally say with certainty, that I really and truly like my face – my 45-year-old face. This is a new(ish) feeling for me.
I didn’t like my 7-year-old face. Another kid with an 8-year-old face told me that my parents had adopted me, and for a moment, I believed him. He told me I was Chinese because I had squinty eyes. Those were his words, not mine. I tried hard for many years to not squint, and in doing so, not smile in pictures and in real life so that my eyes would appear to look bigger.
I didn’t like my 12-year-old face. It had way too many freckles on it. I tried to hide the freckles by growing my bangs extra-long and letting my blunt cut super straight hair fall just so around my freckled cheeks. I never used the Jan Brady anti-freckle lemon juice rub, but I seriously considered it.
I didn’t like my 19-year-old face. It was too puffy and also too rosy. I cut my hair in an awkward version of the Meg Ryan pixie cut then let it grow out to the Jennifer Aniston layered helmet hair. These hair impersonations only made my face look puffier and did nothing to speak of for the rosiness on my cheeks.
I didn’t like my 22-year-old face. My chin broke out as I developed hormonal acne from going off and on and then off and on the pill.
I didn’t like my 31-year-old face. It turned various hues of orange mixed with splotches of red. Hormones were to blame again, but this time from the changes in them in my body during my pregnancies.
My 45-year-old face is not perfect — far from it. My eyes are still squinty. I call them almond shaped. My cheeks are still rosy, but I no longer hide them. I like being outside in the fresh air and relish the natural rosiness that shows up on them from time well spent on a chilly winter walk with a friend or a day of skiing with my husband and kids.
I don’t try to hide my freckles anymore. A makeup artist once covered them up with foundation, and I washed it off right away. I look forward to the summer months when my freckles come out in full force in true Jan Brady style as I enjoy a good long summer bike ride by myself with only a podcast as my companion or a round of golf with my friends or my husband as companions.
I have rather deep set worry lines on my forehead and less severe laugh lines around my mouth and my eyes. I’m not sure when these lines first emerged, but I do recognize that they are here to stay. I could never have imagined them in earlier versions of my face.
I have a bump on my nose from a teenage water skiing accident and a small scar above my left eye from one afternoon in my early young motherhood days, when I was trying to manage my new baby in his bucket car seat while talking to my sick mother on the phone, and I accidentally slammed my car door on that part of my face.
I know that I can fix the nose bump, the upper eye scar, the worry and laugh lines, but I haven’t – not yet. They are all parts of my face – my 45-year-old face – the one that I am finally able to smile back at in the mirror each morning.
I am kind of curious to see where this 45-year-old face of mine will take me and so too where I will take it. I hope for more laugh lines and not so many more worry lines. I hope for countless freckles and endless summers to spend with them. I wish for many more long winter walks and to be able to ski for as long as I want to and still can. I hope for pictures upon pictures of my squinty eyes — the kind that I will look back on one day and just see a smile — a big giant smile on a face that I still like.