I first started thinking about my 40th birthday when I was 35. My youngest daughter was just over 1 and nursing like a fiend. My 4-year-old had such severe separation anxiety that I didn’t dare send him to more than a few hours of preschool a week. And my super independent, enthusiastic 6-year-old was struggling to adjust to a new school in a new state.
The time I spent by myself was limited to showers (if I remembered to lock the door) and illicit trips to the grocery store for chocolate. Because my daughter still nursed so frequently, and my son was so anxious to be apart from me, and none of my kids could fall asleep without help, the idea of getting a babysitter seemed unfathomable.
When you are in the thick of parenting, it is very difficult to imagine that things will ever be otherwise. It seemed to me that I would just keep tending to their needs and neglecting my own. By 40 I would be utterly exhausted, completely out of shape, and unable to converse about anything more interesting than how to sneak vegetables into my kids’ desserts.
Ah! But then, a miraculous thing happened. My kids began to grow and change and need me less. And I, in turn, also began to grow and change. This summer I will be 40, and I am far from the haggard, boring, mom-jeans-wearing shut-in I feared I would become.
This is for you, my 35-year-old self—six reasons that being 40 feels a lot like being 18:
1. Freeeeeeedom!! Having all three of my kids in school (at least part of the day) feels a whole lot like getting my driver’s license did. The afternoon belongs to me and I use it just the way I please. Some days I write, some days I run errands, but very often I just get in the car and drive somewhere new, or wander around town exploring thrift shops and used bookstores. I do all this without an ounce of guilt. Because I put in my time. Oh lord, did I ever.
2. Fit as a Fiddle. This one isn’t really true. Ask me to run a mile, and I’ll still come back a half hour later huffing and puffing. But, having the time to make the meals that I enjoy instead of just eating my kids leftover chicken nuggets has put me back to my pre-pregnancy weight. I’ve also been taking belly dancing which has awakened a sensuality in me that I feared motherhood had robbed forever.
3. New Friends. For many years my best buddies were the ones who had kids the same age as mine. The ones whose kids’ nap schedules coincided with my kids’ nap schedules, who played at the same playgrounds, who went to the same preschools. I’m done with that. Now I’m making writer friends and belly dancing friends and laugh-till-we-cry friends. I’ve also re-connected with some of my old friends as well… both male or female, married and single, kids and childless.
4. Nightlife. If you would have told me five years ago that my husband and I would have date nights once a week, that I’d be going dancing with girl friends at least once a month (to places 40-year-olds have no business being), that I’d have a gang of crazy friends who were always up for a late night adventure, I would have thought you were crazy. But, here I am, almost 40, with a vibrant, exciting nightlife.
5. Intellectual Growth. How I loved those first years of college when I was introduced to a world of new perspectives. Now that I have time to read and write again, I am feeling that thrill all over. Making friends with all sorts of different life experiences has also contributed to my new quest for knowledge.
6. The World is My Oyster! This year my daughter is in half-day kindergarten, and with only two and a half hours a day to myself, I have opened up to so many new experiences. Next year, all three kids will be in school full-time. I’ve been dreaming of how I’ll spend those hours… the potential job opportunities that I might find, the places I could volunteer, the novels I might write. I have always been a person who thrives on anticipation and potential. Right now, the future feels like a mysterious present wrapped up just for me.
I know that my child-rearing days are far from over. In fact, the toughest years may still lie ahead (because, yeah, teens). But having more time to myself has given me renewed strength for whatever challenges I await.
At almost 40, I feel younger, look better, and have more energy than I did at 35, or even 30. So, dear 35-year-old self, don’t despair…. the best is yet to come.