24 September 2010

Things That Are True - Ruminations Upon Turning Forty

Warning: cringe-inducing earnestness ahead. If you're looking for cynicism, click away. You'll not find it here.

My 40th birthday party - photo by HWSNBN

A month ago today, I turned 40.

I had a half a dozen half-written posts in my head at the time, which have grown to a dozen since. Things I've wanted to say: an update on my Fit by Forty mission, discussions of celebrations, birthday cake for the non-dairy set, clever quips about passing life's milestones, and some Significant Ponderings Upon Reaching Adulthood. It's taken a month for all of that to simmer on the back burner of my mental landscape and bubble over into this:

I'm 40. And I don't care anymore.

Let me clarify: this is not "I don't care anymore, nothing matters and what if it did." I have not been tsunami'd by a rogue wave of apathy. The exact opposite, in fact. I am as passionate, as engaged, and possibly more driven than I've ever been. This is "I know what I know, I love what I love, and I no longer give a damn what other people think."

This, friends and relations, is what freedom feels like.

This is a huge deal for someone like me. I have expended a lot of energy - enough kW hours to make a serious dent in the global energy crisis - being consumed with anxiety about not fitting in, worrying about what to wear, what to say, how to act. I have, more than once, allowed my fear to sink me into utter paralysis. I've not done things I desperately, achingly wanted to do - talk to that guy, write that song, go to that event, try that new scary thing - because of my fear of Getting It Wrong. Sheer will pushed me forward on occasion, but more often than not, I feigned aloofness and pretended what I really wanted didn't matter. I opted out.

No more.

An actual photo I took today just before the scribbling began

As I write this, I'm sitting in a cafe that is much cooler than I am. I put my pen down periodically (yes, I still write with pen and paper occasionally - I like the tactile nature of it) and dip in and out of the stream of conversation around me, capturing vignettes of people's public and private lives. I'm surrounded by 20-something hipsters. I admire their easy confidence, their languid coolness, their uninhibited friendships. And I wonder what I looked like at their age to a 40 year old woman sitting scribbling in a notebook nearby. Did I seem so easy and comfortable in my own skin? Or could she tell I was afraid of looking foolish every waking moment of every day? And are these beautiful younger-than-me men and women plagued by the angst (existential and otherwise) that plagued me at their age?

It feels sudden, this I-don't-give-a-damn liberation, but I'm sure, like everything else, that it's not that simple, that it's been creeping up on me far longer than I've been aware. It's just the introspection of watching a major milestone approach and go past that's made it front-and-centre.

I spent my twenties figuring out who I was in the wake of a disastrous and abusive relationship. What other people thought of me was always top of mind. In my thirties, I had a better poker face, but I was still consumed with how I appeared to others. The things that made me happy - designer clothes, extravagant vacations, expensive restaurants - were still tied up in how other people saw me. If I deconstructed every choice I made in the ten years between 27 and 37, what other people thought was the single most important factor every time.

Motherhood - ah motherhood: paradoxically crisis-of-confidence inducing and magnificently empowering all at once. While the mere act of living my life, examining my mistakes, and choosing better the next time has contributed to this new, giddy sense of freedom, it's motherhood that has triggered a quiet revolution in the way I look at the world. I've always been someone who had to know how to do something perfectly before I would even try it - as a result I didn't try a lot of new things. But becoming a parent isn't something I could know how to do before I actually did it. No matter how many books I read or friends I talk to, every person's experience of parenthood is different, and I can't do anything but figure it out as I go.

And Get It Wrong. Boy, do I get it wrong. I angst. I worry. I fret. It's a struggle, and a challenge, and a different game every day - which would have stopped me in my tracks ten years ago. Even five years ago.

But I keep doing it anyway. Aloofness isn't possible. Opting out simply isn't an option.

The getting it wrong and doing it anyway is a monumental change for me. Learning to be a parent has given me the permission to fail, and the courage to try to fail better next time. To just get over myself, to challenge my own assumptions, to reach out, to share my hopes and dreams in this space, and most importantly to believe that my hopes and dreams do matter. Pretty heady stuff.

Web cam photo taken right this minute

Hi. I'm Alexis.

My hair gets frizzy. My teeth are crooked. I make mistakes. I know what I know, I love what I love, and I stand up for what I believe in. I'm 40. And I don't give a damn.

Can I get a booyah?


  1. Booyah!

    Honestly, I think this is what Virgo is all about - we just don't give a damn. :)

  2. Booyah!

    I am slowly getting comfortable in my own skin. And I like it. It feels good to be able to say, "This is me, and I'm good enough just as I am." I'm still sort of faking it a little, but I hope that in the next few years I'll master it. Or at least believe it more myself.

  3. i'm finding that as i get into my forties i am discovering the person i want to be when i grow up. it's also true that motherhood seems to have precipitated this incredible journey of self exploration and growth. it's been hard, painful at times, difficult to face, and not always taken to willingly, but at 45 i'm reaching a steadier peace.
    bon voyage!

  4. always a fan of Teh Earnest, you have my accolades. (i can't even pretend to able to say booyah with any kind of legitimacy. see how hip you are?) You were doing it right the very first time I met you - taking a risk, putting yourself out there, figuring out what felt right to you as a woman, as a mother, being honest about how nuts we all feel most of the time in our own little personal bubbles of crazy - and you are still doing it right. If you (any of us) can stay as open & honest about these things as you have here, well... maybe then most of our wishes, birthday or otherwise, might just come true. Well done you.

  5. Boo-yah!!! And a Woot Woot! Also *fist pump*
    You gave me shivers Alexis - beautiful writing.

  6. Boo-yah! You said it, sis! Love this post.

  7. Good for you! I'm a few years behind you, but you make me feel much more positive about the number creeping up!

    Just found you through Canadian Mom Blogger's blogroll and I am now a follower! It's always nice to find a fellow Canadian blogger!

    Kate @ This Mom Loves

  8. Thanks, everyone. This was one of those posts that just came bubbling up out of me. Glad to see it resonates for more than just my earnest self. :)

  9. I'm far behind (on everything) but I needed to read this. I see so many similarities with who you used to be and who I was, and in some ways the person I am unravelling from.

    I know you only as you are now and I think you're wonderful. Thanks for giving me hope for what 40 holds!