Forty-Two Years

When I was twelve years old, I saw a car commercial which offered a “what if” scenario of 2018. I let my mind wander to the future adventures I’d enjoy when I was…as I did the math, I came to the realization that I would be in my forties. The time for adventure and possibilities would be over barely after the new century had begun. I felt robbed.

Today is my forty-second birthday. Life isn’t over and I’m not the old lady twelve-year-old me imagined. Over the last few years in particular, I have wrestled with my fair share of trepidation at what aging would mean. But, forty-two is a surprise and a revelation.

Some random observations; advice for others in their forties and beyond (and, for those who fear the approach of forty and beyond); and, things I’m preaching to myself about turning forty-two:

Own Your Number

Tradition holds that it’s rude to ask or reveal a lady’s age, and since my mid-thirties I’ve been hesitant at times to reveal my age or correct people when they’ve assumed I’m younger than I am.

What an insult to those denied another birthday to be ashamed of mine. As the saying goes, “Getting older is a privilege denied to many.”

The power we assign to arbitrary numbers is odd if you think about it. Who decided twenty-one is more relevant and desirable than forty-eight? Think about the “over the hill” cliché that we’ve blindly accepted. Who decided that your forties (and, in some circles, your thirties) was the cut-off point for youth, and why is it only this narrow definition of “youth” that is designated as something we’re supposed to scramble to hold on to? Why do we continue to give “them” the power to define who matters?

Numbers only have the power we allow them to have. We may not get to choose our age, but we do get to choose what that age means. What your number means is a narrative you get to construct.

We get to decide what pretty looks like and even if it matters, and what occupations and adventures are appropriate at our age. The Boomers and Generation X are redefining what it means to be forty, fifty, and beyond. From new careers to neon-hued hair, midlife isn’t the sedentary sentence of boredom and diminished opportunities it once was. We aren’t ‘has-beens’ in the twilight years of life.

Eat and Live Well

My knees, back, and eyes aren’t what they used to be. But, my body doesn’t limit me from holding down a job, taking care of my family, embracing my passions, or enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.

I watched my dad, good friend, and other loved ones lose their independence as cancer took away their ability to walk, think clearly, and enjoy life without chronic pain…a painful wake-up call to appreciate and nurture a body and mind that allows for the gift of a normal life.

I look back on my years of stupid starvation diets and treating my body like a human garbage can (that steady college diet of cigarettes and low-fat popcorn as a trusty meal substitute) with grief. Diet was just a means of self-punishment and producing a desired number on a scale and clothing label.

Now, swimsuit season means the joy of summer activities more than concern with what I look like in a swimsuit. When I walk through the water park with my kids in the summer, I feel genuine and profound gratitude for what my body can do. My legs are strong enough to walk through the park and climb up the stairs for the slides. Prescription glasses are a small price to pay to see the glory of a summer day. My back is still holding out well enough to go on the big water slides and amusement park rides with the kids.

I’m not without vanity and I wouldn’t mind being skinnier. But, as Scarlett O’Hara famously declared, I’ll never be hungry again. I can’t go back to that. Teen and twenty-something Amanda would be mortified/amazed to see forty-two-year-old Amanda eating to feel good rather than look good, with room for pizza and potato chips on Fridays (and, on vacation and special occasions, days other than Friday, too).

Embrace Freedom and Possibilities

We live in a youth-obsessed culture, and women in particular all too often become invisible to the mainstream as they age. As forty approached, I feared invisibility and the disappearance of “maybes” and “somedays.”

Yet the biggest surprise of my forties is the freedom and sense of possibility it’s ushered in. At forty-two, I have roots. I have a family. I’m a child of God. I have a safety net to risk and combat the fear of failure as I take on new adventures.

Forty-two is a heady mix of peace and anticipation of what may be and what’s to come.

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