It seems only yesterday I was in my 30s, pre-Vertbaudet, pre-pampers and blissfully unaware of those little pump syringes that suck the mucus out of babies’ congested noses. Before I know it I’m hurtling towards my 40th so rapidly that I barely notice the two kids popping out or the ring being put upon my finger. I realise it is thirty years since I bopped around the living room to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ – Thirty Whole Years!
When it actually happened, the big four oh, I tried to deny it, mainly to myself. But if the deepening lines and the age spots hadn’t already done so, my loosening grip on reality and loss of muscle definition certainly bore witness.
As a teenager I hoped to be dead by the time I was 40 so that I wouldn’t have to endure the disgrace of carrying a hunchback and sporting undulating varicose veins. I eat my youthful and inexperienced words as my knees show signs of deterioration and I let out an ‘oowf!’ every time I sit down.
‘But 40 is the new 25,’ I’m told, by a spritely and smooth 30 year old.
In a vain attempt to prove her right I eat broccoli and blueberries like they’re becoming extinct. I refrain from eating sugar, take my vitamins and (mostly) avoid alcohol in the hope of retaining an iota of youthful bloom. Frankly I’m kidding myself because each time I take a look in the mirror I notice two things, firstly that I don’t seem to fit my face anymore. It’s as though some imposter has taken over my body because it no longer matches what’s inside. Secondly, that my skin has land-slid just a little further down my bone structure since the last time I looked, not five minutes ago. The sagginess of my neck, flapping about like a turkey’s pendulous dewlap, yearns for a tuck.
In my late teens and early 20s I had the self-image of a small mammal, longing to stand out and up to my peers but lacking the confidence, and conscious of any slight physical blemish as though a second head was forming. Now I care little for what others think about how I look. Good thing too because on the occasions I letch longingly/admire a handsome young man, I get a look that would suggest I’m trying to adopt him.
My opinions, no longer locked inside my head like subversive criminals, break free of the chains at every opportunity because the gatekeeper is no longer so vigilant, or is too indifferent to really care. It’s ironic that people actually take me seriously now that I’m approaching retirement and talk tosh.
Friends come and go as they always did, but these days my friends are less likely to be interested in hitting the town at the weekend for a skin-full of blue pop, and more likely to prefer to go out for dinner for a civilised glass of wine and a good chinwag. We like to laugh, and cry, about the tribulations of having children (although those few friends who decided against kids still look at me uncomprehendingly when I mention that I didn’t even have time for a shower this morning). Those friendships that have stood the test of time have become deeper. Ok, so don’t get to talk to them often, once every couple of months but it’s like breathing fresh air when I finally put the phone down, all my troubles feel inconsequential. When you share your deepest and you can laugh about it with a lifelong friend, they can live half a country away but they’ll feel as close as your own children.
As a twenty something, rationality eluded me. It hid within my psyche while I stressed over things I’d said, could have said or should have said. Now I let it pass me by with barely a whisper. Life is too short, I tell myself, to worry over such trivial things, to beat myself up over them. Regret is not on my wish list so it can bloody well get out and walk.
With that thought it is time to begin anew, to forge a new identity, that of middle age. The tattoo, a relic of youth and frivolity, has to go. It hovers in the corner of the mirror like a dirty smudge that won’t go away, each time reminding me of the foolishness of my former years. On a body that has it’s own law of gravity a tattoo is a sad statement. “I am still young!” it shouts to random passers by, “honest!”
I have to face the fact that I have limited time left to wear above-the-knee dresses sans tights, sleeveless tops or bust enhancing gowns, lest I look like a mutton canapé with a mint leaf garnish atop.
I drag myself to yoga once a week to nullify those nagging aches and pains. As I strain to pull myself up from head-down dog, I let out an involuntary groan, occasionally a little wind.
These days I am more inclined towards a peaceful household. I am more aware the ‘little things’ and I let them go; petty squabbles that before my ‘maturity’ would send me firstly to the roof and then home to mum. Now like a gentle wave on a deserted sandy shore, they merely tickle. I now bathe in mellowness and calm…mostly.
At twenty I preferred loud parties, drinking until the sun came up and the excitement of not knowing what might happen on a night out. Even the thought of the following day, wallowing in the murkiness of the hangover abyss was inviting. I went to festivals and sat in fields of discarded food with blokes who wore plaits in their hair, wallowed in wellies and peed standing up. Now it all leaves me cold, a sure sign that I’m going to seed. I would have died to see myself, at 40 settled into the cosy domesticity I now occupy. A toasty wood-burning stove, a good book and a cup of Peppermint tea in the evening, and life is fairly predictable.
So here I am, fully entrenched in my fifth decade, with two pre-schoolers hanging around my fattening ankles, which reminds me that by the time I am able to go off on pampering weekends without worrying about who is taking care of the kids I will be more than half a century old and soon to be entering my last decades of existence, should I live that long. I am so exhausted that I don’t know if my aging body has the stamina to survive another 10 years of child rearing. I’m like an old car, all the main constituents are working but things are starting to groan with the effort of functioning.
The past forty years have gone by so quickly I’m left wondering whether I should bother going to bed at night in case I reach 80 before dawn.