“The Wrong Side of 40” or, the Peak of Our Powers

Mt. Robson, a few hundred kilometres from where I was born four decades ago.

Mt. Robson, a few hundred kilometres from where I was born four decades ago.

At any time in my young adulthood, I could have been found sitting awkwardly breastfeeding, sitting awkwardly writing, or standing outside shoveling. None of these things was easy, none of them was without lasting benefits, none of them was any good for my left shoulder. Not surprisingly, for the first two winters of my mid-adulthood, my left rotator cuff has wound up sprained—weak and sore–by the end of January.

Despite not having done much breastfeeding, my father and older brother have the same repetitive stress injury in their shoulders. When I commiserated with Dad, he seemed like he’d been waiting. “You’re on the wrong side of forty,” he said, recommending his favourite aromatic anti-inflammatory ointment. Every girl dreams of growing old smelling exactly like her even older male relatives. That’s not what I’m objecting to here. It’s “the wrong side of forty”—I’m not yet convinced there’s much wrong with forty.

Come back.

I know. As a younger person, I was irked by forty-somethings marveling about how their lives are better than the sluggish, disease-ridden ordeals they might have been expecting. The more they went on about it, the more pathetic it sounded to smug young me. And hearing 40-year-olds reject the term “middle-aged” when the average lifespan in our country is in the 80s is still annoying. Life does not begin at forty. Counting works. Math is real. Knock it off.

People my age are well and truly half-dead. But for many of us, life has developed into something surprisingly good—surprising to our broke, baby-bitten twenty-something selves with piles of student debt.

A lesson known to fortysomethings who won’t stop crowing about enjoying life is the realization that, “It won’t last” –whatever “it” is. The wisdom is bittersweet, delivering comfort and demanding resignation at the same time. Is that what maturity means?

Anyways, here are a few things in my life that didn’t last–for good, for ill, for real. [Keep in mind I can only speak for myself—that’s what a personal blog is for–and I didn’t craft this list to make anyone feel badly about theirs. I have one life and it reads like this.]

My kids’ baby-years didn’t last. When I was a new mother–25 years old with two little boys–I got weary of older parents urging me not to wish the boys’ babyhoods away. They were difficult little dudes and I wished their babyhoods away pretty much every minute they were awake. My friend Jeannie—a lady my mum’s age—saw into my black heart and promised me my kids could grow up to be my best friends. It’s turning out to be true. My kids and I hacked our way through their babyhoods to their personhoods. There are still two elementary students in our household keeping us deep in Kidsville. But I can go for days without having to see their butts and I’ve learned to laugh off what might have made me cry when I was a difficult young mother. For instance, with my oldest kid now studying chemistry at university, I have the track record and confidence to tell our grade two teacher that six worksheets of homework is too many, we’re only doing two, and no one’s future will be destroyed.

Youthful looks don’t last. I didn’t come out of the child-bearing years in the same physical condition I went into them—which is actually fine since I began motherhood looking like a 16-year-old, raking in all sorts of pitying disapproval from strangers. I’ll spare us the details of my decline. Suffice it to say, my mother-in-law—who’s is in the early stages of dementia–keeps being surprised that my skin looks so different now than it did when we met the summer I was twenty-one.

“Did you get a sunburn? Did you get hit in the face?”

“No, Sweetheart. We’re just old now.”

In some ways, I’m healthier than ever. My kids getting old enough for me to ditch them didn’t do a thing for my bad shoulder but finding time to work-out means I can outrun—literally—the diabetes, high blood pressure, and knee problems that would have come with being overweight in a half-spent body.

Trends don’t last. I can calm the frick down about how people and things are decked out. When we moved into a house decorated in early 1990s brass and oak last year, I didn’t panic and start redecorating. Brass is already back. Oak can’t be far behind—and even if it’s not, what do I care? Best of all, my favourite boots from the 90s are back in rotation in my wardrobe, authentically vintage.

Being flat broke didn’t last. When I was 28, living with three kids in a two-bedroom Fort McMurray apartment complex where people sometimes got stabbed, I used to say all I wanted of the comforts of life was a dishwasher, a second bathroom, and the ability to buy whatever goodies I wanted at the grocery store. Fait accompli.

The generation older than mine won’t last. The Baby Boomers haven’t been the easiest generation to follow through history but that doesn’t mean we want to get rid of them. So far, more than anything that’s degenerated in myself, the progression of my parents and parents-in-law into illness, disability, and death has been the most difficult part of growing older.

A few things have lasted. My husband is still with me, with all his teeth and hair, without his appendix.

My stories have benefitted from aging as well. When I was in my 20s, childfree, too broke to do anything but stay home reading and writing, I was frustrated at not having much to say. I wrote brutish poetry because it was short, well-suited for venting burst of poorly-formed literary energy. My voice had potential but most of what I wrote lacked the substance I knew I wanted to invoke. It took me a long time to be able to write fiction that didn’t make me cringe. The stories I wanted to tell came the only way they could for me: slowly.

But then, looking back and looking ahead from this point I hope is the middle of my time, nothing about four decades seems slow at all.

4 thoughts on ““The Wrong Side of 40” or, the Peak of Our Powers

  1. Forty is the best decade so far. I love this bit of writing for my morning before-work read today. “People my age are well and truly half-dead”. I love your writing. Anxiously awaiting my newest J.Quist novel. I’m a groupie.

  2. “But I can go for days without having to see their butts” omg. I’m still waiting for that! My mom talks about “the day when you won’t hear anyone cry” and that day hasn’t come either, or maybe it has but I didn’t notice. I should try to notice maybe!

  3. I like to think I wasn’t truly old until 60. Up until then I put up a pretty good fight. Now, I am more inclined to embrace old age and even make light of its obvious mission to move me forward to my inevitable expiration date. Once mortality grips us with certainty, we quickly learn to hold more dearly to special moments shared with those loved and cherished. Inside our aging bodies, souls stir and transition from youthful awkwardness towards wisdom and clarity of purpose.

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