I turned 40 in December with a subtle sense of loss; a feeling at which I focused my signature willpower on drowning out with a stern internal lecture on gratitude.
I didn’t “get” 40. I’d checked all the life boxes already and I didn’t know what to do with this milestone that was nothing more than a number.
I kept running the tape: At 20 I was freshly in love and excited about some new adventure with every turn of the seasons. At 25, I was a confident grad student and new wife. At 30, I was wide eyed with optimism with a young business and young children, and at 35, an established entrepreneur and the most needed and adored member of my very full household; an extroverted conductor of a symphony of calendars and carpools. Then at 40? Same, same. Just without the novelty of any of it and no reason to believe the next 10 years would be particularly different. The thought made me want to cry; it was so profoundly disappointing. I grieved only briefly, before I settled on resignation: “I suppose the baton has been handed to my kids to ‘do milestones’ while I enjoy the show.”
I must have unconsciously anticipated this scary, evaluative stage, because I was already a couple of years into arming myself with the antidote: preparing for the the prestigious milestone of MOM-PRENEUR MASTERY. I just had to remind (convince) myself I was rocking it!! It looked like: more meetings, more clients, more networking. More kid programs, more culture, more outings, special events and girls nights. More volunteering, the most efficient errand-running, more workouts, more price-matching, more new recipes, more meditation (the irony’s not lost on me) and picking up piano lessons again. Oh, and nails and hair to complete the “easy, breezy, busy” brand.
And then, pandemic. Lockdown. Everybody stop.
That first week felt like a blessing. Sleep til 8, yoga and morning mindfulness, breakfast with my husband and kids. Business calls taken in proximity to hugs, in a neat t-shirt and ponytail (15 min prep, if you include the shower.) Strategic planning while getting to know my garden. Witnessing my kids’ resourcefulness: they knit, cook, paint, dance, code, Zoom. And walking, walking, walking: as a family in the neighbourhood, by myself in the ravine.
Spontaneous phone conversations with friends and family are now a thing. Dinner is a late-stage collaborative creation made up of putting up with whatever is missing, and finishing up whatever’s leftover. Repeat all of the above for 3+ months, separated with weekends of board games, reading, nature, movies and more walks, and from within the simplicity, emerged some startling and beautiful realizations.
In this paired-down world, “coulds” and “shoulds” have evaporated because I can’t and shouldn’t, and I’m left simply being with my very favourite people, appreciating them and enjoying their company in every corner of our home.
2020 has introduced me to my middle-aged self. Or rather, shocked me into maturity. The gratitude for all I have – my health, my loving family, my career, my ‘perfectly me’ home, my garden, my community, the parkland within reach daily – is overwhelming. I feel it for real now. It feels calm. It feels joyful. It feels humble, as in, “as much as I might try, I am clearly not running the show”. It feels light years away from trying to read and respond to email while running home from the subway station to jump in my minivan, rush to rescue a karate bag from the studio’s lost-and-found while calling the school to say I’ll be late for pick-up because I need to swing by the pet store for dog food first- we are 100% out and it closes early.
Turns out my 40th birthday wasn’t the first step onto the sidelines. It was merely the beginning of an unfolding understanding that I’ve been WAY over-complicating things. 40 might just be more “me” than any other age yet, because now I can clearly articulate what’s really important.
It’s a milestone worth celebrating, I think.