When I was 25, I worked with a woman named Donna. She was in her forties, married without children, loved Gilmore Girls, and liked to tell people how she wore a tiara when she cleaned the house. Donna also told all of the young women that being 40 is the best thing to ever happen to her or any woman. “You stop caring what other people think. You do you. It’s glorious.” Older friends have confirmed this to be true, and have added, “50 is even better.”
Of course, I doubted all of them. I loved the idea of shedding my insecurities and just living without crippling anxiety, but being the young woman that I was, I also thought it wasn’t possible to be truly happy and at peace with myself if I’m … elderly. I’ve always felt older than my biological age, but the thought of looking the part was depressing. I longed to be beautiful and successful and exciting and fun. I focused on everything I thought I wasn’t with little regard for who I could be if I channeled my energy on appreciating my gifts. I have gifts? I have gifts! Also, you don’t realize how young 40 is until it’s staring at you in the face. I know you’re right around the corner, 40, and I’ve got my eye cream on. I’m comfortable, but not in a way that suggests that I’ve given up on my appearance or goals or anything else. I am comfortable knowing that every day, I’m more at peace with who I am and more in touch with what I want from this world.
Every year that passes, I see my peers freak out a little about hurtling towards 40, but this landslide seems to have the opposite effect on me. I am looking forward to turning 40 in a year and a half. I feel like I will have earned my confidence. I will own every feature and flaw. Maybe I won’t care anyone thinks of me. I’m getting there.
I spent so many years trying to fit in until I realized I don’t even like all of these people I’m trying to befriend. I can’t call myself a misanthrope, but people were often disappointing. I held out hope that they’d be better. Without too much cynicism, I’ve learned not to expect much from others. They’re not the ones I need to worry about. As soon as I stopped worrying about the people who aren’t worth my time, they seemed to drop off. My friendscape was suddenly illuminated by all of the absolutely wonderful people that I’m lucky to have in my life.
In my early thirties, the shedding of insecurities was beginning. I was unhappy at my job and a stressful period in my marriage had just ended. My husband started working for a great company, but it left me home alone most of the time. I took advantage of our dual income sans children and started going on trips. I went to so many concerts and so many states. I went to cities and restaurants that my husband would never set foot in so I could have what I wanted without compromise. It was a great taste of freedom to do whatever I wanted. Then I had a kid.
Having a baby is life changing, but no one can understand the degree until they’re in the trenches. With husband working many hours of overtime, I was struggling in those first few weeks. I had postpartum depression, job anxiety, and the standard lack of sleep standing in the way of my sanity. Things got better and better (and sometimes harder, but still better) until motherhood was finally the core of my existence. My daughter will always be the most important person in my life. Since hearing Michelle Obama say this about her own daughters, I’ve been telling my girl that she is “the heart of my heart.” That will never change, but I know that the same way our relationship grew stronger with time, her growing independence will create a wedge between us. As much as motherhood is the central part of my being right now, I know in my heart that I need to continue to grow so that I am not completely lost when my sweet chick is ready to fly. This day is far off but it will come too soon. I will be in my mid-fifties when she is done with high school. Young enough to still enjoy life, but perhaps not young enough to *start* loving myself. I’m so glad that I’m learning now, to love myself. Donna would say, “see? You’re close to forty and you don’t care what other people think.” Maybe that is true, but I think for now I’m finally more concerned with what I think about me. If you think “I love me” sounds arrogant or narcissistic, you’re missing the point. It’s a good thing I don’t care what you think. I love me.
My daughter is close to four years old. She wants to be a “doggy doctor and mommy” when she grows up. She also speaks about her future as if I will still live with her when she is an adult. It’s so beautiful that for now it’s unimaginable that we wouldn’t be together forever. I’m everything to her (for now) as she is to me (forever).
As I watch her grow little by little every day, I worry so much about all of the painful bullshit she has to go through to get to where I am now. The petty drama of elementary school. The downright mean girls of middle school. The pressure of grades and friends and boys in high school. Navigating complicated relationships in adulthood. I worry because I’m her mom, but I know she’s going to make it through.
Sweet daughter of mine,
You are bright, funny, and kind. I tell you about these beautiful qualities whenever I see them on display, but you’re going to go through spells when you doubt yourself. Then you will keep going anyway. Women always do. Women get better. Every woman I know is the best ever version of herself. We are always solving problems, learning, and growing. You, my love, are going to be fine. My gorgeous tiny warrior who will fight for the right to wear a corduroy dress in August, who doesn’t let a day go by without giggling about butts, who sings poetic prattle during playtime, you are going to be just fine. I wish you could understand the comfort of 40 when you are struggling through the agony of 12 (and 15 and 19 and…), but no one can, until they’re there. Until then, enjoy your precious childhood as much as you can. I will do everything in my power to make your childhood beautiful. I will do whatever I can to help you see your bravery, wit, compassion, humor, and beauty. You are a marvel. I know it will take time, but I hope you grow up to love yourself as much as I love you.
Happy (early) birthday, darling girl.