I just turned 40. So that sort of sucks. But on the bright side, I am finally justified in having a midlife crisis. Crisis really isn’t the right word, I guess, for this feeling I have about turning 40. Crisis is a term for situations involving death, poverty, starvation etc. This feeling is more akin to how I feel when I go to he doctor’s office and have to weigh. I know I am not old, just like I know I am not overweight, but the act of measurement and of actually facing a real number is terrifying.
The voice in my head shouts, “It’s time to pay the piper…and what do you mean I can’t take off my jeans, my earrings, and my watch, and spend about 5 minutes spitting in a cup before I have to do this…I am not READY!!!!”
But there is nothing I can do about it.
Better to think of it as a midlife accounting, really, and one of many I have had in my life. I have always hated getting older.
The first one was on on the eve of my sixth birthday when I realized that I was never going to be five again. Then when I turned thirteen and I realized that I was never going to be an olympic gymnast. Then in my 20s when I realized that I was never going to be a movie star, rock star, or marry into a royal family somehow.
To be clear, I never really thought it realistic that I would become any of these things.
But still, there is a difference between knowing something isn’t going to happen and actually observing that, in fact, it did not happen. And the difference is bigger still when the never-to-be princess realizes that what she actually became was a lawyer. Please cue the “Wahn Wahn Wahn” let down music here.
I got over it. After all, I did knowingly go to law school. So if I didn’t actually understand that this was likely to lead to my becoming a lawyer, I should have known. There was no cause of action. I was on constructive notice of the danger and can be imputed to have willingly assumed the risk. So law school was not a total loss. I learned why I couldn’t sue anyone for the damages I might have suffered for having gone to law school.
Accepting this fate, I spent my 30s quite happy and satisfied with my life. I got married, had children, and genuinely enjoyed my work. I knew I was lucky. And as I matured I was able to appreciate that I had a respectable job and to appreciate that those dreams of glamour and fame did not come true.
(Even though I would have been such a great movie star. I would have been one of those “down to earth” movie stars who gets so much credit for acting like a regular person, you know, buying my own groceries, buckling my seatbelt, and not throwing a hissy fit when my assistant substituted Poland Spring for Evian. I would have impressed so many people with my extraordinary ordinariness.)
It is such a relief, really, not to have the paparazzi following me around. If only because I really like to eat salads and I can’t eat a salad without making a huge mess. It is embarrassing enough for the waiter to come by, after clearing the plates, with that scrapey thing to gather up the baby green debris in front of me. To have someone photograph the carnage? I shudder to think of it. Disgusting. All those incomplete half bites, with the a lettuce leaf hanging out of my mouth. I look like a camel, reeling in the radicchio. Oh, no. I would love my fans too much to expose them to that horror. It’s for the best, really, that I dine inconspicuously with my husband and children. This way I can enjoy my salad in comfort and assured that absolutely no one is paying attention to me.
Given all of this acceptance of this, as 40 approached, I was as content as I ever was about getting older and growing up. I wasn’t happy about it but I figured that I had done well. Struck a good path in the woods. It definitely was not the one less travelled by but, please, was that so bad? No. I was fine.
Then last Saturday, we were walking through a home goods store. We went in because it was raining and we had to kill time before going home to our apartment where there is not really a lot to do but watch T.V., go stir crazy, and count down the days till playground weather comes back. I walked by a rack of mini-bundt pans, tray of belgian waffle molds, and a cookie sheet for making madeleines. A wave of nostalgia washed over me. Before I knew what was happening I was yearning for the “days gone by” when I would whip up a mini-bundt cake and a batch of madeleines for the kids as they rushed in from the backyard for an afternoon snack. The fantasy was so complete–with a big kitchen, double oven, and gorgeous soft light filtering in through the solarium and breakfast nook. I had been reading too many Crate&Barrel catalogs, apparently, because this vision in no way resembled any life I was close to living. Our “gracious” two bedroom apartment has a small kitchen and no breakfast nook. The closest my kids get to a mini-bundt cake is when they buy Pop Tarts from our building’s vending machine.
As for a nice house in the suburbs? We had often thought about it but had always decided against it. Until this moment, I had never really felt like I was missing out on anything. It was just words in my head. “I wonder if we should buy a house” and “It might be nice to have a yard” etc. It wasn’t until I was staring at this array of specialized non-stick bakeware that I appreciated, in visceral terms, that I really might be missing out on something. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized that I needed to add Betty Crocker to the list of people I never became.
The more I thought about it, though, I realized that my upset was not that I would have rather been a suburban housewife with a big kitchen and a houseful of kids but that, in choosing the life I did, I was precluded from doing a number of other things, including but not limited to, being said housewife.
This pain is distinct from the pain of not realizing my childhood dreams. Even as a young person I knew I was too tall, too uncoordinated, too lacking in talent, and too much of a “commoner” for any of those fantasies to come true even if I had all the time in the world.
But when you can’t do something just because you don’t have enough time. And not because you forgot to set your alarm and you missed your train. But because you only live once. And because you only have lived once. That hurts.
(It still hurts less than burning yourself, though, which I have done pretty much any time I have ever tried to remove something from the oven.)
In theory, I could still move to a nice house in the suburbs with the double oven and plenty of room for a waffle pan or two. But now, I would be doing it when I was 40 years old. No matter how flattering the soft light would be as it filtered gently through the solarium, it would not conceal the fact that I was no longer young.
The time to be a young housewife has passed. The time to be a young lawyer has passed. The time to be a young anything has passed.
At least I am all grown up. I am mature enough to appreciate that though I am not young I am a far way from being old. This is my chance to be 40. I don’t want to spoil it by lamenting that I am no longer 5. I might just make a bundt cake to celebrate.
Request to the blogoshere: Just wondering, what did you think you wanted to be before it didn’t happen?