There’s a lot to be said about turning 40. I had heard about how “life begins at 40”, “40 is the new 30”, and my favourite, “after 40 you just don’t care a damn about anything,” from friends and people I knew, long before I reached this milestone. Of course, I didn’t take any of these in the literal sense and realised that I hadn’t understood what they meant either when my own 40 was to arrive.
If I had to describe my 30’s, it would pretty much be filled with my pregnancies (two to be exact); uncountable dirty diapers; hemorrhoids; endless sleepless nights; infinite counting of the firsts (first tooth, step, word, etc); doctor’s visits for me, for them, for me, for them (I could go on). A decade teeming with everything amazing that motherhood brings with it, along with lifelong anxiety and the baby weight that hasn’t budged even 10 years later. The 30s, as is the case with so many others, were all about figuring out things, and mostly endurance. They made even my boarding school days when I was away from home, up in the hills, waking up at 5 a.m., surviving on just twice a week baths look like a piece of cake in hindsight.
Having children stretches every part of you, quite literally too. As all parents know, raising children requires patience (the infinite kind), energy (a whole lot of it), and courage (which is surprisingly easy). Like many mothers, I don’t quite remember when I placed my own life on the back-burner. My generation of Moms (that’s how old I feel at 41) come from an era where we were expected to sacrifice our own well being for the sake of our children. We, or at least I was never told that there could be a sort of a balance between my well being and that of my children. So essentially, my 30’s were about placing myself 2nd, and 3rd, and 4th, and 5th. If anything, many a times I felt almost displaced.
Approaching my 40’s felt like climbing uphill. It was slow, deliberate, exhausting and not something I was looking forward to. Suddenly it felt like my world had become smaller and I didn’t even know where and how time had flown. All kinds of questions haunted me. What had I done in these last ten years? Did I accomplish anything? How much had I missed of life? What should I get done before turning 40? Now for the latter, there are actual lists floating around about, ‘Things to do before you turn 40’!
Just to give you an idea about the suggestions on the lists of things to do before you turn 40, here goes:
1. Buy a house abroad. (Great, I wish motherhood came with a salary!).
2. See the northern lights. (Since having my kids, I’ve become a very nervous flyer. Don’t judge, I know there are more of you out there. So, the long flights are just not happening for me right now).
3. Order everything off a restaurant menu. (Did I mention I’m gluten, dairy, sugar, and life free?).
4. Publish a book. (If I can do this even when I’m 80, I will be ecstatic).
5. Have a nude portrait taken. (Did I mention the weight gain?).
To add to my woes at this point was the fact that my health was at its worst, my skin saggy and I had teenage acne that decided to crop up 20 years too late. With hormones that had literally decided to go crazy (that is my explanation) after each pregnancy, I had spent an entire decade gaining weight and now I had just a year to lose it. I had a year to be adventurous, bold, and hip. Basically, this 39-year-old overweight, Indian woman with frizzy hair needed to transform into a rockstar.
Coming back to the present, almost two years since forty happened (the number seems less daunting if written out), it is true what people say about it feeling different. For one, there are enough reminders for me that literally half of my life is over. That’s 50% of my life already lived. 50% of the years where technically I should have had the best time of my life given there are limitations of what one can do in one’s old age. This realization itself brings a lot of growth in people, and it definitely did in me. I have chosen to concentrate on not what I want to do, but on how I want to be. With half of my life left (give or take) I want to focus on how I want to be and feel instead of all the things I wish to accomplish. To be honest, I actually have given this a lot of thought. And these are some of the things I decided I want for the rest of my life.
I want acceptance. From myself, for myself. Be it about my health, my weight, or anything else, I want to accept myself for who I am. Because if I can’t, how can I expect anyone else to?
I want to stop fighting. With myself. I have spent years telling my body how it didn’t support my dreams, how it had failed me. It is time to stop the fighting and bring on the self-love.
I want compassion. From myself, for myself.
I feel we mothers are handed a lifetime supply of guilt along with the birth of the baby. But the years of blame and guilt I had harbored didn’t help me in any way.
When you practice self-love and acceptance, there are some things that come out naturally from it. You become more tolerant of your circumstances for one. You give yourself the right atmosphere and space to grow. You learn to be happy and in return more productive, no matter what state you are in. You let go of many feelings, people, habits that just don’t support your way of life. You learn to let go of a lot.
If you’ve noticed, none of the things I want to achieve have anything to do with anyone else. Because once you’ve lived to be 40 (sorry forty), you realize there isn’t much people can do to make you happy. You would have spent at least two decades, excluding your childhood (because let’s face it, anything we got for free back then made us happy), needing, wanting, hoping and expecting people in your life to make you happy, and that doesn’t necessarily happen. For me, one of the biggest realizations was that most of my battles were being fought inwards. There were no expectations from others that exceeded the expectations I had from myself. So, I basically decided to stop. Stop the madness as some of my closest friends would say.
Turning 40 (are we comfortable with the number yet?) does inspire change. The infamous “midlife crises” that is harped about and feared, doesn’t need to be so. The crisis happens because we are faced with our mortality and with the daunting realization that life doesn’t go as planned. All the ducks we have lined up sitting pretty in a row since when we were younger, seem to be all over the place. Some ducks have gone missing, some have drowned, and some simply refused to cooperate. The “crises”, and the “slump”, are all there to inspire change. To show you that maybe how you’ve lived so far isn’t how you really want or need to live to have a happy satisfying life. This mid-life crisis crops up just in time to show us what is important and essential. It’s a time to examine, even interrogate yourself on what works for You! I can’t say I live with the utmost satisfaction on a day to basis, or I’m 100% at peace with everything in my life. What I can say is through my mid-life “crises”, I have found myself… and that is good enough for me.
Photo by Eric Tompkins on Unsplash