I was always the youngest. Not at home, at home I was the oldest. But everywhere else I was usually the youngest. The youngest in my grade. The youngest in my ballet or drama class. Because I have the southern hemisphere equivalent of a fall birthday – mid-May.
And half a world and many decades away, where the seasons are turned upside down, and where my birthday is now in the spring, I am still the youngest.
My 40th birthday is two months away. Thanks to a severe drought and global warming, spring has already sprung in Northern California. So it’ll be early summer by then. The fragrant jasmine will have wilted on their stems, leaving little more than the faintest heady whiff in the breeze.
For a while I was “never turning 40.” As friend after friend – some with two to four kids of their own, and companies to run, with aging parents and mortgages and expiring car leases – made it ‘over the hill’, turned 41 or 43 or 47, I was still in my thirties. In the same pick-up line as they were, rushing kids to ERs just like they were, signing tax returns and home loans and sometimes feeling older than even my older friends whose kids were a few years younger than mine, or who didn’t want to get married just yet.
Almost 40. With responsibilities and people, both big and little, and deadlines and obligations and appointments and a full life of color behind me, and a big blue something ahead… but I’m not excited. I’m scared. Confused. So unsure. So not confident. I wish I was 24. When I knew myself better.
Of course, hindsight is always crisply clear – the view of myself as the self-confident, sure-of-herself young woman starting her life on the foggy hills of San Francisco as Mrs Gilbert is vivid and bright, while the vision of ageing, graying me finally moving to Israel once all my kids are grown is hazy and almost impossible to see. Not just because it’s the future, and who knows what the future holds, but because… is that what I really want to do? Do I want to leave all my kids behind and move to another country without them? Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know. If I stop being a stay-at-home mom now, will I regret it in ten years when they’ve all left (actually it’s 13 years, but who’s counting)? Do I want to write, or act, or teach, or own a boutique or work in a bookstore or WHAT?
I am 60-something days away from the fabulous-not-so-fabulous four oh. Confused. Confuzzled (my mother’s word). Just mixed up.
On a rare rainy day in Sonoma last week, after I declared to my best girlfriends that I knew myself better when I was in my twenties than I do now, I realized that’s not quite true. Or rather, they helped me realize it’s not true. That what I was in my seemingly cool, calm and collected twenties was blissfully oblivious… to me. And I started thinking about the things I do know:
- I know that I don’t know. I know that I am confuzzled. I may be less self-assured, less self-confident than ever before – but I have heaps of self-awareness. And then some. Enough to drive me even crazier than I am now, before I make it to 50. Or even 45. Gulp.
- I know that it’s more than okay to say “no”. Not to alcohol. Or to cupcakes. But to commitments. To volunteering. To having someone else’s kid over. To attending an event. To anything that is something I do not want to do. Or that will take me away from doing something I really do want to do. People understand. In fact, I think they wish they had said no too.
- That sometimes my “greatest accomplishment of the day is making my bed.” This is something my close friend L always says – she is five years calmer, wiser and older than me. She reminds me that I don’t have to do it all – actually, I don’t have to do any. That the all or the nothing is overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And damn, she’s right about the bed: it does feel all kinds of good to yank those sheets straight, and tuck the loose ends under.
- I know that I love meat. And marrow bones.
- To cry is to feel. And that is wonderful. I used to keep my tears in, because I didn’t want to face the emotional hot mess they left in their wake. But I’ve discovered how awesome tears are – the relief and release to not have to keep it all together. To feel whenever I want. Even wherever I want. Like in my workout class. Or in the car. Sadness and joy and love and fear and songs and memories.
- I don’t get hangovers. Obviously I’m not drinking enough. Goal for my forties: wake up with a hangover.
- There’s never an excuse for bad manners. Say hello. Say goodbye. Say please and thank you. Always. Whether you’re four, or 14 or 57. Do not get out my car and slam the door without saying, “Thanks for the ride.” Wish the barmitzvah boy and his parents mazal tov, and if you want something from me, please say please! Manners make people nice people, manners maketh the mensch.
- Accept apologies – they are heartfelt, even if they don’t sound like they are.
- Skinny jeans can ruin my day as I lie on the floor or wriggle my hips trying to zip them up – they did fit last week. But my sister, and sometimes my brother, saves the day (and this is true for much in my life):
- Finally, no matter what artistic brilliance, technologically advanced special effects, incredible animation, outstanding acting, writing or directing we have enjoyed over the last three decades the very best movies are, and always will be, Eighties Movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club, Moonstruck, Indiana Jones, Say Anything. Don’t you order what she’s having? Do you ever put Baby in a corner? Who doesn’t love to cut loose with Kevin and Kenny? Best. Movies. Ever.
I am the last of my friends to turn 40. I’m the youngest. And I feel more confused now than at any other time in my life. Blissfully oblivious, like I was in my twenties, sounds kinda appealing, I admit. But oblivious is really just oblivious – I’m not sure it’s blissful at all.
I’ll take marrow bones, Maverick and no hangover for now.