Last week I was with a group of women and we were talking about European adventures. I half laughed and talked about my adventures in Italy, traveling with another broke college student, eating out of grocery stores and staying mostly in campgrounds. Once, in Verona, we camped in a full hostel’s back yard. I think they charged us $5.00 to put up a tent on the grass, packed in among several other grubby 20 somethings. We had to walk through the hostel to get to the back yard, and the hostel was a crazy, chaotic mess with beds stacked everywhere. Somebody was even sleeping on a bed on wheels in the hallway. (I have never been so jealous of a person in my life.)
A woman laughed with me and said, “Would you do it that way again?”
I considered the question and said, “Now, you mean? Nearing 40 and with 2 kids? Probably not.”
She looked surprised and said, “Are you talking about yourself? You’re not 40, are you? You can’t possibly be 40.”
I shrugged and said, “I’m 39. Nearly 40.”
She waved me away and said, “Oh, one more year, you’re still young!”
Because one more year is that far away? Will I be officially old in a year?
I had another conversation with another woman, where, when I revealed how old I am, she said, “Well, you look GREAT for your age!”
What is somebody my age supposed to look like?
In some ways, nearing 40 is kind of confusing. What is it I’m supposed to be doing? Are there any rules for somebody who is 40? I’m taking the first steps towards a different job path—is that something 40 year old women do? I wouldn’t go camping in Europe again right now, but I’d probably stay in a hostel—is that something a 40 year old woman would do? I wear copious amounts of sunscreen and have an obnoxiously large floppy hat that I wear absolutely every time I go to the beach. That’s DEFINITELY something a 40 year old woman would do.
And what is my hair supposed to look like? Should I keep my hair long, or cut it off? One particularly stressful holiday season I decided that I hated my hair and brought in a picture of a movie star to the salon and said to the stylist, “Make my hair look like THAT.” Well, she sort of did, but there’s not much she can do about my face or the lighting and I sort of forgot I don’t have my own hair and makeup team and that I actually don’t spend my life on a red carpet. The result was a very expensive short hair cut that made me hate my hair even more. A friend of mine tried to soothe me by saying, “You know, Heather, women over a certain age should never have long hair. That hair cut was long overdue.”
Am I a woman of a certain age? And does that mean I’m doomed to a life time of short hair cuts that are almost sort of but not quite reminiscent of somebody famous?
I’ve also given up on trying to figure out what to wear. I bought a pair of high heels a few years ago, and was stunned to see a 17 year old at church wearing the same shoes. Am I supposed to be wearing the same shoes as a teenager? I asked that question to my sister, who is 12 years older and even more in the middle of her life than I am, and she said, “Yes, of COURSE! It’s a good thing to be wearing the same thing as a teenager, it means you are IN!”
Are 40 year old women supposed to be in? Because, to be honest, I’d rather just enjoy the fact that I’m no longer in high school, trying to be IN, and just wear the same pencil skirt and cowl neck sweater and boots that I’ve been wearing for a decade and call it “timeless”.
If I died next week and an obituary read, “A 39 year old mother of 2”, there would be lots of people who would think, “Wow, she died so young!” But when I work around college students and new college graduates and go to church with mothers who are trying to manage a toddler’s tantrum while they nurse a fussy baby, I feel old.
So if anybody has any tips on growing old gracefully, I’d love to hear them. I don’t even know what that means, to grow old gracefully, but it sounds like something a 40 year old woman should do.
(Wait, is that obituary comment kind of morbid? Sorry. I have a morbid subconscious. I should tell you about my dreams sometime. For example, last night I dreamed somebody at church attacked me with a chainsaw. I might have issues.)