40 is the new 40

Well, another year has come and gone, and it was a year worthy of reflection. Some say that life begins at 40; others claim that 40 is the new 30, while a few see 40 with fear and loathing… I’m not sure that any of these sentiments really represents my own feelings about 40.
Last year, as 40 approached and then arrived, I embraced it with a vengeance. For me, 40 was all about liberation – some of it earned, some of it recognized, and some of it grabbed by the throat.
Professionally, liberation came in the form of tenure, which, I am very keenly aware, came faster than it did for the previous generation of teachers, because my foray into teaching was timed, albeit entirely unconsciously, to coincide with the flood of retirements in the Cegep system.
I suspect that it is symptomatic of us Gen Xers that settling into our careers comes later in our lives than it did for our predecessors – we’ve taken longer to finish school, partly because we’ve gone further post-graduation (both because we can, thanks to loans, rich parents, and expanding academic horizons, and because we have to in order to get the jobs that required fewer credentials from our parents’ generation) and partly because we’ve come to recognize that the school-job-family pattern does not necessarily have to be completed in any specific order. We’ve also had to wait around for the Boomers to get out of the way before we could move up the professional ladders, and while we were waiting, we’ve worked in myriad fields, some of which didn’t exist before the IT revolution, and discovered that it’s hard to settle into a career that hasn’t really been defined yet.
On the home front, things are settling into familiar, comfortable place, but at the same time, the family is solid enough that we can shake things up and take the unfamiliar situations in stride. Life with a dog has already become familiar and comfortable, and we have certainly won the canine lottery with Edgar. He’s got the happy puppy energy, but he’s smart and well-mannered, and learns quickly (with the exception of how to deal the the cats, who have been very clear with their lessons, to no avail).
The boys are both finished school for the summer; Colin has just completed his first year of high school, and Robert is, as he says, “technically a Grade 5-er now.” We’re looking forward to our first home-based summer in a few years; we’re not going to the UK this year, so we get to stay home and swim, and bike, and rollerblade, and play with the dog, and take the lizard out in the sun, and so on, all summer long. We still have some family issues to resolve, but we’re actively working on them, and we’re optimistic. As the boys get older, my liberation comes from their liberation – they are more and more independent and capable, and sometimes I’m so proud of their achievements and abilities, I can’t believe that these amazing people were made by me.
Of course, the family life has a solid foundation in a marriage that is almost 16 years old now. What can I say about Dr. T? Directly or indirectly, all the great things in my life are thanks to him. He indulges my whims, supports my efforts, and almost always remembers to take out the garbage. Sure, he still can’t fold a towel (it’s all right angles, what is so frickin’ difficult??), but I love that after all this time, we still hold hands and finish each other’s sentences. I also love that every time I propose some new personal modification – from haircuts to tattoos – he begs me not to change a thing because I’m just fine as is, but every time I come home with said modification, he falls in love with the new me.
One of the most liberating things about turning 40, for me, was the realization that it doesn’t really matter what other people think is age-appropriate behaviour. I think, to some extent, I already knew this – as demonstrated by more than one occasion of raucous dancing to the Ramones at various weddings over the last decade – but the prospect of 40 made the idea very real. I have friends who seem to see 40 as an “it’s all downhill from here” milestone, but for me, it’s as if 40 was the landmark I needed to reach to dispense with everyone else’s idea of who or what I am. All the things I thought I just couldn’t do, I did, from taking up scuba diving to piercing my lip.
When the principal of Robert’s school, who also happens to be a friend and a colleague on the Governing Board, saw my Monroe piercing, she was taken aback because it “just doesn’t seem like” me. At first, I was a little surprised – she has always struck me as an open person who is a little ‘different’ herself – but then she went on to ask more and more questions, and confessed that she’s always wanted a tattoo, but always talked herself out of it – which sounded very familiar to me!
I think that the freedom of 40 is partly derived from knowing that I don’t need to worry about people taking me seriously – I have proven myself professionally and personally, and anyone who doesn’t recognize my worth isn’t going to change his/her opinion because I do or don’t have a nose stud or a tattoo (or two).
The final liberating aspect of 40 comes, in part, from the same knowledge. I have learned (or am learning) to say “no”… or at least, to say “not right now.” Last year, I determined that I would leave the Governing Board, only to have the principal lure me back with barbecued corn and flattery – but at the last meeting I made it official: I am not coming back next year. The plan is to continue saying “no,” or “maybe later,” rather than leaping at every opportunity only to find myself overwhelmed and resentful. Fingers crossed…
Upon reflection, 40 was everything I hoped it would be, and more, thanks to a very solid network of friends and family and colleagues. Since they’re all still around, I’m expecting nothing less from 41!

In praise and defense of impulse

I am an impulsive person.
Sometimes, this means that I come home with a new pair of unintended shoes.
Other times, it means I come home with something a little bigger, like this:
I know that some people, such as my mum and my very dear friend the Domestic Goddess, find my impulsive decisions unnerving, and although they may not think I understand their concerns, I really do. It’s just that impulse has served me very, very well, lo these many years.
Many of my friends thought it was crazy to marry Dr. T as quickly as I did – we were married about nine months after we started dating. Here we are, 16 years later, and so far, the leisurely repenting is working out – and working out better than the subsequent marriages of a few of the friends who thought we were too impulsive.
We bought the first house we looked at. We tried to be “practical,” telling ourselves that impulse buying might be OK if you’re looking at a great pair of Nine West platform pumps, but impulse buying a house was ridiculous. So we diligently visited a slew of other listings in our price range, and hated them all. We gave up, and went with our hearts. We’re still living in that house, and loving it, and it’s tripled in value, just to keep the non-impulsive crowd happy.
Change of career? Impulse – and now I am tenured, working on a Masters in Education, not to mention a couple of fascinating projects, and loving my job, which, I think, I am pretty good at (prepositional sentence-ending notwithstanding).
Children? Impulse – and here, we count our blessings, because we know from vicarious experience that it’s not always as easy as it was for us to conceive, and our kids are smart and funny and fun (most of the time 🙂
Animals? Impulse – Heidi was brought in from the cold, quite literally, over 13 years ago, and has turned out to be the bestest kitty ever. She was tolerant with babies and toddlers, to say the least, and is a tiny, furry ball of affection, despite the Clint Eastwood glare. Mehitabel, whose story is recounted below, came home after a five-minute conversation with the Domestic Goddess (she may have actually thought Mehitabel would only be with me for a couple of days, but I knew better).
And now, Edgar.
About a week and a half ago, Colin came home from school and announced that he would like a pet – Robert already has Drago, the Bearded Dragon (an impulse buy last November).
Now, this wasn’t as simple as “let’s all hop in the car and stop at the SPCA.” Robert is allergic to dogs (and horses, which is less of a problem), and he’s allergic to cats and dust, so we’re already overloading him in our cat-filled home by the highway. Colin didn’t want his own lizard, because that would be unoriginal. So I said we could research hypoallergenic dogs, and see if there was a pooch out there for us.
There was. Edgar is a six-month old Standard Poodle whose previous people didn’t have time for a dog. After a lot of Internet research, and a few phone calls to dog-owning friends, I had settled on the Standard Poodle as our breed of choice – hypoallergenic, good with kids, cats and other dogs, big (no purse puppies for me!), relatively calm indoors, and very smart and trainable.
I sent out applications to a few local rescue operations, and started trolling kijiji, which is where we found our boy. I contacted the owner, and on Tuesday evening, we went to meet Edgar, and judge whether or not Robert was reacting to him. To her eternal credit, despite her own misgivings, the Domestic Goddess drove me and the boys to meet Edgar, and ultimately bring him (and his multiple accessories) home.
Edgar is now settling in nicely – he’s licensed, my vet had judged him to be happy and healthy, he’s had his first clip (and last one at that groomer, but that’s another story), he’s scheduled for the Big Snip, and the whole family is enrolled in a training class.
Here’s the thing about being impulsive. When I decide something is a good idea, I want to make it happen now. That said, I also am conscious of the consequences – so while Edgar’s homecoming seems to be wildly impulsive, it was, in fact, based on a lot of research and reflection. Yes, he’s nominally Colin’s dog, but I know that Dr. T and I will be taking care of the dog more often than not. Yes, a dog is a lot more work than a cat, but our lives are settling down in terms of careers and school, and we are prepared and willing to take on the responsibility. Yes, this is a commitment – but every big commitment that I’ve made, I’ve made on impulse. So far, so good.
There is a downside. Ironically, the downside is the little impulsive things – those Nine West shoes, or the quick stop in the bookstore, or the just a little browse through Etsy. Those are the little impulsive decisions that add up to rather unpleasant credit card bills, and I know that Dr. T would be happier if I were less impulsive sometimes. But then, he was an impulse decision too, so he has no reason to complain 😉