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!

One Reply to “40 is the new 40”

  1. Have a fabulous decade, Maggie! As I start my fifth decade, I can say that there is no downhill, only a few hills and valleys 😉

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