Just writing out that title feels weird. Middle-aged? Me? At 40 years old, I think I can safely say I have arrived in the middle.
A couple of days ago, I was driving around running errands and listening to Q on CBC Radio. Tom Powers was interviewing Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20, and they were chatting about that song Smooth that he did with Carlos Santana in the late 90s. Remember that one? If you don’t, you clearly lived under a rock because it was everywhere. Listening to it, I was immediately transported back to being 20 years old and dancing with my then boyfriend at bars and parties surrounded by friends and having loads of fun. (Back in those days, the partying still WAS fun until I took a real nose-dive later on and eventually got sober at 27.)
The song has really stuck with me over the last couple of days, mostly because it’s so damn catchy but also because it represents a moment in time that will never relive itself. I will never be in my twenties again. I mean, this isn’t news but it also kind of IS news…
It sort feels like we just go along in life and do our best, right? Choosing left or right turns, buying a home, making career changes, having babies (or not having babies), and all the rest of it. And then BOOM, you realize it’s been 20 years since you were 20! When it really only feels like it’s been about five.
Truthfully, I wouldn’t want to relive my twenties. They were hard and I struggled a lot. As mentioned, I wound up making transformative changes that would redirect my life and steer me in a better direction. But in the earlier part of that decade, before it got tough, there was such a sense of carefree living and fun to be had. Old enough to live on my own, travel and be adult-ish but young enough to also still be kind of a kid. This was especially true for me because I reeeally took my time before eventually deciding to grow up.
I actually met my husband at right around age 20. Obviously, I didn’t know that we would wind up together (we didn’t start dating until five or six years later) but sitting here today with the perspective of having lived through it, it’s so interesting to me that that 20-year old Alison had NO IDEA that she met her future husband on that night. Funny how life works. Twenty-year old me had no clue that 40-year old me would marry that guy and even have a couple of kids together.
My mom, who is in her 70s, tells me that her 40s is how she pictures herself in her mind’s eye. She tells me that this version of me is the one that will stick with me the longest. The honest-to-goodness, grown-up, 40-something me is who I will think of when I am older and close my eyes to sleep at night. The middle-aged me.
I’ve told the following story to so many friends on so many occasions, but I am going to tell it here, too. A few years ago, while on maternity leave with Miles, I was on my way to the hair salon and stopped in at Starbucks along the way. As I entered the coffee shop, I caught my reflection in the window and was taken slightly aback by what I saw. “There’s a woman firmly situated in her mid- to late-30s,” I thought to myself. At age 37, that was accurate, but I had never seen myself that way before. For so many years, I looked a bit younger than I actually was. I think I handily pull off 27 until I was at least about 34 (okay, maybe 32). Catching my reflection that day was the first time I realized that was no longer the case. I definitely did NOT look 27 anymore. And it felt…strange.
Today, the creases and wrinkles in my face continue to take me by surprise. It seems that at age 40, I’m really starting to look and sometimes feel older than I ever have before (which I am, duh). I notice, sometimes with a touch of resentment, that the deep laughlines around my mouth show my age long before I have a chance to utter it. I privately curse all my years of smoking and sun-bathing as though my twenty-year old skin would remain that way, unchanged, forever. Yes, the creases tell a story of a life well-lived but damnit, they sure do take some getting used to.
Here’s the upshot though, and it’s a good one. I also feel so much more in tune with myself than I ever have before. I really know who I am today and have confidence in my abilities. It’s a confidence that has taken decades to solidify. I’ve got the benefit of time on my side and a track record to look back on to see where my past experiences can help guide my future choices. My heart and my gut lead me today, and with the benefit of having history to look back on, I know that when I trust them they always steer me down the right path.
It’s true, my days of dancing in bars as a 20 year old are done. But isn’t that actually a huge relief? I’d way rather curl up in bed next to my husband at 9:30 pm with a cup of tea and a good book. I know that today because I know who I am, and I know that simple pleasures are what make me feel content. That 20 year old me? She was fun, but she really didn’t know herself very well at all. It makes me wonder what 80 year old me will look back on and think of 40 year old me. And just as I couldn’t have imagined being 40, today I can’t imagine being 80!
How do you feel about getting older? Does it sneak up on you, too? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! 🙂