Remember all the talk about “forty being the new thirty?” Jennifer Aniston affirmed her forties were her best decade yet, as she shimmied into her down dog, promising us eternal youth and beauty. I remember Oprah-effing-Winfrey telling me on her fiftieth birthday that she had never looked better. It was everywhere! Madonna was still dating children and Gwyneth Paltrow was making her segue from movie star to
snake oil salesman entrepreneur.
I went into my forties thinking: this is great, I got this. I can write, care for my kids, stay fit, we can put tons of money in the bank, give back to our community, and most importantly–my kids love me… I was on top of the world.
If you are thirty-nine you should probably stop reading, because I was only about twenty seven minutes into my fortieth year when my world started to implode. I have discussed this with many friends...the secrets the world keeps before you turn forty. Our communal belief is that if we knew how bleak shit was gonna get in our forties, back when we were twenty, we never would have procreated. We certainly would not have helped grow the economy, because we would all have been saving for chemotherapy and hidey-holes. We wouldn’t have been buying six dollar lattes, we would have been busy ensuring that we had a fail-safe Kavorkian plan for the day our minds deserted us as the result of early onset Alzheimers, Parkinsons or some other brain riddling disease. Older generations keep these secrets, I guess, because by the time they discovered them, they had already brought us into the world and honestly, will you tell your kids this awful stuff? Or will you just keep your mouth shut and let them enjoy the next twenty or thirty years (assuming the human race survives the Racist Orange Dinosaur)?
- People Start Dropping Like Flies. Remember that great Hugh Grant movie Four Weddings and a Funeral? If my life was a movie it would be called Ten Funerals, A Few Bar-Mitzvahs and an Uncomfortable Second Wedding. I am forty-five. It would require growing thirty accessory fingers to count how many friends my age have had cancer. The sad part–we all know every statistic, every cancer detail. Pancreatic cancer? Heavy eyes, chin down. Breast cancer? Lumpectomy or mastectomy, ovaarectomy, reconstruction, node involvement, radiation and chemo or just radiation? I mean, my friends and I could write a book on breast cancer in five minutes. I have two friends who have had colon cancer: one survived, one didn’t. I have been to three funerals for friends and colleagues who have had glioblastomas in two years. When my kids get ready for a dressy occasion they ask “should I wear the funeral suit?” I just don’t remember adulthood looking this crappy when I was a kid.
- Becoming Sole Caretaker. My friends and I had our kids around the same time, the years we turned thirty to thirty two. Then we popped babies out for four or five straight years (because we had waited so long). Some of us turned to in-vitro, weighing the possible side effects (see cancer above), with the possibility of a life without children (not to say having kids is the end all–it’s just what I know). And everything was great. We introduced these babies to our parents, and enjoyed a few family Thanksgivings watching Love Actually and The Family Stone. Then we turned forty and the group gathered around the family table started shrinking. Four years ago I hosted Thanksgiving at my house for my divorced parents, my brother, his new girlfriend, and my ninety-seven year grandfather. I was stressed about pulling off such a large family gathering. I complained to my husband about how my father would peel the skin off the turkey and my mother would leave chocolate all over the furniture. Well…fuck me. What I would give to have those worries again. A day hasn’t gone by in the last three months, since my mother fell to the floor, a massive cardiac arrest sweeping her out of my life forever, that I haven’t wept over my inability to just enjoy that moment four years ago. How was I to know it was the last time my family would ever be gathered in health? My father has been in a nursing home for three years now–suffering from rapid onset dementia. Last year Thanksgiving involved dirty diapers for the first time in a decade, and it wasn’t my kids’ diapers. No one ever mentioned I would turn forty four and be caring for what feels like a small army. And I am marching off to battle fortified only by Kale Juice and SkinnyPop. Most women I know are caring for kids, parents, and pets while trying to run six miles a day and keep up with lasering their neck waddle and saggy vaginas. It’s beyond exhausting. It’s just depressing.
- Depression. Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Lexapro, Prozac, Celexa, Luvox and Cipralex are just a few of the meds, or cocktail of meds, my friends and I are on. Honestly, a lot of moms are throwing their kids’ Adderall into the mix just to maintain the energy required to get through a day. Any given day for most forty something women entails: multiple after school activities, meal prep (extra points to the moms who manage three healthy meals heavy on veggies light on simple carbs), house cleaning, attending multiple mandatory school events, preparing extra meals for the homeless, filling out forms for parents who can no longer do so for themselves, and helping high schoolers write college essays. You think I am gonna judge a mom for tapping that Adderall? I am shocked more moms aren’t snorting an eight ball with their kale juice at lunch. Because it’s not just the exhaustion of all the physical activities that slays. It’s the mental fatigue that accompanies the knowledge that you are the only one who will do this. You, mom, forty-five year old woman, are the last woman on the battlefield. You are the only person standing between complete system breakdown and a ship that keeps on moving.
- Starvation. Do you think you can eat healthily and look like Gwyneth Paltrow? No, Gwyneth doesn’t eat healthily. She just doesn’t eat. And I admire this. She looks fabulous. But no, that’s not thirty minutes at the gym and cutting down on carbs. That’s lasers, starvation, two hours of rigorous exercise, bee venom injections, vaginal steamings and lord knows what else. All these stars and Instagram Stars show you how good they look. Gwyneth Paltrow had “never looked as good in a bikini,” as she did at forty-four. You know what they don’t mention? (Well everyone but Oprah, because God bless her she’s always been upfront about weight fluctuations), but the others never say “you too can look great, but you will never eat again.” We were all spoon-fed the same bullshit: just eat some spinach, do some yoga, dance around with Tracey Anderson, and drink some kale juice. No one said “you will be so exhausted from all the exercise that you will literally want to eat your own young by six pm.”
- Unfulfilled Expectations. That half-written novel…it seems to be drifting farther and farther away from me. And I am getting older. Those dreams, spending a summer in Paris with the kids, hiking the West Coast with friends,
completing the ironmanfitting into my skinny jeans. These are beginning to feel more like fantasies than achievable goals. With every death of a friend or loved one I feel my dreams fade to grey. Do I even have twenty years left? And really, I should be grateful for just one more day. The window of time I need to achieve these goals is quickly closing, at the same time my own energies are dissipated caring for more and more people with each passing day. Finally becoming fluent in French? Dear God, the way people look at me when I talk, I am not sure I can even claim fluency in English anymore.
- Uncertain Future. Remember teachers waxing on about the nuclear arms race with Russia? I can’t tell you how I long for those days. I mean, obviously, nuclear disarmament would have been nice. But two, relatively sane rulers of the free and not so free world, held the codes to the only nuclear weapons on the planet. Talk about “the good old days.” Every wack job with cash and access to the dark web can make a dirty suitcase bomb now. When I walk through New York city my heart rate surges anytime I see a someone carrying a large black backpack; I actually have to cover my mouth and sprint away to stop myself from screaming “BOMB!” This is not normal. When I had my kids I knew the world was imperfect. But now the world is led by people who are off their damn meds and have access to the nuclear codes. Instead of reversing global warming we are marching eyes wide open into a climate catastrophe. Elon Musk keeps going on about how jobs won’t exist in twenty years. I fail to see the upside of this prediction. Call me closed minded but I think employment is good for the bank and soul. Between googling hidey-holes and “job market in 2024,” I am not getting a hella lotta sleep.
- The War On Forty-Something Women. Okay, one could obviously make the argument (and they would be right–especially in light of the horrific Harvey Weinstein allegations), that there is a cultural war waged against all women–not just women in their forties, and she would be correct. But I am a forty something woman,so I’m just gonna stick with what I know. I know that when I was growing up Cheerios was actually the healthiest breakfast a kid got. Lazy moms served Lucky Charms good moms served Cheerios. But NOW? NOW? Our kids are required to arrive at school far earlier than we were. And they are expected to arrive with an arsenal of school required electronics and sports gear, and Cheerios is currently a totally unacceptable breakfast. I have literally been read the riot act by several
bossywell meaning mothers who have told me that if I am not up at 5 and preparing a breakfast of kale, banana, protein, whole grains and “good fats,” I am essentially condemning my child to a life of mediocrity. Which. I can barely get my fucking coffee in the mug at 5 AM without missing and pouring it all over the dog, much less pull a pre-dawn Julia Childs. And then, on top of my encyclopedic knowledge of how I am failing at mothering, I am constantly bombarded with how I am failing at everything else. Thanks to the “Millenials,” and Pinterest, and Instagram, I am acutely aware that I need to be doing more “HIIT Workouts,” lasering my face/neck/stomach/and potentially vagina. I should be pursuing a career even though I have been neck deep in baby food and play-dates for fifteen years. Trying to create a”Pinstagram worthy house,” when one cohabitates with six animals and three and a half messy kids is, quite simply, not realistic. This. Is. Insane. No woman can achieve this level of perfection without some serious help in the way of nannies, full-time housekeepers and on call plastic surgeons. The bar has moved so high since we entered our mid-lives, that I know I will never come close to reaching it. So I spend half my time trying to hurdle it and the other half, quietly weeping in Yoga class, wondering why I bother. Nonetheless, these expectations leave me in the muck of never feeling quite up to snuff. And that’s sad, because if I have learned one thing since I hit my forties, it is that life is short.