When filling out a form a few weeks ago I was presented with several choices to check for the age bracket: 20-29, 30-39, 40-49 – you get the idea. Y’all – it just struck me the wrong way. You can’t put me in that box! I really identify more with the first two boxes. Is there an essay portion where I can explain why I will not be checking that third box?
As one of my co-workers always says, it doesn’t matter how old you are as long as you are “on this side of the green grass”, but after turning forty a few months ago this was the first time I was slapped in the face with the reality that I am no longer, well, young.
Many of my friends have also turned the big 4-0 this year, or will be hitting the mark soon enough. I’ve read all those articles out there about why 40 is the new 25 and what kinds of things you should be able to achieve or do by the time you are 40, and I’ve also been thinking back about all my preconceived notions I’ve collected over the years about the 4th decade. And now I’ve got my own list.
Myth: That I’d Age Gracefully
Reality: I’m a fighter, people. I’m fighting, kicking and screaming, every step of the way. I spent 100 percent of the summers of my youth trying to achieve the hair and skin of Malibu Barbie. With the aid of Sun-In and SPF 2 oil (now likely illegal in some states), I was extremely successful. I figured by the time I was old – like, 30 (40 was too far gone to comprehend) I would be too senile to care if I had wrinkles and age spots. Nope. I care. If you can slough it, scrape it, fill it, peel it, plump it or microdermabrasion it, I’m game. No apologies.
Myth: That I’d Be Rocking Some Mom Jeans
Reality: I’m a veritable 40-year-old fashion risk-taker. Maybe it’s having daughters or a bevy of millennial co-workers, but somehow I feel more adventurous fashion-wise at 40 than I did a decade ago. I still love a pencil skirt, button-down and nude pumps (uniform!) and wear this probably once a week at work, but I have recently tried a midi dress (that’s midi, not mini), the floral bougie trend, the cold-shoulder, double prints, double denim, asymmetrical hemlines, and those shoes that are confused as to whether they are booties or sandals.
Myth: That I’d Grow Perfect Tomatoes
Reality: I can’t seem to grow a tomato to save my life, but I have found a potted porch plant that I cannot kill. It took 40 years of living on God’s green earth, but I miraculously figured out how to plant something and actually keep it alive. Each spring of my adult life I have traveled to the garden section of the home superstore. I have expectantly picked out the most gorgeous of flowering plants, a bag of dirt and terra cotta pots. I have carefully arranged my flowering plants in the pots and set them on my front porch, only to watch them wither to a slow (or sometimes not so slow) death. But this year was different. Somehow my plants are thriving. It’s like they know I’m a forty year old Southern woman and they are somehow afraid of me. So what if it’s ivy. It’s green and pretty and it’s blessedly alive.
Myth: That I’d Be at Church on Time Every Sunday
Reality: I do attempt to make it to the church on time every week, brood in tow, and sometimes we are actually seated in our “spot” in the back left, with clean hearts and clean children before the sermon begins. Other times- most times- we are arguing in the car as we turn into the church parking lot on two wheels as Pour Some Sugar on Me blares a little too loudly from the car speakers because we were too busy bickering with each other to notice that Pandora was still set firmly on the “80s Hair Band” station from our family dance party the night before.
Myth: I’d be living my life by hanging all of my future hopes and dreams on the accomplishments of my children.
Reality: I actually have more personal goals and the will to accomplish them than I did right after graduation from college. Perhaps living a little bit of life and making a hundred thousand mistakes gives you certain clarity. Want to run a marathon? Go back to school? Go back to work? Retire from work? Create something? Renovate something? The Southern 40 (and 38 and 42) year olds I know are doing this and rocking it in a major way. You can still nurture and foster your kids’ hopes and dreams, but don’t give up on your own in the process. And don’t be afraid of starting small. It’s never too late, whether you are 40 or 65 or 90.
Which box did I end up checking? Well, I ended up forgoing the survey altogether. I’m a 40-year-old Southern woman, and I think that gives me some kind of clout, at least sometimes, to do whatever the heck I want, whether my tomatoes are from my own yard or the Piggly Wiggly.
Kelly Barbrey will not be running any marathons (at 40 or ever) but she hopes you will, if that is your dream.