I Never Understood the Midlife Crisis until Now

I’m having a midlife crisis. Not in an I want-a-tiny-silver-sports-car kind of way, but more of an evaluation, how’s-life-going kind of way.

I remember when my parents turned 40. It was 1986, and I was 8 years old. My Mom was 40 weeks pregnant with my younger brother, who was born just a week later. We bought her a fun t-shirt with 40 candles on it, and we had cake and ice cream. As for my Dad, we threw confetti on him when he walked in the door from work, and we decorated the house with Over the Hill party supplies.   

Two things strike me about that now.

First, it was the first birthday of theirs that I remember very well. I remember understanding, on some level, that turning 40 was a big deal. In the same vein, I know that my oldest daughter, who’s 9, will remember my upcoming 40th birthday. It is surreal that life has come full circle, and now my daughter will be remembering my 40th birthday.

The second thing that strikes me is how much bigger 40th birthdays have become since 1986. These days my friends take trips to Napa, have fabulous dinner parties, or have other big celebrations to mark the big 4-0. I’m not knocking those, because, to be clear, I would love to do all of them and I think they sound awesome (maybe you want to watch my kids for me?).

Because of those two things, I know that 40 is A. Big. Deal.

It is a big deal to me, too, because I’ve always thought about my 40’s as ushering in a new, calmer phase of life. When I turned 30, I was nursing my one-week-old baby, and I celebrated with a shower and a piping hot vanilla latte. Little did I know, I’d spend my entire 30’s having babies and chasing toddlers. And then suddenly, I’d be staring down my 40’s as fast as you can say baby vomit.

So here I am, my 40th birthday looming, and I can’t help but ask myself a few questions:

Am I doing what makes me happy? 

Or perhaps, maybe a better question is, do I even know what makes me happy?, since I’ve spent ten years in a fog of newborn and toddlerhood?  I think so. . . . I’m writing, seeing live music that I love, spending time with my family, and traveling whenever possible.

On the flipside, I am also consciously avoiding things that don’t make me happy. For example, you will never again catch me at a massive outdoor festival, like Jazzfest. The throngs of people, the sweltering heat, the endless lines for the porta-potties—it is my idea of hell. Really. Life’s too short to do things I despise, like waiting in that endless porta-potty line with sweat dripping in untold areas. As such, I am actively choosing to avoid things that I don’t like, while also searching out those things that I do like.

Am I taking care of my health? 

Oh man, this is hitting hard these days. Part of me thinks, ohmygod how did I get here?, but I know how, more or less. Not enough sleep. Too many desserts. Not enough exercise. Too much wine. And, oh yeah, I had six kids. So yes, I never imagined being in this kind of shape but here I am.

But as I approach 40, “self care,” a term which gets batted around like a ping pong ball, is moving to the forefront of my life. Am I eating well, exercising, and sleeping?  No, but I need to be, and so I’m working on it. And this time, it’s not just for vanity, but because I want to live a very long time. To that end, I’ve finally hired a sleep trainer to finally get my babies sleeping all night. Thanks to her, I am feeling rested for the first time in YEARS. Literally years, y’all. I’ve seen my doctor and am coming up with a plan to get my act together. I’m realizing that there’s no time like the present to eat better, exercise, and take care of myself.

Am I spending time with those I care about? 

At 40, I’ve lost my Dad, my grandparents, and a few friends. Because of those losses, I’m highly cognizant of the fact that I know that all these beautiful, thoughtful people I care about will not be here forever. Time is finite, as is our time with those we love, and so I’m ready to carpe every damn diem with my loved ones.

What am I doing with my professional life? 

I sometimes read articles about entrepreneurs or CEOs who’ve achieved ridiculous success by the age of 40. It’s as if they’ve achieved the pinnacle of success and are slowly coming back down the summit.

As for me, not so much. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life besides wipe bottoms, find lovies, and help with homework. To that end, it seemed like a good time to return my attorney membership to active status. Do I have immediate plans to start working? No. But I like knowing that I have options to now pick up work if there’s anything that I really want to do. I like the freedom of choices, and I like keeping that professional door slightly cracked, even if I won’t be going through it any time soon.

* * * *

So no, I’m not getting a sports car. For the first time, though, I will admit that a tattoo doesn’t sound like a completely insane idea.

Who knows.

At 40, it feels like anything is possible, though there’s also an urgency to do the things I want right now. And I guess that’s what I never understood about a midlife crisis until now: it’s not a crisis at all, but an awakening to the urgency of living the life you want and doing what makes you happy, right now.  It’s about being yourself, owning what you love, and taking care of yourself. At least it is for me. Look out 40, here I come.