This is 40

In Louisiana Ladies, Payton Denney by Lola Magazine

Forty is upon me like the impending hangover from a cheap vodka martini. It’s coming, and it’s going to be painful. And although, I’ve had some subtle hints of its arrival along the way, I’m bracing for more not-so-subtle change.

Last month I threw out my back while assembling the Christmas tree. It’s a thing that happens to me more and more these days. There’s a spot in between my shoulder blades that hates me. I feel great when crawling in bed for the night, but in the morning, I wake up incapacitated. It seems to despise me the most when I have a looming deadline at work or when I’m entertaining guests the following day. This 40 thing is most definitely happening.

I’ve mastered the art of work / life balance. I work and run kids non-stop until I fall flat out on day one of vacation. It’s as if I tell my body to hold on until I cross the finish line into days off. Then I sleep away the fever over several days while the rest of my family enjoys the holiday or vacation or whatever fabulous break we had planned. And all the while, I balance — laying flat on my face.

But seriously, my body is beginning to show its limits. After years of passing annual checkups with flying colors, I now find myself justifying that the rising number in the “normal range” is still normal. But after viewing my results, I jump in the car and floor it to Kroger. Loading my buggy with all the fruit and vegetables it’ll hold, I commit to making a change. I convince myself that my whole family will make a change — for the sake of our fasting blood glucose levels. However, no one at home shares my enthusiasm. The husband and the children won’t get on board. It’s as if eating lean meat and vegetables will cause them to burst into flames. I’m holding this battle front alone, and so, over time, we backslide. As it turns out, quinoa cannot compete with Little Debbie.

My house is aging too. We’ve lived in our house long enough to need a style upgrade, so last fall we finally bit the bullet and spent some money. Although he wouldn’t say it, I’m certain that we spent a little more than Pat was comfortable with. Then Dakota broke a window, the dog chewed through the Freon line burning up a coil in the AC unit, and the garage door motor quit in the same week. A month later, the microwave, washer, and dryer all pooped out. It was a great day to be a Denney. I keep eyeballing the fridge and the dishwasher to see if they emit the sounds of a quitter. Now I know why my grandmother told me not to finance my appliances into my mortgage.

While I may be losing my footing physically, I feel like I’ve gained traction on the emotional front. Last week, I listened as an argument started between friends, threw up the pause hand signal as the conversation begin, and redirected them to talk each other instead of to me. Ain’t nobody got time for triangulation. While I’m not big on rules, I do publicly admit to enforcing one. If you feel the need to talk about me, please do it behind my back. It’s one less thing I have to worry about.

“No” has made its way into my vocabulary, and I’m learning to use it. At the end of the day, there’s just not enough of me to go around. My days are so filled with obligations, that I rarely have the time or energy to do the things that recharge my batteries. It’s the blessing and the curse of being loved.  So, if I happen to direct a “no” your way, please understand it isn’t personal. It’s an effort at selfcare.

What can I say about 40? I’ve lived long enough for a style to go out of fashion and then back in only for me to be too old to sport any of it the second time around. Both mobile phones and the internet were invented in my lifetime. I’ve spent a lot of breath trying to convince my kids that Dave Matthews Band is as relevant as my dad believed Led Zepplin to be. Even more unbelievable to them is that the attacks of September 11th happened while I was in college.

Over the last four decades, I have developed some questions of my own. For one, how long will my youngest child continue to point at my stomach and ask me if I’m having another baby? Who decided that injecting botulism into one’s face is a good idea, but more importantly, why am I considering it? What, exactly, is the purpose of Twitter?

For me, the bright light of approaching 40 has brought three things into focus: my morality, my mortality, and my newly established mustache.

These days, I attend fewer weddings and more funerals. I’ve learned that life is fragile and unpredictable. On my way up the ladder, I grew weary of looking at the rear end of the person in front of me. So, I jumped off. Then the craziest thing happened. I realized that no amount of climbing could produce anything greater than the blessings I already had.

Today my gatherings are smaller, more selective, and I’m feeling less of a need to post about them on social media. More and more I’m drawn to authenticity and am turned off by facades. Because all that glitters is, in fact, not gold.

On a daily basis, I try desperately to show up for the people who matter most, but in all honesty, I only have it about 75 percent together. I’ve come to the realization that I can’t be it all. At some point, I had to choose: clean house, well-fed family, physically fit physique, successful career, world traveler, advanced education, volunteer extraordinaire, well-dressed, super mom. This list makes me think of the experiment that was conducted when the makers of Barbie translated her human equivalent into a computer-generated image. As my mama would say, “bless her heart, she was a funny looking little thing.” Too much of a good thing is plainly just too much.

The process of aging has granted me permission to drop the labels and seek contentment. I’m learning to reconnect with my spouse. Instead of counting the hours until Pat gets off duty, I’m counting the years I have left with us all under one roof. We regularly retreat to spend time in nature. It never fails to put us back together.

At this time, I would like to thank chocolate and red wine for remaining off the naughty list. You complete me.

I’m convinced that for all the boring old lady things that are happening to me, I get an awesome point to offset its drag on my character. I may go bed earlier on Friday night than any other day of the week, but I can drink more coffee than Will Ferrell’s character in the movie Kicking and Screaming.  I may read every good non-fiction book I can get my hands on, but I can successfully grow carrots from seed. I may think oatmeal is delicious, but I can still roller skate in a Halloween costume. I can no longer jump on a trampoline without wetting my pants, but I’ve mastered the boiled egg and rice.

So this, my fortieth year on planet Earth, I will celebrate the beautiful, imperfectly perfect life God has gifted me. I’ll rejoice in my competence and respect my weaknesses. I’ll listen to the limits of my body and try not to be self-defeating. I’m going to purchase that sectional, because I want to continue to snuggle with my growing family. We’re bigger than we used to be, but that’s OK. Because this is 40, and that much fabulousness needs room to spread out.