These things I have learned

Turning forty, which will happen to me in about 8 months, is something I neither look forward to nor dread. I don’t think much of the number, that it symbolizes some sort of end or beginning, or even that it is the bridge to middle age, and an inevitable downgrading of the quality of adventure I am somehow now entitled to. I don’t keep tremendously good mental records of my life, hence the compulsion to write things down, if only to prove that they happened, and to me. If you ask me how old I was when this or that took place, I might not get the answer right. In fact, I have skipped years altogether, unable to keep track of precisely where I was at a given, significant moment, ageing myself inadvertently though probably in an unconscious effort to avoid a situation that just didn’t seem to fit well. I don’t remember being 28, or 34, at all.

Nevertheless, I have aged, am ageing, and I hope to be gaining something in the process other than crow’s feet. But make no mistake; like wisdom and the acceptance that I enjoy an occasional viewing of Riverdance on PBS, I welcome those too.

If my twenties were all about the dare, the discovery, the excitement of tumult and the quest to be the ingĂ©nue, my thirties have been about things that are far more rooted in understanding. I have still had fun and adventure, and the discovery has not abated, but merely changed course. And I have been brought face to face with both the greatest joy and greatest sadness of my life, so far, which has an effect whether we catalogue it as wisdom or bad luck or just another step on (or off) the path or not. It’s taken me 39 years, but I’ve figured a few things out. Always fluid, these things won’t stagnate, but now I get it; I’m not afraid of these things, at war with them or at the mercy of them anymore. I recognize how some things finally work, and look forward to ushering in the next decade with pomp and silliness and head-shaking laughter over a glass of champagne while discussing what it all means, which of course, is everything nothing.

I know my body
That doesn’t mean I always like it, or it always likes me, but I am so totally comfortable with the rhythms and moods of my physical being that it no longer freaks me completely out. I know why my stomach hurts, and what ovulation feels like and how to nourish it with things it likes and avoid the things it doesn’t. And I know what happens if I don’t heed my own rules. I know I grow things well, like babies and bumps and marks and unless I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, I know it’s not cancer. My outer self may never be the package I want, but I’m not having any more conversations with myself or anybody else about how to change. I do not feel particularly beautiful, I do not feel thin, I have never felt tall, so I don’t worry about that. I’m good. It’s absolutely not important to me that I do not look like I used to, and I will not waste any more of my energy agonizing over it, because,

I know my mind
I think. A lot. Too much. This particular attribute used to cause me pain and confusion and a degree of anxiety that I would cover up with a cultivation of what I considered to be biting wit, but which actually was a certain amount of self-loathing. Now, I get it. I get me. I know who I am, what I believe in, what I care – and don’t care – about, and what I should and should not spend time worrying about. I have learned how to laugh at myself, how to accept others as is and how to kick you to the curb if necessary. My bullshit metre is high, but so is my dedication to the people and things I care about. I still occasionally do things I regret, but I recover a lot more quickly, and I am no longer afraid to make amends or cut my losses as the situation demands. My personal philosophy is one I feel comfortable existing in.

I know my heart
This is what my thirties have been truly good for. I will look back and know that, if love is a reckoning, it happened here. Finding love is fun. But knowing love in all of its capacities is a gift. A mind-blowing, hard-fought, hard-won, prickly, soft, to be mauled and manhandled, to be caressed tenderly, gift. I have the partner I want, and I know this because we have made many, many decisions to be together and offer each other our love. Some of these decisions are minute and taken completely for granted by one or both of us, and some of these decisions have been the most deliberate we’ve ever made, on the heels of wrenching pain or ecstatic pleasure. We make the decision to love each other and stay together a million times a day. And I’m glad. But the other way I now know love has been completely involuntary. The way I love my children borders on the ridiculous, the absurd – I love who my two girls are as funny, smart, gorgeous people, which is lucky, but I also love them on a level I can only describe as cellular. I love them the way I love my lungs – I simply don’t think I could function without them. Being a mother is insane, and it kills me and creates me anew every single day. If you are a parent, you know this love, and if you are not, you don't. That's not judgement, it's just truth. 
And then, of course, knowing my heart means knowing it broken. My father’s death when I was 32 shattered me in very distinct ways. I don’t kid myself into thinking that heartbreak will never visit me again, but it has influenced my thirties; worked to shape who I am as I stroll out of this decade and into the next, hands holding those I care about most, no longer trembling or trying to decide who I am.