Today I turn 39, which sounds very grown-up. I’m now of an age where I’m supposed to fear and resent aging, but I don’t. Sure, my skin isn’t what it used to be, but there’s only one alternative to aging, and it’s even harder on the skin.
I don’t dread the fact that I’m approaching 40. Indeed, I’ve been approaching 40 since the day I was born. At a steady pace too. Time has neither leapt forward nor stalled along the way. But it does somehow go by unnoticed, doesn’t it?
It hardly feels like nearly a decade has passed since I entered my 30s. It turns out that my 30th birthday was my last as a carefree, child-free person. (On my 31st birthday I was 2 days from giving birth to my first baby!) But on that 30th birthday, motherhood was still some far-off, foggy notion. In the intervening nine years I’ve carried and delivered two humans, and moved three times – and I have the body and damaged furniture to prove it.
I have laugh lines and frown lines and scowl lines; I have responsibilities and anxieties I never dreamed of; I have heart-bursting pride and joy and amazement too; I have debt and obligations and a minivan. I have owned jeans in a wide array of sizes and have at some point probably cursed at each pair.
It is strange to think that at 39 I’m as far from 19 as I am from 59; I’m as far from the girl I was as the woman I’ll be.
At 19 I hiked into and out of the Grand Canyon. I traversed backcountry Colorado on cross-country skis, spending my nights with my boots in my sleeping bag with me so they wouldn’t freeze, camping in shelters I’d dug into the snow. I spent months travelling around Nepal and Thailand. My 19th year was a great year, transformative and full of new experiences. I probably spent more days unwashed sleeping outside than washed and indoors.
My 19-year-old life is extremely far-flung from my current 39-year-old life. The passage of that 20 years has brought with it so many changes, so much living. While it’s hard to picture myself at 59, how could I look forward to the next 20 years with anything but wonder and anticipation? I just don’t see how dread fits into the picture.
So I enter this last year of my fourth decade on Earth with an open mind and gratitude. I am grateful to the 19-year-old I was, who knew to go out and have wild adventures before life’s big trappings tied her down. She watched the sunset over the Himalayas, so it’s OK if now I don’t often leave the house after dark because I have two kids sleeping upstairs who need their mother nearby. She endured extremes, braved unknowns, and survived a 57 day stretch with no shower, so I know that I have what it takes to handle the rigors of 39, complete with its homework battles, poignant childhood experiences, and uncomfortable conversations.
Just as my 19-year-old self’s experiences were an investment in my 39-year-old self, so, too, is my life now an investment in my future 59-year-old self. For her, I reject dread and won’t fret over aging. I will not inject ass-fat into my face to hide the lines I’ve earned by living. Instead, I’ll celebrate my 39th birthday and feel no shame over my age. May the next 20 years be as ample and surprising as the last.
(I recognize that this might be my first annual 39th birthday, as panic might seize me this time next year. One does not reach the ripe age of 39 without gaining enough wisdom to know that panic and rational thought are unrelated, and a woman is free to change her mind.)