The 5 Most Frustrating Things About Turning 40

12/13/2013 11:33 EST | Updated 02/12/2014 05:59 EST

I'm turning 40 in a little more than a month. As this milestone has loomed, I've told myself many times that it's not a big deal. Given how long women are now living in this country, 40 is not even middle age! (Except that if you look at StatsCan tables for life expectancy at birth -- which I suggest you do not -- you find that middle age technically hit last year when you weren't even fretting about it.)

I have never been sympathetic to the whining about aging by healthy people in a good life space, but I'm starting to see their point. They grey hair (it's actually bright silvery roots that spring suddenly from the scalp overnight); the bodily sagging and shifting (sorry for the visual); the mix of helplessness and anger at feeling the world is now run by semi-literate 18-year-olds -- it all starts to grate after a while. I know I have so much for which to be grateful, and I'd far rather turn 40 than not. But some of what that entails is too annoying not to vent about, at least a little bit.

So here, in no particular order, are the five most frustrating things about turning 40:

1. The Career.

We have all heard about people taking up a completely new career in middle age. You have a friend who quit her job in finance and opened a dog boutique. More power to her. But realistically, any major career changes at this point are not only tricky, but unlikely. And there are a lot of career paths that by now must be considered completely closed, like being an astronaut or an olympic gymnast. Did I ever want to be either of those things? No. Yet knowing that doing so is now impossible makes me sad. There's something invigorating about having options and aging tends to diminish them.

2. The Appearance.

There are two subtle things that to me sum up what age (and probably the three kids, too) has done to my appearance.

First, while I have been different sizes in my life, it used to be that while I was any particular size, I knew what that size was and could easily buy clothes in that size accordingly. Aging (and pregnancies) have caused bodily shifts and changes (and other nouns I'd rather not get into) such that when I am now asked my clothing size by a helpful salesperson, I have to give a 4-size range. And I'm being neither modest nor hard on myself by doing so. I just never can tell.

Second, doing the occasional television appearance has been part of my job for almost a decade now. When I started, the TV makeup artists used to have me in the chair for about five minutes. They now take a minimum of 15. And I usually get the feeling they wish they had 25.

3. "How long have you been...?"

One consequence of turning 40 is that I've been doing many of the things I like doing for quite a while now. Practicing yoga, writing fiction, playing Scrabble -- it's been years. But I'm still at a beginner-to-intermediate level with this most of this stuff. Which is okay most of the time. However, it becomes a source of embarrassment and self-recrimination when it's highlighted by someone asking, "So how long have you been...", and I answer, "Oh, about 20 or 30 years." A few decades at anything feels like it should produce a seasoned and polished expert. Of course it doesn't in reality -- there are years-long interruptions, actual paying jobs that demand attention, etc. -- but it still gets me down.

4. The Doctor.

O.K., so this is a variation of "The Appearance" in the sense that it also deals with the aging body -- see I'm getting so old, I'm already repeating myself! (I vow not to become one of those serial repeat-storytellers, but stop me if I've told you that before.) The difference here is that what has changed at the doctor has nothing to do with how my body looks or feels. It's all in the doctor's response. Complaints that used to yield a "We'll keep an eye on it, but it's probably nothing" now result in a "Well, it's probably nothing, but given your age, we'd better check it out." And that's in addition to the extra routine medical screening that kicks in now or in the next several years. So hitting 40 brings with it a plethora of bonus tests, scans, pokes, prods and trips to specialists. (Looking forward to many delightful years of mammograms and colonoscopies ahead of me!)

5. The Family.

I am very thankful for my three kids. Not everyone wants kids, but I really did. So if I hadn't been able to have them, I think turning 40 would be a genuinely painful experience for me, rather than the merely mildly frustrating one it actually is. And my kids don't care how old I am. They think I'm unfathomably old already. So they take a lot of the sting out of the birthday.

But the 40 milestone does bring home the reality that at some point, my husband and I are going to be responsible for providing these three human beings with more than just Lego and Pull-Ups. As I'm aging, so will they. And with that aging will likely come orthodontist bills, university tuitions, and dorm room payments. If we're lucky. Then there's the possibility that one or more of them will not want to hang out with me anymore; never mind more serious problems, like how will they learn to responsibly navigate alcohol, sex, drugs and all the other things that I'm not totally sure how I can protect them from without smothering them. Parenting little ones has been exhausting, but I'm beginning to think it may one day look like the easy part of the journey.

From what I've seen of aging, I suspect the same may eventually be said of the (knock-on-wood) first half of my life.


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