If 40 is the New 30, Then What Did I Miss? by Melissa Swedoski
As a later in life mother, you get used to running around with younger people. Sometimes they’re only a couple of years younger, and sometimes they’re 20 years younger. You learn to roll with it, because in the end, kids are pretty much the same, at least when it comes to running their parents ragged. Yes, some moms manage to look better while they’re doing it (hello, nicely toned yoga girl), but in the end, most of us want what’s best for our kids and that’s what drives our decision making, regardless of age.
Or does it?
I’m in the process of observing a young lady turn 30. And what an interesting sociological endeavor it has been. I actually had my “panic” year at 29. The end of my 20s was coming, and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t any closer to marriage or kids or career or anything very exciting. I took full advantage of my 20s to do stupid things, just like everyone says you’re supposed to do. I drank too much, partied too much, dated way too many wrong men, made some questionable career decisions and just in general, lived it up.
When I finally did turn 30, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I had already spent almost a year thinking of ways to get it together, so I felt pretty good at 30. Well, as good as you can feel when you’re about to finish grad school and you have no idea where or how you’re going to find a job. And then you do. And the job sucks. But that’s a different story.
While I recognize that memory tends to alter the reality that occurred, I still think turning 30 wasn’t too bad. So this experience of watching a young woman turn 30, behaving as though it’s the end of the world, well, it’s annoying. And also utterly hilarious.
Where did we get this notion that life ends at 30? Near as I can tell, finally finishing the drama and upheaval that was my 20s was the best thing that could have happened. No, I wasn’t married, but I knew I would be one day. No, I didn’t have kids, but if that’s how it was supposed to be, then I could live with it. (famous last words) I was ready to get my career back on track after getting roughly derailed in my mid-20s. And yet…
This lovely young lady I know had a wonderful 10 years in her 20s. She didn’t have emotional meltdowns in public or throw up gloriously all night long in a London hotel bathroom. She didn’t have her heart broken in so many pieces that it felt like it would never heal, but she didn’t fill up her dance cards so many times that she forgot some of their names. She opted to marry her high school sweetheart and settle down in their hometown. She chose to commute to college rather than living the dorm life, and she only ever got drunk once – on champagne at her cousin’s wedding.
It wasn’t that it was the safe route or even the comfortable route. It was the path that worked for her, that made her feel serene and secure while also feeling successful. It was so ludicrously happy and satisfying and perfect, that I can’t help but envy her. I can’t help but wonder what kind of person I would be if my 20s had run more smoothly. If I hadn’t known cruelty, betrayal and fear before I left the golden 20s. If I had made better choices and followed my career “plan,” would I be in a better place today?
Now, I understand why she doesn’t want to turn 30. Why would you leave behind the best years of your life? I imagine that’s how I’ll feel when I turn 50.