This Is The Day Before 40
by Rachel Levin
“July 18th” read the email that appeared a couple of weeks ago at the top of my inbox, so bold-faced and full of promise.
Ah, the day before my 40th birthday, I thought; Josh must have something fun planned for My Big Middle-Aged Moment. Dinner at State Bird? A weekend in Big Sur? Ooo, a Billy Joel concert?
Back when 40 sounded as far, far away as 50, I had all sorts of plans, too. Oh, by 40 I was supposed to have been a New Yorker staff writer; a Kenyan-level marathoner; an unselfish mother. (I mean, if a mother at all, which was not so much on my “To Accomplish List” as it was on my “To Put Off Until the Last Possible Moment and My Husband Makes Me List.”)
I was supposed to be the mature adult I’d always avoided being, but by the time I actually turned 40 presumed I’d just naturally, you know, be.
But now here I am, a day away from the birthday every female dreads — despite Tom Junod’s recent backhanded ode to women even two whole years older — and I’m 0 for 3:
The New Yorker once paid me $1,200 for a short piece, but then it never ran. I haven’t run 26.2 miles since the year 2000. And as for the unselfish mother thing… weeeell, I just took a two-week solo trip to Bhutan, the other happiest place on earth, and left my two little kids at home.
Which brings me to my less, shall we say, lofty goals. You know, the stuff I just expected to have gotten around to by the dawn of my fourth decade. Like, learn to ride a bike. (Yup, pathetic, I know. 0 for 4.)
By 40, I was supposed to have done something about my hair. I was supposed to have put my wedding photos into an album and read Moby Dick and purchased matching bath towels and prepared for the earthquake. I was supposed to have stopped ordering take-out Thai food twice a week and drinking wine six and started calling my grandmother once and having sex with my husband at least every other.
I was supposed to have stopped buying airplane movies like Awkward Moment and watching The Bachelor and, according to my friend Katie, waltzing around in bikinis. I was supposed to have remembered my nieces’ birthdays and been a prompt thank you note writer and started making my own tomato sauce instead of spending nine bucks on a jar of Rao’s. (But their Arriabata is just so damn good.)
I was supposed to have cured my allergies and done Invisalign and finally booked a dermatologist appointment to make sure I don’t have melanoma, because — after early years spent lathering on the Baby Oil and later years pretending my Neutrogena SPF 15 face lotion counts as sunblock — I bet I do.
I was supposed to have been nicer to my mom and calmer when crossing streets and cooler when mingling at cocktail parties. I was supposed to have learned to make decisions (wise or otherwise) and love beets and pull-off white summer pants and spell “rhythm” right on the first try.
I was supposed to have mastered a softer laugh and slower speech and conversational Spanish and an ability to intelligently discuss Middle East politics.
I was supposed to have worn shoes other than flip-flops or clogs, and have a closet full of appropriate clothes for every occasion, not a closet with a slight mold issue that recently turned my sole pair of leather boots fuzzy with green stuff.
I was supposed to have stopped eating four slices of pizza in one sitting and “carrying the one” when adding a tip on a credit card slip. I was supposed to have started doing yoga and taking shorter showers and checking for lumps. I was supposed to have rid my dresser of holey socks and shrunken wool sweaters and totally stretched-out lacey Hanky Panky thongs, all of which I still wear. Which begs the question: Should 40-year-old women even be wearing thongs?
I know: most 70-year-olds would give up their weekly canasta game to be 40 again.
I know: I’ve lost people I’ve loved before they even made it to 30. I know being Forever 29 isn’t, really, any fun.
I understand the alternative: You either turn 40 or… you don’t.
Still, I don’t know. By now, my Billy Joel obsession not withstanding, wasn’t I supposed to have felt even a little more like… an actual 40-Year-Old?
It wasn’t until I opened Josh’s email that I actually kind of did.
“July 18th, 8:30 a.m.” wrote my sweet, thoughtful, balding husband of seven years. “I made myself a dermatologist appointment — and made you one, too.”
I’m 1 for 40, just in time.
Photo via exfordy/flickr.
Rachel Levin is a San Francisco-based writer and former senior travel editor at Sunset. Her work appears in The New York Times, Outside, Pacific Standard, Food & Wine and on Ozy.com, where she is a contributing editor.