Extra Pulp: The Big 4-0

Laura Anders Lee turns 40—and is pretty happy about it.

Illustration by David Vallejo

I’m officially over the hill. I was born in January of 1980, which according to some definitions makes me the first millennial, the oldest of my generation. I definitely don’t feel as hip as my millennial peers. Instead of going out to hear a band play at a cool downtown bar (which is way too loud and way too late), I’m happy slipping into bed on a Friday night at 8 o’clock to watch Netflix. I rise at 5:30 with my early-bird son, and by 10:30 a.m., I’m already contemplating lunch.

My children can’t believe their parents were born in the 1900s, before the internet, cell phones and YouTube. My husband, Bryan, and I recently saw Jerry Seinfeld on tour. Our 21-year-old babysitter, who calls me ma’am, had never even heard of him. When I grew up in the ’80s, Nick at Nite played all the classics, like Mr. Ed and Patty Duke in black and white. Now every night they play Friends. The show of my college years is considered an oldie!

But turning 40 doesn’t really come as a shock. For years, I’ve studied my face in the mirror, watching all the signs. My hair has not been kissed by the Florida sun; rather, artificial highlights mask the coarse gray hairs that sprout from the crown of my head. My crow’s feet are becoming more and more pronounced, despite how much expensive eye cream I rub into them with false hope. The products I buy promise “extreme camouflage,” “rapid wrinkle repair” and “instant lift.” A magazine article advises using hemorrhoid cream to treat the bags under my eyes. I could never be that desperate … well, never say never.

I once prided myself on my incredible memory. I can still name my preschool classmates, recall the phone numbers of my elementary school friends and sing all the lyrics to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation album. But I can’t for the life of me remember my latest password, where I set down my phone or why I’ve even walked into a room. Sometimes it feels like my brain has reached its capacity and there is simply no more room for additional information. My friends call it mom brain—years of intense multitasking have turned our minds into scrambled eggs.

Once an athlete, I now do the modified versions of exercises. My knees ache during squats, my lower back hurts on the TRX, and after birthing two boys, there’s no way I’m doing jumping jacks.

But despite all the changes, 40 feels pretty good. My husband of 16 years is graciously one year older so I can always be the younger woman. Our two sons are now 9 and 7, and we also have a new puppy. And even though some days can be frustrating, challenging or even painfully boring, I have exactly what I’ve always wanted.

In my 20s, cellulite and kegels were not in my vocabulary. But I’m much more sure of myself now than I was back then. I care less about what people think. I’m more compassionate toward people who are different from me. I am softer and more generous. Becoming a wife and a mother has taught me how to put someone else’s needs above my own. I’ve learned that at the end of my life, I won’t remember how many deadlines I met or how clean I kept my house, but rather the quality time I spent with family and friends. Over my four decades, I’ve learned it’s not about having a perfect life, but cherishing the perfect moments in a flawed one. After a hectic or mundane day of work, chores, carpool, homework, dinner and bedtime, it’s the spontaneous hug from one of the boys, an unexpected phone call from a friend, or a glass of wine with Bryan when the house is finally quiet and even the puppy is asleep.

I recently learned that a friend from my freshman dorm passed away, just three months after her 40th birthday. She was full of life one day, then gone in an instant. Each day is a gift. Instead of dreading birthdays, we should embrace each passing year.

The best part about my birthday is all the texts, Facebook messages and well wishes from friends and family from all the places I’ve called home, all the phases of my life. With each message is a memory attached, reminders of the special people who have enriched my life.

I’m not sure of the author, but I love this quote: “Do not regret growing older; it’s a privilege denied to many.” So thank you, 40. I feel very privileged—wrinkles, aches and all.

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