The week before I turned 40, I felt sad, restless, and overwhelmed. New violence and hopelessness has come to Palestine. Over 700,000 orphans remain in Russian orphanages. The general public shows more interest in drunken debutantes and pop singers than in the Iraq War. Two provocative voices from the left, Rosie O’Donnell and Cindy Sheehan, recently resigned from high-profile positions that put them in the crosshairs of a press loaded for bear. Closer to home, my daughter is struggling with reading, I’m behind in writing and bill paying (and laundry and cleaning . . .), my formerly gentle baby boys have suddenly become burp- and fart-joke obsessed preschoolers, and I’m 30 pounds overweight. Still. Was I depressed because I was turning 40? Or was it everything else?
When I was a child, “40 years old” sounded ancient. Then again, so did 30. So did 25. I don’t feel older today than I did a week ago. But there’s something about that four-zero that puts the brown spots on my hands, the grey hairs I pay my colorist top dollar to cover, the creaking of joints when I bend to retrieve a Happy Meal toy from under the couch, and my appreciation for Josh Groban’s music, all in perspective. “Too much fucking perspective,” as David St. Hubbins says in This Is Spinal Tap.
Over the weekend, however, this perspective changed a bit. The Friday night before my birthday, ten of my best girlfriends took me to a salon, where we were babied with our choices of manicures and pedicures and facials and brow waxes. We drank red wine and ate dark chocolate. We sang along to Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, The Fifth Dimension, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. We laughed a lot. My best friend from 4th grade through high school, my children’s godmother, and the gestational surrogate who carried my sons in her womb for more than eight months (without accepting a dime) all were there. The friend who introduced me to life-saving therapy and took me on my first European vacation met my newest girlfriend, a hip, sassy skirt designer here in town. The close-as-a-sister girlfriend who lives 13 blocks away busted her butt co-organizing the party, and a cherished friend from out of state drove four-and-a-half hours through bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic to attend. My children’s beloved former nanny showed up with a bottle of wine branded “Jezebel.” Later in the evening, while my two regular babysitters poured shots of Wild Turkey down their throats, the rest of us (mostly moms who had to get up early the next morning) shouted in horror and admiration.
“You have great friends,” they all said to me, one after the other. “Let’s do this for your birthday every year!”
On my actual birthday three days later, my husband took a personal vacation day and pampered me with a couple’s spa package including massage and mineral soak, followed by dinner, a movie, and wine on our friends’ back patio. By the light of Chinese lanterns and citronella candles, the four of us told stories about our families and our pasts and laughed until the stroke of eleven (at which time our babysitter turned back into a tired college student). Later, our sons slipped into our room by moonlight and crawled into bed beside us, and our daughter woke me in the morning with her usual, happy racket.
For that one night and one day, I did little to take care of anyone else. No one asked me to wipe their bottom or whined because he was hungry or pitched a fit when she wasn’t allowed to go across the street to the neighbors’. That would all come later. (And, not surprisingly, I’d have much more energy for it when it did.) But for a while, the depression lifted, and the troubles of the world didn’t seem larger than the love in it.
People say that 40 is the new 30, but I’m pretty okay with plain old 40, too. At 30, I was still letting other people define me and my spirituality. I had faith in a religion, but not faith in myself. I knew what I believed, but not who I was. At 30, I didn’t have more than half of the friends that are in my life today; I didn’t have the deep relationship with my husband that I have now. I didn’t have my kids. I was still developing my understanding of the value of diversity, of the differences between religion and spirituality, of the importance of personal responsibility and stretching my worldview.
At 20, I thought I could change the world. At 40, I’m terrified that I won’t change it enough. I once worried about the God I would face at the end of my life, but today I’m far more concerned about the world my children, and their children, will face during theirs.
I know that I’m lucky, blessed or both. I have three healthy, funny, kindhearted children; a husband I love, who loves me back; meaningful work; shelter, health care, plenty of food. Perhaps it’s inevitable that big milestones will trigger self-reflection, even depression and ennui. There’s still much I want to accomplish in this life. Some days, even the most basic responsibilities — getting dinner on the table, the snack apples cut into slices, the kids bathed, a much-needed load of whites cycled through the washer and dryer — kicks my ass. But I do what I can. I buy olive oil from the Holy Land, to help the Palestinian farmers and their families. I massage the family budget, looking for corners to cut so we can somehow adopt another Russian child. I attend war protests, think positive thoughts, meditate, pray. I tuck my children into bed with kisses and old camp songs. I thank God and the Universe for my husband, for my friends. I do what I can, wherever I can, and I get a little older, every day.