Maybe it happened the year I bought my first minivan. I was around thirty-five, had four children to cart around town like a taxi driver on steroids, and the thought of automatic sliding doors that tiny humans couldn’t corrupt with greasy french-fry fingers gave me joy.
We live in a college town, and up to that point, I’d driven a black Expedition, not a total mom car, the way a minivan is perceived. I’d still felt young in my early thirties and able to turn the head of a college boy every now and then. I would never have acted on it, of course, but it was nice to be noticed after four kids and many years of marriage to a man who’d gotten used to seeing me in pjs and a bun.
Probably not too hard to believe I was never noticed in the minivan, and I realized it the day I pulled up to a red light in that thing.
There I sat, staring at a Tahoe full of college boys stopped next to me, and not a single one of them looked my way.
Or maybe it was after my hysterectomy at thirty-four. Though the doctor had tried to leave both of my ovaries in place, one had been so covered with fibroids it had to be removed. He warned that I might not feel like myself after a while, that it was a necessary part of life to go through “the change.” But I had no idea it would be like this.
My stomach blew up like a balloon overnight. My muscles turned to mush, and I had zero sex drive and even less sleep. I craved sugar like the Cookie Monster, and I snapped at the tiniest inconvenience.
In 2020, I turned forty. I completed my first year of returning to full-time teaching after an eleven-year-hiatus, my oldest son graduated high school, our dog of fifteen years died, and then, crazy of all crazies, a pandemic hit.
Clayford lost his job two weeks in, I was teaching online school and wanted to jump off my second-story deck, and my children were miserable.
We were lost, lonely and scared.
We were terrified for our parents, worried about our children, and like you, I’m sure, anxious for the future.
There are normal stressors that occur during the 365 days the Earth moves around the Sun. But 2020 was not a year of normal stressors and as it’s turned out, the first half of 2021 hasn’t been so great, either. But there has been a silver lining in all of this. It’s allowed many of us to sit down and hash out what’s been right and wrong in life so far. We’ve had a quiet moment or two to “take inventory” on where we’ve been and where we’re going.
Earlier this year, I took an honest look in the mirror and was forced to admit that I’m not “attractive” anymore.
I use quotes because attractiveness is pretty subjective; what one finds beautiful, another may not. But I’d always been (at least in my teens and through my thirties) told I was pretty, and I’d gotten plenty of attention for it.
In fact, what I realized at forty was that any good thing I’d gained in my life, I’d gotten by using my outside beauty and a dang good ability to flirt, and now, having lost those assets, I suddenly saw myself as weak, worthless and less than. What good was I if I didn’t have the thing I’d relied on for so long?
Around February of this year, I sank into a deep depression. All of 2020 had been rough, but in January of 2021 I’d been diagnosed with Covid the same day my precious nephew died by suicide. My illness was painful physically, no doubt, but mentally, Covid jacked me up.
I wrestled worries I’d never fought before, like the fact that if I were even lucky enough to live as long as my grandmothers, I was more than halfway through my life. Both had died before reaching 80. What good had I done? What bucket list item had I never checked off? How would people remember me? As good? As not-so-good?
Even more, what the heck did I believe in? Did I really believe in an Almighty God? Did I believe what the Catholic Church said about him? What the Southern Baptist said? What the Bible said?
Had I married Clayford for the right reasons and did we even really love each other? Did I want to stay married til death do us part to a man I have zero in common with?
Had I been a good enough mother not to raise children with mountains of issues?
And what about my career? Why had I chosen teaching? What did I really want to do? Who did I really want to be?
Call it a midlife crisis, call it being cooped up inside in the middle of a pandemic, call it whatever. What it really felt like was death.
Not a literal death, of course, but a death in the sense of a complete and total change from who I’d been, to who I was becoming.
At first, I researched all kind of diets and workouts and plastic surgeries I could get. I wanted to find and do anything I could to lose weight, build muscle and look young again.
It’s become clear to me when I scroll through social media that I’m not alone in my quest for the eternal fountain of youth. Many women my age are using Botox, and whereas poking needles full of old poison in your face used to seem so controversial, it now seems controversial to age naturally.
My search has shown me that in addition to Botox, for women in midlife, spending an hour at the gym is now the norm. Eating clean, intermittent fasting, and keto are the new buzzwords for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It’s like we all want to live forever.
Listen, I have nothing against feeling your best. But the amount of focus on “self” that practicing all of the above requires (not to mention the amount of time and money), most definitely would lead me down a rabbit hole of worry, anxiety and most of all, pride.
I love who I am and I’ve worked hard to become this person. I want to look good; I want to feel good. But not at the expense of losing who I really am.
I don’t want to be you. I don’t want to be her. I want to be me.
Have you noticed that women (I can’t speak for men) are all starting to look “alike”? I don’t know if it’s the influence of reality TV or that we’re so obsessed with youth, but you can’t look at Instagram without seeing post after post of middle-aged women dressed in LuLu Lemon and a crop top, same tight look between the brow, same hair, same makeup, same farmhouse decor in the background, doing the same tiktok dance as their sixteen-year-old daughter.
We are even starting to have the same opinions on hot button issues, as if no one is able to fully think on their own anymore.
I don’t know, maybe turning forty has woken me up to how fast life goes by, but I don’t want to waste time trying to be everyone else’s version of perfect and successful.
I get that the need to be attractive in midlife is strong. I get that we’re living in a Kardashian-saturated world where we all want to be living our “best life” as stars in our own show. (I actually have absolutely nothing against the Kardashians- I really think they’d probably prefer people not try to be them.)
I get that sixty year-old men are now choosing twenty year-old women who are young enough to be their granddaughters, and that twenty year-old women are still stupid enough to believe these sixty year-old men will live forever and can pay for both the old family and a new wife and child.
The rules have both changed and not changed of what’s acceptable and not acceptable for women our age. We are supposed to do it all, have it all, and look phenomenal, too. We’re supposed to be workaholics, Type-A moms, Betty Crockers in the kitchen and vixens in the bedroom. But ironically, we’re also not supposed to care about any of it.~ Month to Milestones
I get that life is changing and we can start to feel like we’re losing control. But we aren’t. We’re still here, and it’s our choice to be authentic, individualistic women who define what midlife looks like in the twenty-first century.
The opinions, the double standards, the judgment…it will make your head spin.
Here’s where I landed on my midlife crisis:
I’ve decided to take life day by day.
Every morning I wake up, I stretch, I have my coffee, I read my Bible.
I talk to God and I tell Him what I want.
I open my heart to receive new mercies and revelations.
I seek to have gratitude, genuine love for others and a childlike faith.
I allow myself to briefly feel the waves of sadness that wash over me sometimes when I think of growing older.
I understand that change is a part of life and that’s it’s possible to both grieve what might have been or what once was and to still be thankful for what now is and what’s to come.
So now, I try not to judge when I see a post of a woman who is struggling desperately to hang onto her youth. We aren’t all walking the same journey and living on the same timeline. We grow and stagnate. We bloom and we wither and we blossom again. We have dry seasons and seasons of heavy rain. Peaks and valleys.
It’s why loving each other is of utmost importance.
Tomorrow my whole world could change and I might very well run straight to the plastic surgeon myself.
But for today, when I look in the mirror, I’ll try to remember that growing older is a privilege, not a right.
And I’ll be thankful I’m still here, wrinkles and all.