Recently I had a birthday. Also recently I read This is 38, a post I loved from Lindsey Mead on being, well, thirty-eight. And then I read This is 57, from Cynthia Newberry Martin.
Here’s one for the decade in between.
This is 49.
49 is watching my oldest graduate from college. 49 is not understanding, at first, why he seems distant when we visit him that graduation weekend in New York. Not understanding, at first, how terrifying it must be to leave the safety of college for a freelancer’s life in filmmaking. Not understanding because, at 49, it was so long ago that I graduated from college myself. Yet not so long ago that he was my gruff-voiced boy who could build any Lego model he set his sights on. I’ve always believed in him. Why should now be any different?
49 is watching my daughter graduate from high school a week later. 49 is remembering that long ago summer, at the end of senior year, when a circle of friends had finally come together and become like air to me, filling me up. The Police’s Synchronicity had just come out, and we hung out at each other’s houses, listening and in love with each other, in that charged space between high school and college. 49 is understanding that our girl’s friends will fill up her days this summer, will fill up her heart, until summer ends and we fly her to college in New York. 49 is knowing that heart-imploding moment of leaving her there with her one-way ticket (because we’ve been through it before) and deciding not to think about it for now.
49 is having a birthday in the midst of the graduations and thinking, At least I didn’t turn 50 on top of it all.
49 is seeing photos of myself ten years ago and thinking I looked gorgeous–even though I’m sure I disliked them then. 49 is being wrinkled and wracked because I grew up with fair skin in the 70s and 80s, a time when we slathered ourselves in baby oil instead of sunscreen, and then we laid out. 49 is catching my reflection in a car window, or the selfie-view on my camera phone and thinking, Dear Lord, when did I get that old-lady neck? 49 is trying to see the full half of the glass: I hardly ever have to shave my legs these days. There aren’t yet grays to cover in my dishwater hair. My laugh lines are deeper than the crease between my brows.
49 is leaving behind bikinis, but still believing that my body can do new things. 49 is sighing over the yoga poses in Phyllis Grant’s Instagram feed and vowing to nail a handstand. 49 is going to Dailey Method classes twice a week, and admiring the svelte arms of the college girls but being more impressed by the kickass 60-year-old with her full-form push-ups and planks.
49 is feeling smug that I’ve raised a daughter who loves Conor Oberst as much as I do. Who runs downstairs on my birthday, breathless, to tell me that his new album is on NPR’S First Listen. 49 is hearing the song “You Are Your Mother’s Child” for the first time on that 49th birthday, just before both of those graduations, and standing in the pantry, sobbing.
49 is having friends with newly-emptied nests, and hearing tales of salad dinners and mid-week music shows. 49 is knowing that we’d be there too, if not for the fact of that twelve-year-old. 49 is realizing that we have a whole ‘nother teendom ahead of us–this time with the charming kid who figured out how to take shots of his butt on PhotoBooth at three, who has snuck more cookies for breakfast than his siblings ever did, who has cracked more passwords. Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
49 is meeting fellow homeschooling mamas who are nursing. And envying them that cocoon of closeness, but knowing I wouldn’t want to start all over again.
49 is still going to concerts with my husband. We drink gin and tonics at Dogwood before shows at The Fox and giggle that many of the hipster patrons are the same age as our kid. 49 is having a husband with a baby face and Spanish skin who still gets carded. And loving him and despising him for it.
49 is being married to that husband for almost 26 years–more years married than not. 49 is still being amazed at his ability to clean up, and fix things, and go, go, go after working all day. 49 is learning to be parents of young adults together, and knowing that he’s the only one in the world who sees the two-year-old simmering just beneath the surface of the 22-year-old, like I do. 49 is still loving a glass of wine together–in a restaurant, at the kitchen table, on our patio as the sun sets–and making plans. Only now our plans aren’t of the kids we’ll have, and the house we’ll build–but the house-fixes we’ll make, the trips we’ll take. The times the five of us will be together again.
49 is having parents who are healthy, and finally learning to stop taking this for granted. In August they celebrate their 50th anniversary. My father chases down super moons with his camera after midnight; my mother spends time with the old, the bereaved, the dying, and goes to exercise class, despite having her knee replaced last June. 49 is having friends with parents who are sick, who are gone, and realizing that I am incredibly blessed.
49 is clipping a Fitbit to my undies. Getting a little rush every time that message on my phone tells me I nailed my 10,000 steps.
49 is green smoothies for breakfast and salads for lunch. 49 is eating less cheese, less bread, but knowing that I will never, ever give up pizza.
49 is having come of age in the 80s, when I cruised around the suburbs in my baby blue Pinto with the fake wood paneling and the ET Phone Home! bumper sticker, Duran Duran’s Rio blaring from the speakers. 49 means dressing up like Madonna circa Desperately Seeking Susan for Halloween and having the young homeschooling mamas look at me quizzically because they don’t get the reference. 49 means watching The Breakfast Club with my daughter and having her say I wish I grew up in the 80s. 49 means teaching her how to make her hair big, and knowing that while my own hair will never reach the heights that it did at 21, I will never give up my hair spray.
49 is understanding that I am more of a weird introvert than I ever realized. 49 is getting that I’m socially awkward, terrible at cocktail talk and that I get worked up about abstract ideas that don’t interest most people. 49 is being kind to my inner dork, and being grateful for the friends who put up with me.
49 is beginning to exchange playdates and park days for breakfasts and lunches with the ladies–and understanding that these will fuel me when my kids are gone.
49 is having spent seventeen years homeschooling kids. 49 is knowing that before long my days will be my own, and feeling giddy at the prospect. 49 is imagining days of writing for hours–and knowing that the years before will be my subject matter.
49 is seeing the gnarled hands of an old woman in a cafe, and beginning to see the beauty in all those hands hold. 49 is trying to see my own hands, slowly spotting and deflating, with the same kindness and reverence.
49 is the year before 50. 49 is revving up. 49 is hurtling towards a year that is anything but depressing, I see that now. A year that is full of life, and potential, with a focus on the self that I haven’t had since 20, but with less self-centeredness, somehow. A year that is the glorious sum of all that came before it, with the wrinkles so necessary to prove it.
I love this. You make me excited for 49, which I know will be here before I know it!! And I think one thing that’s common no matter our age is this sense of shock and wonder at where we are. Do you think we all feel younger, always, than our chronological age? I’m beginning to suspect so. xox
Shock and wonder, Lindsey, yes! I definitely feel younger than 49, but I’m not sure what age I’d peg myself at. Not 18, that’s too young. 35, maybe? Young enough to see any outfit in the Anthropologie catalogue and (mistakenly) think I can pull it off!
Readers, if you haven’t seen Lindsey’s wonderful post–which inspired mine–go read! Link up top.
Happy Birthday! You *are* incredibly blessed. 🙂
I don’t know what age I “feel,” but I do know you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to my late teens/early 20s. I haven’t yet hit a birthday that made me melancholy.
I’m with you, Amy. My kids’ birthdays make me feel melancholy, but I always look forward to my own!
What a wonderful post and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!
I shared this on my facebook adding this:
“What a wonderful post. I love hearing others being proud and happy with their age, whatever that is. Because I think it really is just a number and it is all about your attitude, just my opinion.”
Thanks so much for sharing, Alexandra! Yes, I’m all about flaunting my age! Flaunting the wrinkles is a little harder, but I’m getting there. 🙂
Oh Patricia, you made me cry! Your looking back, your looking forward. This is a lovely post. Thank you so much for sharing with us. X
I’m sorry I made you cry; I’m happy I made you cry! Pulling each other along on this ride is what it’s all about, huh, Kirsten?
As always, you inspire, Patricia. So many pieces I can relate to while others seem so far away. At 42, I have three kiddos (11, 9, and 6). Such magic in these next few years, but I do dream ahead at times. I have come to love who I am and all I can do. I too marvel at that 60 yr old, but sometimes wish I hadn’t taken that 20 yr old body for granted. Wise words you have shared. Happy Birthday!
Don’t they say that life goes in 7-year cycles, Heather? If so, I’m one ahead of you! “So many pieces I can relate to while others seem so far away.” So true! It all comes in phases. Eat up that phase you’re in now. It’s wonderful.
First of all, happy birthday!!! Second, what a lovely post, love it. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you, Kim!
What a treat to read after having many emotional thoughts leaving behind my two loves in Chicago and New York and coming home to the realization that self acceptance and love are essential. Love your post.
Yes, Jenny, and the other thing that’s essential: breakfasts and lunches with mama friends! We will carry each other through the changes. xo!
I loved reading this, Patricia. And I was trying to keep track of my favorites but then I got to the last one, and it just blew me over. Yes, yes, yes, hurtling toward the next year–that will never be less, that will always be “the glorious sum of all that came before it.”
Thank you so much for coming by to say hello, Cynthia! I found your list via Kate Hopper, and I knew that, come my birthday, I’d want to make my own. Yours was a particular inspiration since you are at the stage just ahead of me, and it’s comforting and encouraging to gain that perspective. Many of my readers are a stage behind me, and I hoped they’d appreciate getting the same sort of preview I got from you. Thank you for helping to make my fifties something to look forward to. Enjoy 57!
And thank you for giving me a look back–and also thanks for sharing the link. Enjoy 49 : )
After reading your post I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I feel so fortunate to have spent more than half those 49 years with you!
Aw sweetie, you know you’re my favorite 49-year-old in the world–even if you don’t look it! I’m so glad to have your hand to hold as we dash towards 50. xo.
Isn’t it amazing how we mature? I will turn 43 this year. I don’t even have teenagers yet. My baby is 4 y.o. But I can see my Grandmother’s hands in mine. I enjoy my sagging breasts and my stretch marks because they fulfilled a purpose. I remember a time when I stressed about fat thighs, big breasts, stretch marks on my hips. 🙂 YOu look beautiful at 49. What a full and blessed life! Congratulations and a toast to many more! 🙂
You are so wise, Tereza! Rather than seeing “old lady hands”, you see your grandmother’s hands in yours. That’s beautiful.
And yes, what a full and blessed life it is!
So happy to see a new post from you. Totally get where you are on almost every front – including Duran Duran, being a weird introvert and getting worked up about abstract ideas that don’t interest most people. Ha! Hope you had a great birthday! 🙂
Hi Nancy Carol, I’m responding to comments belatedly, after returning from a trip…
One of the best things about blogging is meeting kindred spirits. Glad to know people who get me!
I love your post. Profound and funny – like usual. I can relate to many of your reflections.
And yes 50 is the summation of the years before. It is somehow like a breakthrough, like something coming forth to express itself, that has long germinated inside. It is spontaneous, enthusiastic, invigorating and just powerful and fun. And being the oldest student at the dance school makes me feel pretty good about my age too. I think internally we are timeless, don’t really ever feel a certain age, just maybe a bit wiser, a bit more in charge of our emotional self with more years lived in this body and this world. Congratulations to your children. You and your family are a wonderful example for successful home learning. Enjoy your 50th year of life and many more thereafter!
Oh Gabi, thanks. You make fifty sound so good! Thank you for all the good wishes. (I owe you an email; we were in France for a few weeks and I’m catching up!)
Happy Birthday Patricia!
Thank you for sharing all the beauty of your 49th birthday!
Thank you, Eliza!
I loved this post and identified with it in so many ways (like the reference to “laying out” slathered in baby oil!), and in other ways it gave me something to look forward to. 49 sounds like it’s bittersweet, intense, REAL, and all about being at home in your own skin, at home in your memories, at peace with what’s behind you and ready for what’s to come. Thanks so much for this beautiful piece of writing and the lovely photos!
Thank you for the good wishes, Carrie!
(I’ve been meaning to send you an email. Things have been so crazy lately that I’m just going to pass along a thought right here, otherwise I fear I’ll never get around to it! You may have read that I’m writing a column for the new magazine home/school/life. I mentioned you to the editor after noting that there was a short bit on Charlie Chaplin in the first issue. I wondered if she’d be interested in a story about your research, and your trip and how it all dovetails with your homeschooling. She suggested that you pitch a story to her. If you’re interested, I think you should! I think your story of how you got started studying Chaplin, and where it’s taken you and your family so far is fascinating. It would make a great read for homeschooling families. xo!)