Sailing over the hill
In the ’80s and ’90s, turning forty came with jokes about mid-life crises and being ‘over the hill’. But now that I’m 40, I don’t see that messaging anymore — either it’s outdated or I’m wilfully ignoring it.
In the months leading up to my 40th, I had a lot of emotions but none of them were ‘I’m washed up’ or ‘I’m old.’ I felt a sense of awe and confusion that this was really happening: I was turning FORTY. Me? As in, this person I see in the mirror? FORTY? I still listen to the same music I did when I was a teenager! The 90s were only ten years ago!
But despite my frozen-in-time style (shoutout to Simon malls), haircut (side part always), and musical tastes (90s pop/R&B, obvs), I turned 40 anyway.
We were in Alaska on my birthday, September 3rd. We’d planned to go the previous September but, well — you know. On the day itself we were in Seward, Alaska, and I’d specifically booked a six-hour glacier cruise from Resurrection Bay, not wanting to have a day where I had to make decisions about what to do. It’s a cruise! In Alaska! What could go wrong?
The day dawned with clouds in the sky and drizzle in the air. The captain warned us of choppy seas outside the bay — a promising start. We stood in line with what seemed like hundreds of other people, which made me uneasy after months of pandemic isolation. Our assigned seats were at a shared table in the enclosed dining room, where passengers were playing fast and loose with masks. I swallowed two seasickness tablets and secured a seat outside, barely protected from the whipping winds.
The first two hours passed quickly, as we spotted bald eagles, otters, humpbacks, puffins, and seals. When we arrived at Holgate glacier I was captivated but acutely aware that we had nearly three hours of return journey ahead of us.
I can say it now: the cruise was a mistake. People were careening across the deck to get to the railing so they could spew their lunch into the ocean. I couldn’t wait to get back to dry land.
“Never again,” Jared said.
“Never again,” I agreed.
The next day we had my birthday present, a helicopter ride over the bay. Just two of us and the pilot, directing our own course over the lush green mountains and craggy ice fields. We saw bears galore, including a mother and three cubs loping across the mountains. I’ll write more about this in a separate post, but the experience was worth every penny.
When I look back on my 40th, I’ll selectively remember the helicopter ride and not the cruise; when you’re 40 you can rearrange your memories like that.
What I thought 40 would be like
We threw my dad a surprise 38th birthday party at a regional airport in Indianapolis, where we gifted him an on-the-spot flying lesson. He was into flying, it was a nice space to house all of the guests, and he seemed pretty surprised, at least to 11-year-old me. I thought we were being so sly, throwing a surprise party for an age that wasn’t a milestone.
“He’ll expect it when he’s 40,” I thought, “but no way when he’s 38.”
I try to remember what we did for his 40th, but nothing comes to mind — we used up all of our party-planning abilities for that event. From my 11-year-old perspective, 38 was the same as 40 anyway; to me, my dad was a fully-fledged grown-up, who for sure never questioned what he was doing with his life.
I try to remember what I thought life would be like when I was 40. I assumed I’d be on a career track, with kids and a mortgage and furniture I didn’t buy from Wayfair or Facebook Marketplace. I certainly thought I’d have it all figured out by now, and presumably would just be coasting through life free of all challenges.
I did NOT think I’d be in the second year of a pandemic, living in a grey apartment in Austin with my Australian husband and a rotating collection of foster cats, completely unsure where we’ll be in five years’ time.
The promise of being a grown-up is a scam; we’re all just blundering around a dark room looking for the light switch, only to have people flick it on and yell ‘SURPRISE’ when we least expect it.
Turning 41 and the year ahead
This weekend I’ll turn 41. I started this post in early 2022, then let it stagnate in my drafts for the rest of the year. I had to delete a bunch of mopey paragraphs about the pandemic blues, because — dare I say it — I think I’m finally coming out of that covid funk (not that the pandemic is, or will ever be, over).
I’m restless for change, but I don’t know what kind of change will scratch that itch. We moved states this year and that didn’t do it, so I have a feeling that this is the year I need to get back to myself — to start writing again, pushing my boundaries and (yep it’s going to be cringey but I’m going to say it) growing as a person.
Our plans are already stacking up: next week I’ll be in Orlando for a work conference, then in Indy at the end of the month to help my dad clear out an old storage unit. For context, no one in my family has lived in Indianapolis for nearly a decade so you can only imagine what’s in there. We have a second nephew coming in December, so I’ll be heading back to Colorado to meet him.
We haven’t seen Jared’s family since February 2020, but his parents will be coming from Australia in mid-October! We’ll be exploring the Austin area, going to a Dallas Cowboys game (yay?) and taking them to a small town near Puerto Vallarta for a week. Then in February, we’ll be heading to Australia for two weeks.
After that, it’s wide open. Will we move again? Will I start panicking about turning 42 months before I actually do? Will I finally start writing on this blog, after starting and abandoning countless drafts? Will I scratch the itch or just keep talking about it?
It all remains to be seen. I do know that I won’t be getting on a boat in the open ocean this weekend, so that much is a step in the right direction — maybe wisdom does come with age, after all.