This is 40
Dear Younger Self,
Every year, you write a birthday letter to your kids on your blog. Oh, right, I should probably back up a little. You have three kids and a husband at 40! Crazy! And I should explain that a blog is like an online diary that everyone can read on the Internet. Oh, right, the Internet. Well, that’s a little trickier to explain. Nobody uses word processors anymore, they all have computers and use them to access all the information ever known to man. I’m really not doing it justice here. So, ummm, yeah, husband, three kids — oh, and you’ve also published two books, with a third allllllmost done.
But anyway, you write these letters to your kids to tell them what they were like at each age. So your 40-year-old self figured she should outline a few things for you on this momentous occasion. That way, you’ll know what to expect as you get older.
First, to your 8-year-old self, you do eventually get to stay up as late as you want and eat candy for breakfast if you want. You can also play outside after it gets dark. Your 12-year-old self really needs to know that haircut is NOT ATTRACTIVE (it looks like a raccoon is nesting on your head) and you, 14-year-old self, need to shut your smart mouth because your mother actually does know a lot more than you do. Also, 15-year-old self, just wait until you get your contacts next year. It’s going to change everything. Also, you’re not fooling anyone wearing prescription sunglasses. At night. Everyone knows they’re still glasses.
You thought having a phone in your room was the end-all-be-all, 16-year-old self? Just wait til you see the phone that you will eventually carry in your pocket. Although you’ll mostly use that phone to send messages to people, not actually talk to them. Believe it or not, you won’t have time for three-hour phone calls with your friends every night and you won’t need to coordinate your outfits for the next day.
And guess what 17-year-old self, acid-washed, rolled-at-the-ankle Guess jeans and Tretorns are ridiculous. But they’ll both make a comeback in 2013, so you should try to hang on to a few pairs. Oh, and 19-year-old college self? Keep doing what you’re doing. House parties and the terrible fake ID you have for the bars are things you will still talk about with your friends years later and you’ll actually use most of the knowledge you gain in your journalism classes. But don’t regret passing that damn philosophy class by the skin of your teeth — you’ll never use any of it. It really didn’t matter where you went to college. No, really. None of the jobs you will have in your adult life will have come about because of your choice of college. Yes, you needed that degree in journalism, but you earned all those jobs (and there were many) with hard work, strong writing samples and a winning personality. Never underestimate the power of a genuine smile on a job interview.
Poor 21-year-old self, you won’t ever get over your boyfriend taking you to Red Lobster for your big 21st birthday night out. Seriously, years later you will still lament that night. Your friends will make fun of you and recreate the event for your 39th birthday, which will be hilarious, but remind you how stupid that night was.
Now specifically to you, 16-year-old self, that boy is not the one. I will also say it to the 18-year-old self, the 21-year-old self and ESPECIALLY to the 25-year-old self. Oh, 25-year-old self, I wish I could just tell you to walk out on that loser because there is someone so much better waiting for you at Sheffield’s bar two years later. But no, everything led you down the path to where you are now so we can’t change the past without changing the future.
And what a future it is. You, 27-year-old self, will meet a man who makes you laugh, makes you think, makes you calm the hell down and makes you a better person. You don’t know it when you ask him for a glowing shamrock button on St. Patrick’s Day and he sends you an email the next day, but this is the beginning of the best part of your life. He will expand your horizons — quite literally — with travel. He will make you listen to good music. He will support you and challenge you and learn things from you in return. You don’t know it yet, but you will visit five of the seven continents with him and learn how to appreciate other cultures and customs.
And hey, 30-year-old self, great job on the wedding preparations! It was totally worth it and you will want to do it all again. People will still talk about how amazing your wedding was and what a good time they had years later. The ice sculpture wasn’t a waste of money, doing pictures beforehand wasn’t bad luck, the homemade sangria saved you thousands of dollars and you had the time of your life. Also, best decision ever to not drink until the last hour.
Things get a little tricky for you, 31-year-old self, when out of nowhere during a routine pregnancy, you are told the baby might not make it. Your normal life falls by the wayside after you have surgery and are strapped to a bed for four months, wondering the whole time if your baby will survive. But you, 32-year-old self, won’t take no for an answer, gutting it out to give birth to your son, Jackson. You thought you knew love before? Bwahahahaha. This, this right here, is knock-you-on-your-ass, take-your-breath-away, all-consuming love. You count his fingers and toes, take thousands of pictures of him, kiss him, snuggle him, feed him, rock him, worry about him and watch him take his first steps. Somehow, you love your husband even more after watching him with his son. It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, and you will be more bone-tired than you have ever been in your life. You will work full-time from home and insist you don’t need help, that you can do it all. You can’t. But you don’t admit that yet. You worry about the baby — does he eat enough, sleep enough, hit milestones on time? You will consult book after website after blog after online parenting groups. You will smugly think you know what you are doing and then Jack will change things up and you’ll start all over again.
Then we have 33-year-old self, who hates her job so much that she wishes fervently to be a stay-at-home mom. Spoiler alert, 33-year-old self: that wish comes true when you stop taking shit from your batshit crazy boss and she fires you. You are perversely giddy when you get that phone call from HR — see ya, suckas. A few weeks later, 33-year-old self, you’ll find out you are pregnant with a daughter and you will smile for days. Well, smile for the 15 minutes each day when you don’t feel like you want to die from morning sickness. Your daughter, Emily, arrives just before you turn 34 and you instantly feel your heart double in size. When you see Jack meet his sister for the first time, you think your now-bigger heart will burst. Now you’re a four-family.
But even after Emmie joins the three of you, you know it’s not complete, 35-year-old self. When Maeven arrives in a rush of broken water, wicked painful labor and no pushing, she completes your family. And wowsa, 36-year-old self, do you have your hands full. Josh travels every week and you have three kids under four. It’s chaos — little sleep, lots of tantrums and monotony. But the good times are so, so rewarding and hanging at the park on sunny summer days is sooooooo much better than going to any office. You relax a little, too, with this parenting thing. Maeve benefits from a more laid-back mom, one who knows a baby will sleep when she wants to sleep and eat when she wants to eat. You always know the third-time moms because they’re the ones laughing when a first-time mom talks about waking the baby in the middle of the night to eat. They’re also the ones ignoring the crying baby in the stroller while they help boost one kid on the monkey bars and push the other on the swings.
And look at you, 38-year-old self, you finally get it together enough to write a novel. With two kids in school full-time, you have a little more time to pretend you’re a writer and actually publish that novel, which debuts in the top 100 on Barnes and Noble, making you feel like you might just make a go at this author thing. You need to thank your husband, though. His efforts allow you to stay home with the kids, leave the house to write a few days a week, take amazing vacations and live the dream in Lincoln Park. You know he works hard, but so do you, just in different ways. You live a charmed life and you appreciate it, but need a little reminding every now and again how lucky you are.
And then you prepare for the momentous birthday. Forty looms large on your calendar, but 39-year-old self, you need to know how good you have it. All three kids are in school all day and for the first time in seven years, you have time to yourself. You will take full advantage, playing tennis and practicing yoga. You will be in the best shape of your life, weighing less than you did in high school. Three kids hasn’t ruined your body, just the opposite — breastfeeding changed your metabolism and running around like a crazy person after three whirling dervishes keeps you skinny without trying. Your thirties will end with a bang: a Mexican birthday trip with amazing friends and siblings that includes a surprise vow-renewal ceremony. Josh will once again show you why he’s one of the four best things that ever happened to you (the other three being Jack, Emmie and Maeve). You will be more in love now than you were when you married him 10 years ago.
So, younger self, you can see that things are pretty awesome. So chill the hell out about your appearance, you will love how you look at 40. Stop looking for the perfect man, he’s right here, still surprising you at 40. Stop worrying that you’re not cut out to be a mom, you’re raising three smart, funny, gorgeous kids. Don’t obsess about what other people think, the good ones will stick with you and the bad ones will fall away. Cherish the fun that you have in college, but know the fun you have as an adult will be so much better because you can actually afford it. Try to find yourself in your 20s, but know you will have found her by the time you turn 40. And keep honing that sense of humor, because it’s the guiding force in both your personal and professional life.
Now, I wonder if 50-year-old Amy has written a letter for 40-year-old Amy to find somewhere on the Internet?