I so enjoyed Little Labors, the latest book out from award-winning novelist Rivka Galchen. A stunning, intimate, but thoughtful hybrid work, Little Labors is definitely a recommended read for this summer.
In this big picture, find the locket, the John Lennon spectacles, blue eyeshadow, bangs trimmed straight, August, yellow #5, a red balloon (not to be confused with The Red Balloon), a tray wiped clean, a downward glance, an elephant, love, another elephant, motherhood, hints of a Bubbi in a baby’s breath, a candle blown, “she looks like you Mom,” uncertainty, a glassy iris, love, the end of an exhale, one year, 26, 11 in between days, a hidden picture, gingham.
I don’t know if it’s temporal, situational, or hormonal, this shift.
It certainly resembles the week leading up to my period with its moodiness, its gentle swaying between certainty and confusion.
There are moments, for instance, when I can’t speak anything but the absolute truth; even when I know it will hurt, even if I know I will pay.
There are moments, too, when I slip into a dark tunnel, the Hadron collider of womanhood: understanding that I can’t have both what I want and what I imagined I wanted years ago. They can’t live together in my world of almost 40. They will combust there together and set me on fire.
The kind of fire that burns people.
I can’t stretch my arm far enough down to reach the me who slipped behind the back of the sofa. She’s choking on dust bunnies down there, but I can’t reach her.
I almost don’t even want to.
“Sorry!” I yell to her; the one who dreamed of lots of babies. I leave her with the dust bunnies, and run off instead to play Hickory Dickory Dock.
“40 is the new 30,” said a friend of mine the other day.
That would totally and completely suck, I just realized.
Yes, my hair was blonder.
Yes, my breasts were firmer.
Yes, I had ten years ahead of me still ‘ til 40.
wow. 30. 2004. Mom of one very restless baby. Up to my eyeballs in change … not bad change but the kind that causes upheaval that equals frequent upset. Orange vomit on my shoulder a lot. Not a lot of friends nearby. Unrealistic expectations of marriage, parenthood, community, work, friendship, life.
It’s not that I’m BRILLIANT now.
But I am now aware enough to know how dumb I am. And how age brings a wisdom born of experience that in some ways is better than firm breasts.
The more I speak about and write about 40, the more people (read “women”) say to me:
I loved my 40s
The 40s have been the best years of my life
I really found myself in my 40s
These kind of comments, from real people, are uplifting and have actually started to ignite in me a desired anticipation — the kind I remember feeling in the months leading up to 13. When was the last time we were truly excited for a birthday … not because we had a crazy evening planned or a vacation, but because it was appropriate to celebrate our advance? What happens to our birthday joy as we age?
I have a summer birthday and so I used to be very familiar with anticipation in advance of birthdays. My friends often reached milestones ahead of me : 13, 17 (driving age in NJ), 18, 21, etc. Those last few months before it was my turn were always killer. The summer I was 12, waiting for 13, I remember telling boys when they asked at the camp social, “how old are you?” that I was 13. That my birthday had been in April. For some reason, that mattered then. As if they wouldn’t ask me to dance unless I was old enough to have boobs. (The boobs wouldn’t come for 4 more summers.)
Last summer, when I turned 39, I remember feeling a sense of dread. It didn’t help that last summer I also suffered from a bunch of moderate health issues, serious enough to impact my daily life . (It’s likely that at least half of them were stress-related, and maybe 1/4 “pre-40” related.)
My 39th birthday, spent with family by the Jersey shore was lovely, but undercut by a constant heartburn. The antacids didn’t help. The gluten-free diet didn’t help. The technology detox didn’t help. I understand now it’s because the heartburn was only partly physical. Much of it was existential. Prilosec can’t help with that. Not even the Wild Berry flavor.
This summer, I am determined to drop the burn. Be all heart. Feel 12 again. I am determined to want 40. So badly that I pretend like I already am.