45 Things I’ve Learned on My Way to 40 (That I Wished I Knew Much Younger)

Image uploaded from iOS (15)My brain, and heart, and my vanity are a bit bruised with the realization that I’m stepping on 41. (This is how my father used to greet each year we celebrated a birthday. “You’re stepping on 14!” he’d announce with a huge smile, since birthdays mark the completion of the age you are turning.)

But I am.

At 40 I still consider myself young for several reasons. First, if I got hit by a bus tomorrow and people read my obit, they’d say, “Oh! She was so young!” Second, I feel like I have so much more to learn about life, love, and the universe. Third, I’m only beginning to grasp the things that are most important to me.

And yet. The lines on my brow are more pronounced. My skin isn’t what it used to be. And I have a sideways Z-shaped scowl crease in between my eyebrows from using my deep-in-concentration face far too often.

Lighten up, lady!

I have lived here on Earth, in this body, for four decades.

Along the way, the one thing I’ve most consistently been (besides a female human) is a learner. Most of what I have learned has shocked me, challenged me and made me more whole. And still I persist in humbling myself to the incredible untouched knowledge that surrounds me daily. I am starving with the desire to devour it all.

Yet, learning comes at its own pace, in its own time, when we are ready for it.

As a tribute to the experiences of learning I have had, about six months ago I decided to try to document them, mostly because I wish I’d known most of these a bit younger. Like all my daring intentions begin, this one also started as an experiment. I figured once I documented them, I’d peruse my little experimental list to determine if it was worth sharing. (This is how I trick my ego mind into letting me do stuff without judging me to death.)

I’m not fully certain these are worthy of sharing, but what the heck? I’m 40 now, so who the hell cares?

Full disclosure: these have come from my own experiences as a woman, as a mother, as a wife, as a business owner, and an employee, and numerous other shoes I’ve stumbled around in thus far. That is to say, these ideas/recommendations/musings are unique to my perspective and not at all comprehensive or definitive. So don’t take them that way. I know I don’t.

They are the things I’ve learned along the way that may or may not be helpful to you.

One other detail: since I’ve been compiling these along the way, when tonight came I realized I had 45 to share. Instead of pursuing perfection and editing them down to a more cohesive 40, I got lazy and sassy and ornery, so there are 45. Ergo, in no particular order:

1. Choose your friends very, very carefully. Pick people who know how to handle a fragile heart, rampant self-doubt and are dedicated to helping you find the best version of you.

2. Comparing yourself to other people is a form of self-judgment. It’s highly addictive and highly toxic.

3. At least once be the homeroom parent.

4. Take some photos of yourself pregnant (each time) until you have one you would like to keep. (I’m not talking pre-arranged cheesy photo shoots. Just you, just being. Pregnant.)

5. Don’t stop developing yourself — separate from your spouse, your kids, your family or anything else. You are your best investment.

6. Buy Magic Eraser, OxiClean, Febreze, baby wipes, Clorox Wipes and club soda. They can basically handle any house/clothes/child/spouse/pet/red wine/Sharpie emergency imaginable.

7. Hire a cleaning service and protect it fiercely. Let it be the last thing you cut when times get tough.

8. Times will get tough, whether it is money, family, children, sex, friends, career. When it does, you may get bitter. That’s OK for awhile. But when you are ready, the best antidote to bitterness is to accept the choices you made and then infuse gratitude for the experiences you had because of them.

9. You don’t have to buy a house. You think you do, and it’s nice, but you don’t.

10. The messy, un-manicured moments are the ones you want to capture.

11. There is no formula for your faith. You must eventually create it on your own terms. It might be in the form of a religion. Or not. Either way, your connection to God is what matters most.

12. Take the time and huge personal investment required to teach your children meticulously good manners. This is one of the most useful, productive investments you can make in your kids.

13. Expect that what you will learn in your marriage is that your spouse is flawed. Deeply. And probably not in the way you think. Also, so are you.

14. Understand the unique needs you have as a person. Then create boundaries to protect and minister to them.

15. It really does not matter that: your house is messy, your kids’ socks match, your child’s lunch represents a balanced meal, your Christmas tree goes up on Dec. 1. It just doesn’t.

16. As much as you are able (and even if you don’t especially like them) get to know your parents, and their stories. Writing them down is a bonus. Ask the tough questions and dig into some family mysteries. Once your parents are gone, they will take it all with them.

17. Write lunchbox love notes to your kids as much as you can remember. These small gestures of kindness make a big impact.

18. Whenever you don’t know what to say as a parent: tell your son or daughter you love them no matter what they do or who they are.

19. In a business meeting, hone the art of knowing when to stop talking.

20. If you are the only woman in the room in a business meeting, you must consider this an advantage.

21. Beware the ones who tell you that you can’t. You’ll notice they’re the same ones who haven’t ever.

22. Never apologize for your gifts. Never.

23. Examine your relationship with conflict like a researcher might. Unlocking the pattern of it is likely to lead to greater happiness in life.

24. Hold your spouse accountable for his/her own happiness.

25. Great rules of thumb for kid birthday parties: never on a Sunday, no more than 2 hours and coordinate the number of invites to the age the child is turning.

26. Teach your children: you are not always going to be invited and we can’t always invite everyone.

27. Take time for yourself alone.

28. It’s a huge pain in the neck to pump the tires and keep them inflated, but take family bike rides.

29. Your lady parts will stretch significantly during childbirth. But don’t despair, with a little work, they will bounce back.

30. The best sex you have will be after you are a mother.

31. Keep a mental list of ridiculous things that make you laugh so hard you cry. Refer to them when times get tough or mundane and let go.

32. If you cannot find your ideal work situation, make a careful plan to create it. Test your plan. Then test it again, then test it some more. If it’s profitable, make the leap.

33. When you lead a team, learn something deep about each person involved. Appreciate that in them.

34. Naps are magic golden balm elixir, not signs of weakness. Even 15 minutes lying down with your eyes closed can completely shift your perspective.

35. Develop and regularly revisit shared inside jokes with your spouse, your best friend, your kids. Use these cues to evoke laughter — particularly in the times of life when you are facing the direst situations.

36. Consider the friendships you develop in early adulthood — particularly those formed when your kids are very young — as your family and treat them as such. These are the people who are walking at the same pace you are.

37. Fall in love as many times as you possibly can — with your spouse, with friends, with your kids, with your work, with mentors. Open up to it. Let love be a thing of beauty and a source of energy.

38. Figure out the type of clothing that works for your body type and then invest in pieces that make you feel confident. But play with your clothes. Experiment with trends. Your appearance is a way to find joy in who you are throughout your life.

39. Take videos or make recordings of your children when they are young. I recommend interviewing them about their age, friends, favorite activities as they grow.

40. Stash plastic shopping bags in the door wells of your car. They come in extremely handy with barfy children and over-served friends.

41. Death doesn’t end your relationship with someone you love.

42. Others may expect you to set aside your own needs. But don’t you dare agree.

43. Always clear aside urgent or pressing matters for a friend, employee or colleague who is in pain. There’s nothing more important in that moment than showing love and care.

44. What you are obsessing about in your [fill in the blank: options include child, spouse, best friend, business partner, parent, brother, sister, kid’s teacher] is really about you. Upshot: if it’s about you, you can fix it. Usually by thinking differently.

45. Learning how to breathe is half of getting through life’s most difficult moments.

There. Looking forward to the next 40 years, but mostly, just looking forward to bed.

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Birthdays that end in 0

Do you have that person in your life, family or friend, you look up to?

They’re just enough older, prettier, wiser or more with it, than you.

You admire them publicly. Privately you adore them and wish you shared a larger portion of their special brand of magic.Image

For me, that person is my oldest brother, B. He’s turning – well it might be overstepping to say – he’s celebrating a big birthday today. So in between Prima’s strep throat, Secondo’s back-to-school malaise, torturous make-up homework, Mr. Bailey’s job interviews and remodeling our Dusty Rose (Modern Mary’s name for our humble abode) I’ve been meditating on B and how best to mark this big day.

Here’s one of B’s least favorite things to do now that he’s a certain age: talk about himself. (I could remind him here how between the ages of 13 and 18 all he did was talk about himself, his goals and his ambitions, but I won’t. Turns out, being ambitious paid off.) So I figure I can do the talking for him. As a sort of birthday gift from me, he gets words. My words, about him.

B is:

  • Driven
  • Charismatic
  • Ambitious
  • Deeply caring
  • Tenacious
  • Self-deprecating

He’s the guy you call at 2 a.m. in college when a boy breaks your heart. (Thanks, B.)

He’s the one who:

  • Flies in at the last minute
  • Breaks the news
  • Makes the plan
  • Goes for it
  • Leaves no one behind

Here’s what B. won’t do:

  • Let you down
  • Not show up
  • Quit (sometimes when you really want him to.)

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Before you go hitting another blog, rest assured B’s no saint. We’ve had our shouting matches. He’s been wrong about important things. He’s picked fights, stirred up conflict and tried to wring my neck when I was a kid and drew sunglasses on a photo of his girlfriend. (Sorry, B!) I’ve been so pissed at him I once told him to shut up (the ultimate insult in our we-can-always-talk-everything-out-civilly family) and really meant it. He’s also stubborn and persistent in an occasionally irritating way.

But he’s also endlessly optimistic, charming and understanding and a real advocate for anyone who needs an advocate (street kids, homeless, our mom when she was fighting cancer). And he’s always, always, always puts his family first. As the big brother of a big brood, who now has a brood of his own, I’m overjoyed to see all of his herding, shielding, representing first born instincts now at play with his sweet children. B is a great dad and husband, from my vantage point.

B won’t share all about his successes (many). Instead, he’s known in our family circle as a riotous teller of hilarious what-could-go-wrong-next real-life stories that happen to him. Frequently.

B told me earlier this week that one thing he’s learned about getting to an age ending in a 0 is you have to work at lot harder to maintain what you’ve got. I laughed and agreed. (As it turns out, getting the things we want in life doesn’t put us on the Coast setting. Damn!)

But here’s what I think. Getting older is only improving B. And it’s making the lives fortunate enough to be within his sphere, a little bit sweeter as he goes.

Happy Birthday, B.

Prima: Chief Family Administrator

Prima is a total first child, guardian of her family, administrator of family events and ambassador of all family celebrations.

I should have remembered this when a spur-of-the-moment lunch to celebrate Nonna’s birthday came up the other day. The only missing local immediate family member? Prima, who was at school.

Of course as soon as she got into the car later, Secondo blabbed all about it. Tears immediately ensued, after some incredulous questioning by Prima, aimed at me, to confirm Secondo’s account. (The account went something like, “Prima, it’s Nonna’s birthday and we went brought her a card and went to lunch and I had grilled cheese and Daddy was there, etc., etc.…”)

“You should have gotten me out of school! You were all there, except for me! I wanted to celebrate Nonna’s birthday!”

After making a firm case that school was the most important thing on her “to do” list today, and failing to get much buy-in, I apologized profusely. I told her she had every right to be mad. What followed was a cute attempt by Blabbermouth McGee to console her upset sister.

Prima: Well, I am mad. [Pause] And I’m going to keep being mad for a long time. [Sob.]

Me: OK, I understand.

Secondo: Prima, sometimes when I am mad, do you know what I do, Prima? I just…I just…stop crying. Would that work, Prima?

Prima: No.

About five minutes later, all seemed to be somewhat better. I can’t say it was Secondo’s sage advice that did the trick, but rather Prima’s complete lack of ability (at the moment) to stay mad at me. As she sniffled and got out of the car, she threw her arms around me. “Mommy, don’t do that again!” she said as she squeezed me tight. I smiled and promised.

I am consistently so grateful for the forgiveness of children. I am so imperfect, but their love and forgiveness seems to be quite without fail.

PS Tinkerbell now resides on Secondo’s bed, but Secondo, while delighted by seeing Tinkerbell on her bed, is still sleeping in Prima’s bottom bunk. And Prima likes it that way.