7 Questions You Ask Yourself In Your 40s

Your 40s are a weird and wild time. On the one hand, we’re settling into that IDGAF about what other people think attitude. We are getting more comfortable with who we are and what we want, and less comfortable putting up with bullshit and nonsense. It’s a beautiful thing.

On the other hand, your 40s are also scary and awkward. We care less about things that don’t matter, but we care a lot more about the things that do. We are forced to confront – in brutal and shocking ways – the realities of mortality, our own and the people we love. Your body starts to do funky and odd things. And just when we feel like we have this – whatever this is – figured out, everything up and changes.

Bottom line: your 40s are confusing AF and you ask yourself a ton of questions. Like…

1. Am I having an appendicitis or is it just cramps?

Thanks to perimenopause, we might be writhing in pain while Googling symptoms of appendicitis only to realize that it’s cramps from the unexpectedly early arrival of our period. Which brings us to our next question…

2. Didn’t I just have my period two weeks ago?

Yes, yes I did. But again, that fun friend, perimenopause, our period is more unpredictable, frequent, and heavy than ever. Which is super fun.

3. WTF is my teen talking about?

“No Cap.”

“Res me!”

“I’m gonna be AFK for a minute.”

“Why you such a sweat?”

Huh?!? What are these words coming out of my teen’s mouth when he’s gaming with his friends? Be careful with this one though, because if you ask your teen what they are talking about, they’ll look at you like you have two heads.

6. Should I get Botox, or embrace the wrinkles?

At some point, those cute little laugh lines turn into giant craters. You don’t want to care about your looks, but the truth is you kinda do. You want to say “fuck all those bullshit standards of conventional beauty created by the patriarchy” and wear caftans every day while rocking your grey hair. But… it’s hard. Botox just seems easier. If only it weren’t so damn expensive.

4. Does everyone hate me or is it just hormones?

One day your trucking along, everything is a-okay, you feel comfortable with your life and your relationships and then – BAM! – you feel like the world is falling apart and everyone hates you and your life is a series of failures and mistakes. You become convinced that you’re are a real-life Eeyore with a dark rain cloud following you around. And then your period arrives (out of schedule, of course) and it all makes sense. Your hormones are fucking with you again.

5. Were people always this maddening?

I don’t know if it is the realities of the past few years, or it just took me until my 40s to wake up (or maybe a little of both), but MY GOD, nearly every day I ask myself, why are people such assholes? I’m an optimistic at heart and truly believe in the goodness of humanity, but the Lord is testing me, man. Really testing me.

6. Should I go back to school? Quit my job? Dye my hair pink?

Take that IDGAF attitude and combine with the stark realization that life is super fucking short, and you start to question certain life choices. When you stop caring so much about what others think, and more about what you want, a whole world of options opens up. Like pink hair. Caftans. And Taylor Swift music.

7. Am I the only one?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No, you absolutely are not the only one. We’re all confused and don’t know quite what to make of these new stage of life. Stop let go of the idea that we need to have things figured out by the time we’re in our 40s. Life is wild and weird. Embrace it. Even if it does mean we ask ourselves a million questions every day.

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When Your Child Becomes A Teenager, It’s A ‘Coming Of Age’ For Both Of You

He’s thirteen. I can’t believe it. Seems like only yesterday (okay, not yesterday, but recently) that I was chasing him in the park, in the street, in the supermarket. I feel almost nostalgic about those days, but not quite because, as many of you who are in the thick of it right now know, they weren’t all snuggles on the couch and lullabyes. They were breastmilk-pumping, bottom-wiping, hand-holding. More like grabbing actually, since in those days he was constantly trying to wiggle his little fingers from my grasp and run away. I imagine if I tried to hold his hand now I’d get a similar reaction.

Birthdays are milestones, and there are a few that seem to be particularly critical turning points. Five (you can go to real school now), ten (double digit age), sixteen (hand me those car keys!), eighteen (legal adult), twenty-one (pass the bottle of tequila), forty (the list becomes less fun from here). And of course the birthday in question here: thirteen, the passing into adolescence.

It’s an awkward stage that certainly doesn’t start when you become a teenager. In fact, puberty seems to be happening much earlier than it did when I came to it. We even had to give that stage between ages ten and twelve a new name. No longer are those just kids who pass to adolescents when they turn thirteen. Now they’re tweens. But tween he isn’t, and child he isn’t, for starting today he is officially a teenager.

Do you remember the year you turned thirteen? For me, it was the summer before 8th grade. That summer is only memorable because of Roger, my first boyfriend. I wonder if this past summer will be memorable for my son. Not for the excitement of a “first” like I had, but for the utter lack of excitement. The quarantine summer. I shudder to think that perhaps this summer is not an anomaly, but rather the first in a string of new normals, and so won’t even be memorable for its peculiarity.

But it’s not actually his coming of age I was thinking of when I began writing this post. It’s mine. I’m now the mother to a child who is taller than me, wears a bigger shoe size, and can pretty much care for himself. He’s not as independent as I was at his age, but if I died in my sleep, he could go about his day with very little break in routine. He might wonder why I was still in bed, and might be a little annoyed at having to toast his own waffles and microwave his own pizza, but life would not be profoundly interrupted.

I know those thoughts are pretty morbid. I think they go hand in hand with this getting-older, son-becoming-a-teenager thing. It’s like I just realized I’m no longer a young mom. Similar to my son’s growth, this phenomenon did not occur overnight. It was a slow process of changes that I never even noticed. But I should have seen the signs. For example, I’ve become that mom at the playground watching toddlers and saying things like, “Treasure these moments,” to the worn-out first-time mothers who smile politely but inside are thinking, “Lady, I’m just trying to survive ’til nap time.”

And I want to follow my own advice and not take these days for granted, but that’s hard because I’m insanely busy. It feels like women these days can’t win. You either establish your career early on in life, getting all your schooling done and paying your dues in your twenties and thirties and then work on making a baby, or you establish a family first then go back to school and work your way up the chain when the kids aren’t quite so dependent. Both scenarios involve major changes right when life is getting comfortable.

When I’m lying in bed at night I sometimes wonder if I chose the better path or not. But I’ve come to realize that there is no better path, and no lesser one either. Whether you’re thirty or fifty when your child becomes a teenager, it’s still going to be a coming of age for the both of you. As my son enters this awkward stage of life, I too enter into an uncomfortable time of higher education and career-building. As his body stretches and aches from growing pains, I also experience discomfort from extending beyond the person that I thought I was, the woman I thought I had become. And as it turns out, it’s been happening all along, my growth and his, all in tiny increments so small we didn’t notice.

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The Things My Mother Didn’t Tell Me

My mom was never one for giving stellar advice. I could probably count on one hand the times she evoked her wisdom. One time I asked her what childbirth was like, to which she responded, “It’s like you have to take a big dump that’s going to kill you.”

My sister and I would laugh at that thinking she was ridiculous. Until we became mothers. Or the time when we were out clothes shopping when I was a teen and I pointed out a top that I liked and she said, “You wouldn’t fit one boob in it.” I certainly grew up with a dearth of hearty, loving advice. However, I still feel like my mom could have passed down some real wisdom to me before she left this earth.

Now that I am in my early forties, physically things are starting to change and I wish my mom would have told me. When I was little, I remember my mom spending inordinate amounts of time in the bathroom with her tweezers looking in the mirror, but it never dawned on me until the last year or so what my mom was actually doing. She could have sat me down and said, “Honey, we need to talk about facial hair in your forties.” The only advice she did give me about my forties was that I needed to beware of migraines because she and my aunt suffered from hormonal ones. I’d never had a migraine in my life, but I did shortly after she said those words. I was sure she had jinxed me somehow.

Now that I am in my forties, I’ve experienced the ravages of ridiculously long, irregular menstrual cycles that brought me to my knees with anemia. It seems like I just had my kids and now I am starting down the road to perimenopause. It’s too soon! Why didn’t Mom tell me this? Mom, too, had problems of her own. Her uterus prolapsed in her fifties and she had a hysterectomy. Why didn’t she warn me that I was headed down the highway of messed up periods and hormonal fluctuations, the likes of which I could never have imagined?

And don’t get me started on sneezing while standing up or coughing while sitting down. Forget going on a trampoline with your kids. I had to find these lessons out the hard way. After birthing three kids, my bladder is not what it used to be. She could have started the conversation out like, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about prolapse and urinary incontinence.”

Dryness? My mom bought eye drops by the truck full. I figured this was something that was singular to her as she had medical issues. But now I know the lovely splendor of “dry eyes due to age,” as my optometrist pointed out. A little heads up from Mom would have been helpful.

Or the appearance of crocodile skin that my kids would call “leathery” when they hold my hand. If she could have warned me ahead of time that all of this would happen, I think it might have made the swallowing of the “you’re getting old” pill easier. At least I’d like to think so.

I remember as a kid crawling into bed with my mom while she was reading the newspaper. I always vied for her attention. I’d ask her questions and she’d tell me to stop talking. “This is my quiet time,” she’d say. I was resentful that she never took the time to pay attention to me. It wasn’t until recently when my son opened my bedroom door for the twelfth time, as I was relaxing watching television before drifting off to sleep, that I remember my mom saying “this is my quiet time.” In fact, I now tell my kids this when they barge into my room at night. I have come to understand the sacred place at the end of the day for a mother. Those blessed last moments that are all mine and no one else’s. I can watch TV without anyone interrupting or read a book quietly. She could have told me all this.

She could have told me how ridiculously short the days are with your children. How they literally grow up before your eyes. Even though it seems the whole world tells you this, it would have been nice to hear her say it. That you could never possibly love humans as much as your own but still be incredibly scared wondering if you are raising them properly or if you’ve let them know everything they need to know before they leave the nest. Or that when most of your older family members have passed on and your generation is left in charge that it can feel lonely and isolating, but that you need to soldier on as best you can.

Perhaps she just wanted me to experience the splendors of aging for myself. Maybe it was her last little joke. Or maybe she prepared me enough for life and knew I could handle it on my own.

But because I don’t want my daughter to be caught with wet pants when she’s forty-something, I will be sure to have that talk with her.

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5 Things You Probably Shouldn’t Ask A Teenage Boy

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being the mother of teenage sons, it’s this: be careful what questions you ask.

Of course, any questions to a teen are usually met with frustrating answers, ranging from an irritated explosion of “Mom!” to some sort of hmmph-ing noise from their throat area. But I speak from (hard-earned and sometimes unfortunate) experience when I say that there are some areas of teenage boy life where ignorance is truly bliss. And if you want to remain blissful, Mama, you’re best to steer clear of the following inquiries.

Why so many showers?

When your bath-averse child suddenly seems eager to jump in the shower — daily, even — you’re initially proud that all those parental lectures about personal hygiene have paid off and he’s finally on board with being, you know, acceptably clean. You may be tempted to remark about his new bathing habits, and maybe pose a question about what made everything click into place. But trust me: it isn’t a sudden revelation about stinky armpits that compels him to lock himself in the privacy of the bathroom with increasing frequency. Sure, he may be soaping himself, but he’s also … soaping himself. Know what I mean? The less you ask about it, the better. Just be glad you don’t have to nag him about showering any more, and leave it at that.

Besides, you’ll know it’s not about good hygiene because of the inevitable answer to the following question you probably shouldn’t ask:

When is the last time you brushed your teeth?

If being neat and tidy were truly the concern, your son’s breath wouldn’t smell like the inside of a butthole, because he’d make friends with the toothbrush that’s collecting dust in the holder. But alas, though his skin may be squeaky clean, his teeth are wearing fuzzy yellow coats. You thought that once he was old enough to be self-sufficient, he could be trusted with his own oral hygiene. You were wrong. Don’t ask him outright when he last brushed if you can’t bear to hear that it’s been days or even weeks. Just start suggesting it again, daily.

Where did all the cups/plates/silverware go?

If your teenage son has a bedroom — even if he shares it with a sibling, even if you’ve made a “no eating in the bedroom” rule — I promise, he’s eating in there. And you’ll notice a steady dwindling of your kitchen utensils and dinnerware, and wonder briefly if they’ve gone the way of all the socks the dryer has “eaten” over the years. But you’ll quickly realize that it isn’t a coincidence, and the likely culprit is the one who practically lives on the ramen noodles you swear you’re going to stop buying. You can ask the question, and you can search for the answers yourself — but beware. Entering into a teen boy’s room in search of missing dishes is like entering into a bacterial house of horrors. You’ll find the dishes, all right, with science experiment-worthy amounts of mold or cereal milk congealed into the bottom. You’ll find forks and spoons inexplicably stashed in drawers and wedged between the mattress and the bed frame.

Author photo, and you can’t tell, but that spoon was stuck to the bowl.

What’s that smell?

Another reason you should think twice about venturing too deeply into a teenage boy’s room: the odor. There are always damp towels mildewing in a heap in the corner, and dirty laundry scattered everywhere. That musty, oniony fragrance currently making your nose hairs shrivel — is it armpits? Feet? The moldy towels? The aforementioned crusty dishes? A sandwich rotting in a duffel bag? The possibilities are endless, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

What does that mean?

If you want to feel like the oldest, uncoolest person on the planet, then by all means ignore my advice and ask this question. Because that’s exactly what will happen when you inquire after an unfamiliar word or phrase you’ve just heard coming from your child’s mouth (typically yelled during some kind of video game chat with his “bros”). You ask innocently, for example, “What’s ‘no cap’ mean?” and you’re met with — at the very least — an eyeroll of epic proportions, if not an outright accusation of being elderly and out of touch.

Yes, it’s our job as parents to be in touch with our teens: their online safety, who they’re hanging out with, whether they’re turning their homework in on time. But when it comes to certain things, it’s best to just put our blinders on and focus on getting through the teen years without that awful smell wafting into the rest of the house.

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We Don’t Talk About Perimenopause Enough, And I Resent It

Women talk about everything. Marital discord. Kids. Stupid people. Work stress. Our biggest fears and insecurities. The wildest things we’ve ever done in the bedroom. But no one—and I mean no one—talks about perimenopause, and I resent it.

One morning, you find yourself deep in conversation with an acquaintance at the middle school. Straight up, you never wanted to make small talk with another mother. You’d paid a visit to the administrative office to drop off the form you forgot to send in the mail. Now you’re cornered. Suddenly, mid-sentence, you experience the mother of all hot flashes. It feels as if you’re running a marathon in Death Valley. (FYI: Death Valley hit a record high of 130-degrees last week.) Little flames lick your cheeks. For a second, you think you may faint.

Concerned, the other mother asks, “Are you ok?”

Apparently, you look and smell like a dirty kitchen sponge. You say, “I’m having another hot flash.”

The other mother grimaces, blinks one too many times, and mumbles a weak apology. She scurries away faster than the hot flash comes and goes.

You stand there, confused. She asked. You answered. Why is it taboo to talk about the terrible symptoms of perimenopause when so many of us are dealing with insufferable hormonal imbalances and crazy ass cycles?

Last week, I experienced an emotional breakdown of epic proportions. My heavy, swollen breasts had grown two whole cup sizes larger than they’d been for the entirety of my adult life. A “bra fit expert” had helped me find my new size months ago. But those bras no longer fit, and I had no clue why. Cue my tantrum.

Determined not to waste any more money on new, expensive bras, I bought some ugly but affordable sports bras from Target. The sports bras promised to banish the uniboob look. My purchase said one thing to me: I was winning so hard at life. Unfortunately, the pressure of the fit caused my breasts to ache and throb. When I went bra-less, the bouncing caused pain. On top of this, I googled “the best solutions for dealing with underboob sweat” at least a dozen times. Big yikes!

My mother underwent a hysterectomy after she gave birth to my youngest sister. As the oldest of four female siblings, I’m often the first to go through many reproductive changes. Consequently, I have no point of reference to judge or understand the bodily changes I’m experiencing as I slog my way through my 40s. More than once, I’ve asked myself, “Why have I been kept in the dark on this?”

Public discussion on what happens to women’s bodies is still taboo. A shroud of secrecy surrounds “women’s stuff” like periods, pregnancy, giving birth, postpartum woes, perimenopause, menopause, etc. As adolescents, we internalize society’s message that periods are “gross,” which implies that our hormonal cycles are something to hide. And it doesn’t end with adolescence. Remember when Instagram censored Rupi Kaur’s menstruation-themed photo series for violating community standards? It’s a no-no to show our real lives on social media. Instead, we must keep serving up the carefully curated, color-corrected versions of them.

When you hit middle age, society sends you a flood of new messages. You’re old, unattractive, belligerent, out-of-control, and invisible. Where are the books and blogs written by women for women who are knee-deep in this stage of life? Women hide the messy, uncomfortable parts of their experiences because they’ve been told they’re “too icky,” “too personal,” or “too embarrassing.”

It’s unacceptable. We need to talk about what we aren’t talking about. We need to change the conversation.

Why? If we don’t talk about women’s issues, women’s expectations are that they’re easy. And when they aren’t easy, women feel isolated and alone. Something must be wrong with you and your body. Right?

Wrong.

The docuseries Expecting Amy premiered on July 9, 2020, on the new HBO Max. It follows comedian Amy Schumer through her pregnancy. I’ve been an Amy Schumer fan for some time. She never shies away from showing the messy side of womanhood. While hysterical, she has an emotional frankness I envy. No question, I went into my viewing experience hoping to laugh.

I didn’t expect to sit there nodding my head emphatically in agreement. And I certainly didn’t expect to cry. Schumer created a real gem with this docuseries because she pulls back the curtain and sheds light on women’s issues like infertility, work during pregnancy, hyperemesis gravidarum, C-sections, and post-partum issues. She says, “I resent the culture and how much women have to suck it the f—k up and act like everything’s fine.”

While Expecting Amy doesn’t deal with perimenopause, it’s raw, real, and honest, and I’m here for that. You should be, too.

The world needs more women like Schumer who aren’t afraid to talk about women’s issues. Talking about something recognized as taboo normalizes it. When trying to normalize the discussion of a taboo topic, you’re challenging someone’s belief that that specific topic shouldn’t be discussed, at all. There is no justification for our silence. Reject the messages society sends you.

These days, my uterus feels like a bowling ball. It’s not just the distended belly that irks me; it’s the feeling of fullness and pressure. My periods? Don’t get me started. Playtex has made a small fortune from me. Since I started synthetic progesterone to stop a stint of uterine bleeding that lasted nearly a month, my moods have become erratic. Who coined the term hot flash anyway? Because it’s not a flash. It’s a torrent.

My OBGYN tells me the pain must be in my head. She’s offered me birth control umpteen times to address my pelvic problems. I tried it. Twice! Yet here I am, no closer to solving the mysteries of my uterus. Not only am I fatigued from the rigors of my everyday life as a parent and writer, but also I’m fatigued from resenting the lack of information and resources available to me. The blank stares I’m offered when I mention menorrhagia or hormone replacement therapy make me want to throw my hands up in frustration. The silence alienates me.

While my symptoms are common, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to perimenopause. Your experience could be a snap. That’s what makes this transition so difficult. All the more reason we need to talk it out.

On a positive note, a rising presence in mainstream media shows change is taking place. Some taboos about women’s bodies are dying because women are opening up in public ways. Because why can’t we talk about this?

You can be part of that change by speaking up on issues affecting you. Share. Ask questions. Normalize our experiences as women. That means all parts of our experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We need each other.

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Dear Younger Self: Here’s What I Want To Tell You As I Turn 45

Dear Younger Self,

I know how tired you are. After all, you are trying to live on SlimFast and salad and wondering why you still don’t look like the women in those glossy magazines you are obsessed with. 

You are always waiting– for the weekend; for the next holiday; for next year. In your mind you think that’s the key to when your life will be better and you will finally feel settled and content. 

You try so hard to fit in. You are fighting against the grain on all accounts and bringing yourself nothing but disapproval every single day.

You hate your hair, your boobs, the fact that your ears stick out and your nose is a bit crooked.

 Here’s What I Want To Tell You As I Turn 45
Courtesy of Katie Bingham-Smith

You need to know those thoughts going through your head will continue to echo daily until you set them free. You think right now that the way you talk to yourself doesn’t matter. You are so sure approval from every outside source is the key, but I need to tell you something my dear, sweet younger self:

You are never going to get it. 

You are never going to be what you aspire to be.

Believe me when I tell you, you will be fine with this fact.

There will come a day in your mid-thirties where you will just want to be happy. Your whole mind will change about the things that are important and what living really feels like. Then, it will keep getting better the more your practice living this way.

It feels like freedom and laughing about stupid shit you do and letting your belly hang out. 

It feels like eating too much sometimes without beating yourself up and not trying so hard to fit into a container that was never made for you, my dear.

I wish it didn’t take you so long to get to this place– the start of your journey where you realize all those things you thought mattered really don’t. Honestly, though, you are never going to totally get there. You will still have days where dumb things and people hurt your feelings. You will still blame yourself when something goes wrong. You will still critique yourself when you glance in the mirror.

But it gets so much better than what you are putting yourself through now.

And I’m sorry I put you through as much as I did. 

I now know that when something doesn’t feel like it’s working out, it’s okay to let it go, because better things are coming even though it hurts like hell.

I now know that sacrificing your mental health isn’t worth any relationship.

I now know that enjoying all the things you want in life — food, sex, spending a lazy day in your pajamas — doesn’t have to come with a penalty. 

I now know that getting older is indeed a privilege, and I have no idea why I wasted so much time worrying about it.

I am not saying I have it all figured out. I am telling you there will come a time when you will feel more at peace; less afraid, and most of all, more like yourself than you ever have. 

That feeling will have the power to make you do things like walk away, speak your mind, and not feel like you have to lose inches to fit into old clothes. 

The fight you are fighting right now, the one that causes you to carry around a backpack of self-loathing with you every damn day, will slowly dissipate and you will think, Why did I do that for so long? Why did I put other people’s happiness before my own? Why did I think I had to suffer in order to be great and liked? Why didn’t I walk the fuck away from that situation sooner?

I’m so thankful to you for going through those lessons so that I could learn and blossom into the person that I am now. The one who stumbles and doesn’t care about bad hair days, or if people see her as a bitch for doing what she wants.

I am so glad you grew and changed and stopped trying to control things you couldn’t control.

I am able to remember you and be sorry and feel a tremendous amount of gratitude at the same time. 

I am not at a place where I know life is a mixed bag of emotions. Some days, weeks, and months are going to feel like you are fighting for your head to stay above water. It’s hard and it sucks, but it’s okay. You will be okay. 

You will stop expecting things to be pretty and bright all the time. And you will stop being so hard on yourself thinking you need to be everything you are not.

So, younger self, I’m trying to tell you to hang in there.

This week I turned 45 (I know) and I feel more amazing — and better than you do, if you can believe that (but I know you don’t).

I can’t change what I’ve put you through, or take it away. I can, however, let you know that when you stop waiting for the next thing to come along to take away the angst, and realize all this time all you needed was you, a better part of your life will begin.

Much love,

Your 45-year-old self

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Confession: I Like Life Better Now

It was last winter, before most people had heard the word coronavirus, that I had the realization: we were run ragged. Run ragged, with no end in sight. In fact, I had made myself accept the cold, hard truth that this was what life was going to look like for the foreseeable future. With three kids from preschool to middle school at three different schools, the next decade was going to be running. Running from the second we got up to get kids to school, running to accomplish a couple of tasks while my youngest was at preschool, running to fetch all the kids from all the schools, running to get homework done and to get to piano lessons or sports practices, running to make dinner, running to get the kids in bed at a reasonable time, running to get the house straightened up and prep for the next day. Summer was a short reprieve, then it all started again.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been perfection since the pandemic hit. There’ve been more than a few moments where I found a dark corner of the house and hid from my family. (Pro tip: if you tiptoe away while the kids are distracted, enter a dark bedroom leaving the door casually ajar, and park it in a corner of the room shielded from obvious sight, you can nab 10-15 minutes of peace and quiet.)

Since the March lockdown began, we’ve started eating dinner together at the dining room table every night. (The kids and I usually ate dinner together on kitchen barstools, but my husband was rarely home in time to join us during the week.) Sitting at an actual table across from one another is an entirely different experience. Like many, we’ve been walking and biking and riding scooters throughout the neighborhood to a degree we were never able to before. We play card games and board games and the hubs has Nerf battles and roughhouses with the kids … on weeknights!

I’m a stickler about bedtime but busy evenings and early mornings on schooldays led to a fairly constant, low-level exhaustion. Now I feel rested. Rested. More rested than I’ve felt in years. I’m a night owl so early mornings were always hard for me. Rolling out of bed at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. most mornings now, when the youngest requires me…it’s a revelation. The kids are more rested too, and I can see positive benefits in their behavior and mood. They even look healthier to me.

My husband and I have so much more time to talk—about the news, about the kids, about The Great British Baking Show. More often than not during the school year, we collapsed on the couch on weeknights after a cursory catch-up. I feel like we’ve rekindled a best friendship that was always there, but had faded a bit during the intensity of the childrearing years.

My teenager misses his friends, but the pandemic has provided a break from the harsh proving ground of middle school. He’s been acting like a kid again with his younger siblings. It seemed he had turned the corner on childhood this year, deciding it was no longer acceptable to be into Legos and making iMovie trailers and pretend play. Last week I overheard all three of my kids playing an elaborate game where my oldest was the sergeant guarding his preschool sister from attack by her villainous brother. My teenager has gotten a few more months of childhood, a stolen season.

We’re off the hamster wheel. We’re lucky to have access to a large, uncrowded pool for the summer, where my kids get some (arguably, relatively safe) interaction with other kids. And I see Fortnite and other team-play video games in a new light, now that it’s the primary vehicle for my sons to socialize with school friends.

Not a chance in hell I could homeschool my kids. I lack the right temperament, and my youngest and I have a rather “intense” mother-daughter bond. And I know the kids need to be back in regular school at some point. Middle school is a necessary hell, I suppose, part of the journey from childhood to early adulthood. But I wonder…is there a way to keep the good parts of this? Might schools consider hybrid virtual/in-person models going forward? Maybe a shorter school day or a shorter school week? Perhaps a fresh look at all aspects of education and extracurricular life for our kids, and work-life balance for parents? Dare we dream?

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What I Realized On My Mid-Pandemic 50th Birthday

Dear Family and Friends,

Today I quietly turned 50. Along with the rest of the world who’ve crossed monumental milestones during this pandemic, the pomp and circumstance weren’t worth the risk. And although it feels somewhat melancholy not to be surrounded by family and friends, today, I chose to reflect positively on the past and optimistically on the future.

In my last 50 years, I had the luxury of being surrounded by an entire support system as I gave birth to my four amazing children. Young moms giving birth today must choose one person. I have walked across three graduation stages, cheered by hundreds. Today’s graduates must celebrate at home. I attended some of the most incredible live sporting events with thousands of fans, high-fiving strangers as our team scored. Today we collectively yearn for the normalcy of watching live sports even from the safety of our own living rooms. I was able to gather with family around my grandfather’s hospital bed as he peacefully passed away. Today’s sick and dying sadly face this alone.

Reflecting on my pre-pandemic 50 makes me wonder how my post-pandemic 50 will look. Although I may not greet new friends with a handshake or old friends with a hug, I believe a newfound appreciation for personal hygiene will reduce the spread of disease and make our population safer. Although it may be a long time before we gather by the thousands to cheer on a team or listen to a concert, we will deeply appreciate intimate gatherings of those we care for the most. Right now, our planet is healing thanks to a reduction in carbon emissions; it is my hope this will inspire us to welcome renewable energy on a global level.

I genuinely mourn for the loss of life, and the pain and suffering this pandemic has caused so many. It is heartbreaking. But I also know we are stronger than we think. Yes, we will take that pain with us as we move forward. But we will take that big emotion and flip it into motivation. We will never forget, but we will adapt, and humanity will evolve.

And because of that, I know that I will have another 50 years. And in my next 50, I will cheer for you as I watch you cross that stage and receive the diploma you worked so hard for. I will gather in a church with hundreds who love you and watch you say, “I do.” I will visit you in the hospital and hold your newborn baby. I will not miss one of your kid’s birthday parties or piano recitals or soccer games. I’ll come anytime you ask, and I’ll even come when you don’t! And I know that when I reach my next 50, you will be there to celebrate with me as I blow out those 100 candles!

To my family and friends, I love you and miss you. Stay safe.

Amy

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Four Reasons To Stop Freaking Out About Being Forty-Something

Turning forty is a big deal, right? Well, I dreaded it. Aging makes you think about your own mortality, and thinking about your own mortality is uncomfortable. Every August, I’m adamant in my desire to let my birthday pass unnoticed. No cake, gifts, or gatherings, please. (Memes and jokes about aging are 100% encouraged.) Despite my pleas to let my birthday go gentle into that good night, someone always organizes a birthday gathering, and a cake topped with an absurd number of candles appears before my fast-wrinkling face.

For my fortieth, I decided to high key carpe diem the hell out of my day. Some of my people and I went to Las Vegas to celebrate. My margarita glass was never empty. I floated in a private pool, drank like a fish, and danced well past 2:00 a.m. For a few glorious days, I lived like a 21-year-old again.

When I got home, the exhaustion hit. No, it wasn’t just exhaustion; it was relief. It’s fun to feel twenty-one…for a few days. But I didn’t want to be twenty-one again. Or thirty. Or even thirty-five. Why?

Because being forty is the shiznit. Let me tell you why…

1. You accept the weird, messy parts of parenting and know you’re making the best decisions for YOUR children.

As a new mom, I thought every other mother on the planet judged me for my parenting choices. I imagined condescending eyeballs firing laser beams of disdain at me when I let my kid climb up the slide at the playground. At the grocery store, I swore I caught glares for not using a shopping cart cover for my toddler. (He might or might not have licked the cart handle.) Hated breastfeeding? Judged. Fed them applesauce with added sugar instead of making homemade from apples plucked from trees at the apple farm? I was 100% positive Judgey-McJudger had something to say about that.

Sure, some of them judged me. These days I witness it online more than I do IRL. It’s easy to be a keyboard warrior. Real life is nothing like Facebook or Twitter. You witness the struggles of other mothers. Even if the struggles look different from your own, you can look a fellow mother in the eye and say, “I get it.” Because you do.

As my children and I aged together, I understood that no one actually gave AF about my parenting choices—not in the beginning, not now, not ever. For me, the challenge of raising tweens and teens dwarfs the concerns of my early parenting years, and I’m too busy and overcommitted to worry about what anyone else is doing anyway.

No. One. Cares. It took me more than a decade to realize this simple truth. Once you stop worrying about what other people think of you and your parenting choices, you are a free bird. You are already the mother you always wanted to be.

This is forty-something.

2. You’ve found your people.

Picture a crowded New York City street. You stand stock-still in the middle of the sidewalk, staring at the throng of faces rushing past you. Someone bumps your shoulder and knocks you off-balance. You nearly faceplant on the pavement, but you catch yourself. Rather than offer an apology, the transgressor grumbles, “Move your ass.” It hits you. No one cares if you bust your face on the pavement. No one knows you exist at all.

For me, that picture of a crowded New York City street depicts what it was like being a new mother. My husband and I had moved to a new state four months before I delivered our first child. My family lived out of town. I hadn’t made any friends. Heck, I hadn’t even met the neighbors. The isolation made me feel lonelier than I’d ever felt before. I found solace in online mom groups, which helped me when I needed a community to turn to with my parenting anxieties, but I yearned for local support and camaraderie.

When I took my son out for walks, I noticed duos and trios of other mothers together. Everywhere I went—the park, the pool, the toddler playground, etc.—I saw happy coteries of mothers. Honestly, I’m an introvert and find it difficult to strike up conversations with strangers. Still, it was high school all over again, and I sat at a table on the outskirts of the action, awkward and alone.

Guess what? Your village doesn’t flock to you. It isn’t built in a day. You develop it over many years. Real friendship requires investment. You have to make authentic connections with other people. And let’s be real for a sec—investing tons of time in new friendships is a stretch during those years of birthing, breastfeeding, naps, and potty training. Unless you’re fortunate enough to live near friends you made years ago, or you’re an extrovert to the nth degree, it’ll be some time before you can actively work to connect with new people.

As the kids enter elementary school and develop their own hobbies and interests, you meet new people every day. There are the volleyball moms. The marching band moms. The PTA moms. STEM moms. There are millions of moms out there, and some of them will like you for you (even if you’re awkward like me).

By the time you are forty-something, you’ve collected your people. You’ve made friends for keeps. You have a couple ride or dies, and you hold on to them for dear life. Yes, it’s still possible to make the best friend you’ve ever had in your 40s. Making friends isn’t something you stop doing once you hit a certain age.

This is forty-something.

3. You’ve learned to say “no.”

A couple years ago, some friends and I sat around and discussed our different interpretations of the word sure. Most of them used it literally, meaning “certainly.” One said she didn’t care for the word because she couldn’t decipher the user’s tone, particularly via text. For example, you ask someone to carpool to soccer practice. They say, “Sure.” Does that mean they’re happy to carpool? Or have you backed them into a corner where they feel obligated to say yes simply because you asked?

Until someone purposefully mentioned this in conversation, I hadn’t thought much about how I used the word. The hard truth was I only used it when I was agreeing to do something I didn’t want to do. And that’s passive-aggressive and gross.

Can you give Lily a ride to and from the meeting you’re holding AT YOUR HOUSE?
Actual response: Sure.
What I really mean: Are you kidding me? I’m hosting a meeting of multiple children at my house, and then I’m getting in my car to drive your child home once I’m done managing said meeting?

Want to carpool to band practice?
Actual response: Sure.
What I really mean: This again? We tried this last year, and I ended up doing 80% of the driving.

See what I mean—passive-aggressive and gross. I needed to grow up! Sure, I’m fine being inconvenienced sometimes (see what I did there). But if something sounds outrageous or doesn’t make sense for my schedule, it’s a hard pass. As a parent, I volunteer for X amount of opportunities and uphold my commitments. My husband and I show up for every concert, game, exhibition, etc. I refuse to do things that don’t make sense for my family and me just out of a false sense of obligation.

This is forty-something.

4. You know who you are.

For the love of everything that’s holy, the 20s make for a difficult decade. Self-doubt and insecurity plague the best of us, and our decision-making skills leave a lot to be desired. What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Where will you live? Who are you really? Technically, your brain doesn’t even start “adulting” until your frontal lobe is fully developed, which happens around the age of twenty-five.

Then come the 30s. Careers, families, and commitments kick into high gear. Maybe you’re settling into a career, or you’re training/switching to a new one. Maybe you’re done having kids. Or perhaps you’re starting your parenting journey. Possibly you’re a newlywed adjusting to married life. Whatever your situation, you’re still building your life.

I delivered my fourth and final child the year I turned 31. My husband and I brought four lives into this world in five short years. During my 30s, the years of sleep deprivation left me feeling foggy-headed and withdrawn. My husband and I existed in pure survival mode, treading water 24/7. We had no time to focus on anything but diapers, pacifiers, bottles, and sleep. It certainly wasn’t a period of self-discovery, to say the least.

Something magical happened when I entered my 40s. I slept again (until I didn’t because perimenopausal sleep-maintenance insomnia hit me like a fist to the throat). All of a sudden, I had time to take stock of my life.

I won’t apologize for my introversion anymore because it’s fundamental to my well-being. Yes, I can be moody, sarcastic, and inflexible; but I’m loyal, self-disciplined, and forgiving, too. I deflect emotional pain with humor and have a low tolerance for bullshit, and I can prattle on all day long about time travel, horror film, and the Oxford comma debate.

My point? As a forty-something, you’re comfortable in your own skin. Mostly. At least, I know I am.

Your identity evolves over the course of your lifetime, but you have a pretty good grip on what makes you you by the time you enter your fifth decade. You’ve experienced enough hardship. You’ve identified your core personal values and what makes you happy. You’ve loved and been loved. You’ve experienced heartache, grief, gratitude, and joy.

This is forty-something.

So stop freaking out about being in your 40s. Accept the mother you already are. You’ve found your people, and you’ve learned to say no. Most importantly, you know who you are, warts and all. It’s a rich, full decade of life. Don’t spend one minute of it wishing you were twenty-one again. This is soooo much better.

I made a promise to myself this year: Instead of evading offers to celebrate my birthday, I’m accepting them. There won’t be any private pools or endless margaritas, but there will be family, friends, and plenty of gratitude.

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How Facebook Made My High School Reunion Better

In recent years, Facebook has become the go-to scapegoat – or, as I like to call it, “blame piñata” – for nearly all society’s social ills. Our tribalism, our short attention spans, our loneliness.

Occasionally, though, an experience demonstrates how social media can be an honest-to-God blessing, and lay the groundwork for a surprisingly meaningful experience.

Months ago, for instance, I got a Facebook invitation for an unofficial, informal 30th high school reunion – at a bar in my hometown, the night before Thanksgiving – I simultaneously thought “Nope!” and mentally checked my availability.

I mean, my family wasn’t traveling anywhere for the holiday, I currently live only about a half hour away from my Michigan hometown, and that square on my calendar happened to be blank. 

But I’d also, in high school, been a pretty forgettable band nerd in a class of more than 400 people, many of whom had chosen to move back and raise their kids in that same town. So I had the sense that a lot of the reunion’s attendees would be the people who saw each other regularly, anyway, and had sustained close friendships with each other over the decades.

I, on the other hand, had re-connected with just a modest handful of high school acquaintances via social media, mostly after attending the one “official” reunion we’ve had since graduation (the 20th, in 2009).

This was partly a function of how not-present I’d been in high school. So consumed was I at the time with boyfriends, grades, and getting into a good college that precious little from my adolescence has endured. 

So what could I possibly hope for from attending this slapdash reunion? Wouldn’t it simply reinforce the neurotic sense of invisibility that is my middle-child default setting? 

How Facebook Made My High School Reunion Better: woman smiling for photo
Courtesy of Jenn McKee

While mulling this over, I posted something on the reunion’s event page that essentially said, “I’m not sure anyone would recognize/remember me.” 

But then a guy I’d gone to school with for many, many years wrote that he remembered me wearing roller skates for several days around our elementary school, “trying to break a world record,” before our principal made me stop.

Oh, my God. Over the decades, I’d completely forgotten about this wacky childhood plot of mine.

And this brief, casual Facebook exchange charmed me, and made me feel more inclined to take a chance and attend the reunion, awkwardness be damned.

When that cold Wednesday night in November arrived, though, darkness fell well before my husband and two young daughters ate dinner with me around our kitchen table, and I could see wet snow falling beyond the windows. I considered snuggling down with my family to watch a “Great British Baking Show” ep and bagging the whole thing.

But my husband urged me toward the door. “What’s the worst that could happen?” he shrugged. “You have a crummy time and come home? Go. See what happens.”

If nothing else, the experience might provide good material, I told myself. (Writers are vampires that way.) I looked down at what I was wearing: a Hamilton t-shirt and a pair of jeans ripped at the knees? Ah, well. If I was going to go, I might as well be true to the person I am. I mean, I’m nearing fifty. Who was I trying to impress or fool?

I drove through the gloppy snow, parked in a lot near the bar, and walked toward the entrance, making this deal with myself: if I walked around the bar once and recognized no one (or vice versa), I’d give myself permission to subtly turn right back around and head to the exit. (Classic introvert party move, by the way.)

Initially, it looked like I’d be following through with this back-up plan. The large, brightly lit bar was packed, yet no one looked familiar. Then, a woman who’d been my best friend in middle school, Paula, spotted me and rushed over, happily squealing my full name and pulling me into a hug.

Her formerly dark, shoulder-length hair was now gray, but her face – which I’d intently studied for entire afternoons as we critiqued terrible, eighth grade poetry and shared tween romantic fantasies – was very much the same. And I instantly felt more at home.

“You were one of, like, two or three people I came here to see,” she said. 

This surprised me – we’d grown apart in high school, as she became more popular – but she went on to say that she’d followed my writing career online, and that she felt like she still knew me well, thanks to my (copious) social media posts. She confessed that much of her adult life had been hard – or as she more bluntly put it, “sucked” – and for that reason, she’d been recently making a point to tell people when they’d had a positive and lasting impact on her.

How Facebook Made My High School Reunion Better: woman smiling for photo
Courtesy of Jenn McKee

“You were one of those people,” Paula told me. “I know it sounds cheesy, and this may be a totally awkward thing to say” – pretty sure the woman standing in our midst would agree – “but I want you to know that I’ve thought about the friendship we had often, and I really treasure the closeness we had.”

Though not generally prone to weepiness, I teared up as she spoke, then gave her a hug. “Thank you so much for telling me that,” I said. “Our friendship meant a lot to me, too.”

And soon thereafter, I had a genuine, substantive conversation – about divorce; caring for aging, ailing parents; and grief – with a woman named Roxane, whom I’d only known as a marching band acquaintance in high school, but had more recently gotten a better sense of via Facebook. 

At one point, I nodded toward a blonde, very made-up woman nearby and asked Roxane, “Who is that?” Roxane shrugged and said in my ear, “She looks like she was popular. We probably didn’t know her.” 

The line cracked me up — so damn true! — and made me think about how unformed and fragile we all are as teenagers. The men and women in that bar were barely recognizable to me now, so they no longer possessed the power over me that I’d once so willingly granted them. Thankfully, I was no longer the girl who’d simply cower when being barked at in the hall (to imply I was a dog) by an a-hole football player between classes.

Time is, of course, the great equalizer, as evidenced by the room of bald heads, graying hair, and filled out, middle-aged bodies I found myself in. Frankly, though my life wasn’t perfect, I finally felt wholly comfortable in my skin. Yes, I’d never quite landed after being laid off, in middle age, from my dream job as a newspaper staff arts reporter – I now work alongside teenagers as a part-time library page and take occasional freelance writing assignments — but I’d lived life on my own terms, had some wonderful friends and experiences, and I’d created a family I loved dearly.

So I felt OK as I talked to the guy who remembered my nutty rollerskating stunt, and conversed with a former trumpet player who recognized me from photos I’d posted online, and greeted a looming tree of a man who’d been in my calculus class senior year. 

“Someone was just telling me you’re hilarious on Facebook,” he told me, pointing a thumb over his shoulder.

What the hell? I’d thought. Where was all this validation and peer love when I was an adolescent and so desperately needed it? And where was it coming from now?

But on some level, I already knew the answer to the second question. It sprang from social media which, for all its ills — and they are legion — may also make an informal 30th high school graduation a far better, more positive affair for an introvert-band-geek-turned-writer.

Because the cringe-y small talk can be skipped. 

Because you’ve already been following each other’s stories over the years.

Because while Facebook can often feel like a dangerously annoying highlight reel of other people’s lives, it can also, if you’re willing to be vulnerable, be a means of inviting people to spend time inside your mind and your heart. 

When I’m writing social media posts, I view myself as a guest at a years-long virtual dinner party. I’m not there to start (or take part in) fights. I’m there to say everything from “wow, I was a crappy parent today” and “yet another job interview went nowhere” to “I finally get to do a story I’ve wanted to do for years now” and “my 8 year old used an adverb correctly, and I’m about to cry with happiness.”

Going into that reunion, I didn’t need to prove myself or talk myself up or show off. Thanks to social media, the people who’d been friendly to me during our school years already knew precisely the person I’d become.

And I did, too.

So when the bar’s lights suddenly dimmed, and a DJ dropped a Pitbull song, I couldn’t resist (like a full-on chick flick cliché) claiming a bit of space for dancing – mostly by myself, but also kind of with Paula’s affable, tipsy husband (another fellow classmate). What can I say? I could barely contain a physical, spontaneous urge to celebrate. A kind of bodily “Song of Myself.”

To others in the bar (including some of my classmates), I may have looked silly or absurd – a nearly fifty year old woman cutting a rug, mostly solo, before stepping back out into the rainy night. 

But to me, it felt like the culmination of a wholly satisfying evening and – given the nature of the occasion – an arrival. When I was a teenager, my peers and I, on a daily basis, only saw what I wasn’t. 

Now, it seems, what’s visible is what I am. I’m finally being “seen,” in the way I’d always wanted. 

And strangely, I have social media to thank.

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