Yesterday could have been a day… like any other day. The kids went to school, I went home to work, do laundry… you know. Home things. But. Then. Yesterday, I also turned 40.
(sorry about the shakiness. But, hey. How many women hit the elliptical on her 40th birthday?)
I’ve always looked at birthdays as just another day. And, really, decades the same. I mean, sure, someone long long long ago decided that the world should work on a deca- system with 10 being the round number. It could just as easily have been 12 or 14–we would have learned to celebrate on our 14th year and our 28th year–perhaps after 42 years we’d host a big party. Woohoo! 3-fourteenigiacs! You did it!
Alas, we do celebrate round tens and, so, yesterday I hit my 4th decade, my fourth floor (though, in America, isn’t it really the fifth?) and, yes, some may say I’m over the hill.
Over the hill? What hill? There’s so much ahead of me, are we so certain that I’m truly over a hill? I feel like I have far too much climbing to do than start walking downhill today. Over the hill once referred to being halfway through life expectancy, eighty being the opposite of birth. And while, statistically, life expectancy is still around 79, there’s a general feeling, still, of youth at forty.
I look around at friends in their forties and then rack my brain to my impression of 40 when I was younger and, wow, those two things are very different. I’m still young. My friends are still young. We don’t look or act what a typical 40 year old should act, right? I mean, I go out with friends, I play. I even, oh my goodness, swing on the swings at the park. I’m fuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnnn. That doesn’t sound so over the hill now, does it?
And my friends agree. In discussing forty with friends in their forties and younger fifties, we’re all in general agreement. We look and feel young and healthy. We act young and healthy. So where is this stigma of age?
Does old age get older as we get older? Maybe. At what point will one finally feel old?
Where does the “forty is old” thing set in? Youth? I don’t think so. I really don’t think my kids think I’m “old.” Sure, 40 is a lot of numbers, but they aren’t asking me not to do things because I’m so old. They expect me to run the bases at the ball field and jump in the pit at gymnastics. (And I’m just dying to get on trampoline and bounce and flip.)
But, somewhere, there’s a break. Somewhere, some how, those (maybe) two generations ahead of me still believe in the stigma that forty begins old age. They’re the only ones telling me “don’t worry, age is better than the alternative” and “congrats on climbing over the hill” and “it really isn’t so bad being forty.” Sure, they’re trying to reassure me but they’re the only ones reminding me of any of the stigma.
If you share it and believe it, you make it real. Perhaps it’s not so much the problem that those who are forty believe forty to be old, but those who are now sixty started to feel old at forty. Is it because they were told to feel old, and believed it? Is it because our youthful generation is making them feel more old?
I don’t know what I’ll feel like at sixty or seventy, I don’t know what my friends and I will look like and whether we’ll be able to still do a perfect cartwheel across the school hallway. (Yes, I’ve done that recently. Though I was 39 so I may have to try again now that I’m 40.) I’m hopeful that 60 will still feel and look young to us. I’m holding onto hope that we’ll still have our youth on our side.
What’s more, I’m confident that this over the hill sentiment will die out by then. I don’t foresee us using it or discussing it any longer, because it simply no longer exists. We don’t associate forty with old.
So let this be a lesson to our elders. You’re only as old as you truly believe you are. We simply ask that you stop trying to make us believe we’re old.
© 2014, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.