Aging in both directions

pink teddy bear

I turned 40 last month. 40! My wife organized a wonderful party for me which ended with me, my sister and some close friends I have known since high school around a firepit at 2:00 in the morning, feeling full from paella, beer, s’mores and friendship. My wife kept texting my sister to tell her we were being too loud. 40. I’ve probably lived more than half of my life already. 40. Aren’t I supposed to have figured out my life by now?

40… One part of me finds it very scary, and I start worrying that career-wise I have wasted a lot of my life pursuing something that is not a good fit for me. On the other hand, other than the aches and pains that are more common than a few years ago, I don’t feel all the different. In the months leading up to my birthday, I had several people, mostly in their 60s it seems, independently tell me that 40 was young, and a lot of people they knew hit their stride in their 40s. My hope is to use that fear of having wasted a lot of my life and the optimism that I have more to come, in order to change my life and career. I want to not only find more meaningful work, or at least my make my current work more meaningful, but also be able to step back from the stress and annoyances and appreciate my family and life more fully. Tall order, but if this my mid-life crisis, I want to do something useful with it.

My eldest daughter has taught me something about aging as well. She’s about to turn 8. Behavior-wise, it has been a particularly rough few months, It’s been hard for both me and my wife. My daughter has been increasingly oppositional, has had issues with feeling bullied at school, and in turn has taken some of that out on her younger sister. With me, almost anything I say is greeted with eye rolls, or looks of extreme disgust and hate or just plain screaming in irritation. In addition, the slightest request is greeted with “You are sooo MEAN!” which often devolves into saying how much she hates me. I can usually let it roll off my back, but experiencing it over and over and over again allows that antagonism to sink in. With all of this behavior, I tend to think of her more as a teenager, and often forget that she is really so young.

It was in the midst of this, that I ran across a new teddy bear she had made at the mall laying on the floor of her room. It’s extremely pink, and she spent her own money to buy it a little dress. I found it so girly and young, that I was suddenly yanked out of the past few months and was able to see my daughter as the really young girl that she is. I could see her behavior as a coping mechanism for the discomforts she is going through in life. My wife had been telling me this for sometime, but it wasn’t until the teddy bear that it finally clicked. I also remembered the observation made by our couple’s therapist (our daughter’s behavior has been a major stressor in my marriage) that I am usually the only one who can get her to fall asleep(she has chronic insomnia). It doesn’t make the behavior any better, but it gives me something to hold onto when she is telling me how much she doesn’t like me. Being the only one to get her to fall asleep can be inconvenient, but I know in a few years time I will look back wistfully at our youthful 40 and 8 years of age, when I could lay next to her, scratch her back and watch my daughter fall asleep.