17 going on 40
by Dr. Nancy Salgueiro
My sister Jess asked me if I would write a piece on aging. My first thought was, "What? But none of my friends are old." My friends range from late 20's to 60's with my closest friends in their 30's and 40's. As I am approaching 40 in the coming weeks I decided to give the topic more thought.
I have previously analysed that 40 is likely a significant milestone since it is a time where you have the opportunity to reflect on the previous 40 years and decide what you want to do with the 40 you have coming up. Intellectually it makes sense to me that 40 would be a "thing."
As much as I live very far outside the status quo in the details of my life, on the surface my first 40 are pretty textbook out of the "set plan" that society has sold us. I graduated high school with honours at 17, went straight to University, started dating my now husband at 19, graduated on the Dean's List at 20 then moved away from home to do my second degree for my professional career, got a dog and graduated top of my class at 24, got married and started a business at 25, had my first baby days before turning 28 and bought our starter home within the year, had another baby at 30 1/2, got a nanny and started another business at 31, had my third baby days after turning 33 (all of them 2 1/2 years apart), made a career change so I could be home with the kids, bought our big house at 35, sprinkled throughout there was travel to all kinds of places around the world...and... "she lived happily ever after???"
No one talks about this part. It isn't told in story books or portrayed in movies. All the focus is on the lead up.
Through all of that time, all those accomplishments I never took the time to stop at look at what I had done, to see what I created and appreciate the effort, strength, and bravery it took. Never gave myself permission to just be in stillness to take it all in. I was always looking to the next thing because the whole time I felt as though I was waiting for my life to begin and that "real life" was just around the corner, just one accomplishment away. Graduate high school and then "real life" starts. Nope...not so fast. Go to univeristy or college and when you graduate then "real life" starts. Haha..gotcha, not quite yet. Get your career off the ground then that is when "REAL life" starts. And on and on it goes. So what does that look like at 39 years, 10 months, and 16 days old?
It looks like my kids asking if we can go for a bike ride and me saying I just need to finish (fill in the blank with any ongoing, mundane, necessary chore of life). It hit me a year ago when my daughter once asked, "Mama, what are you *just* doing?" - Not, "Mama, what are you doing?" No it was, Mama, what are you JUST doing?"
That was about 5 years ago and guess what? Nothing has changed. Plenty has changed, my kids are now 11, 9, and 6 (just weeks away from 12, 9, and 7) but I am still compelled to "just" get one more thing done before I make time to just be.
So what does all this have to do with aging? As I write this I am swinging in a hammock, camping with friends who are also over-accomplished and struggling to find peace in stillness. We took this weekend to be one of silence, fasting and reflection. No eating or talking before 4 pm, then we feast and connect until we decide to go to bed. We had to make a plan to finally give ourselves permission to be in stillness. I am the youngest one here and what I have discovered is that we all have a variation of the same story and it is a story we each could have recounted 10 years ago.
Yesterday in my silent time, as part of my reflection on the topic of aging, I went to the beach and decided to swim one lap of the swimming area for every year of my life. As I swam I took that time to reflect on what I could remember from each year. I swam 20 laps and felt like that must be it. There is no way I have been alive long enough to another swim 20. As I swam my second 20 I was just amazed that that quantity of time could possibly have gone by and get this, I feel like I have done nothing and wasted it all.
The more I think about it I am not convinced that aging is a thing. Until recently in my life I have felt like I was 15, maybe 17. And through my 20's, and most of my 30's, I have felt I am the person I was at 17. I knew who I was, felt on top of the world and that was/is just me. More recently I decided that maybe I am not still 17, nope now I am 28. That was the age of motherhood for me and motherhood is where I spend most of the hours of my day so that makes sense. But really I do not feel I am any older than that. I recently had a friend who is 28 talk about how she was having trouble committing to her partner because of the age gap between them. She disclosed that his age is 40. My immediate, authentic, and visceral reaction was, "But I am turning 40 this year and I am 28. There is no age difference."
When you are younger in years and you are looking forward it may look like those of us (almost 😉) in our 40's have years on you but really I think we are all still 17, 28, maybe even 35. We are still figuring out the same stuff we were trying to figure out 15 years ago.
We are still us, with all of our gifts and all of our baggage. We have travelled more revolutions around the sun, have more lived experiences under our belts, have more traumas, and have crossed paths with more people but I think that's it.
In reality "real life" started for me almost 40 years ago and as time goes on I do not feel like I am aging. Sometimes I feel the baggage feels heavier, I may feel more tired from carrying it for so long, I do feel more compelled to put it down and when I finally create the time to rest the bags aside for a weekend there are more laps to swim when reflecting on all my trips around the sun.
My struggle, my baggage, is and has been for years, to give myself permission to stop moving forward to the next thing and to just be in the joy of right now. Just this weekend the word recreation was broken down for me. RE-CREATION. To create again. I hope to spend my next 40 rediscovering and reconnecting to the joy of play and recreation. To be able to BE for joy, not for accomplishing the next task. To re-create what I want my lived experience to be. I believe that's what my 60 year old self would tell me to do with this time. Maybe then I will be able to speak to "aging." Right now I am not convinced it is a thing.
This year my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary of being together and I still cannot wrap my mind around being able to say I have done anything for 20 years. Maybe I really am still 17 after all.
Nancy Salgueiro is a mother, sister, daughter, wife, feminist, activist, writer and healer. You can check out her writing and work at www.yourbirthcoach.com