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This Comes With 40

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I have written about turning 40 before. When I actually turned 40. That was more than two years ago.

And my perspective has changed -- slightly but significantly. Slowly, I've become less concerned with the opinions others hold of me and terribly concerned with my own. Speaking my mind, showing weakness and being proven wrong are no longer the worst things I could do. At the same time, the stakes have never been higher. My children look to me for an example of how to live reasonably, happily and with purpose. Their faces show me their fear or their joy in response. All the moments count now.

I think relentlessly about reaching my goals. Those things we determine, set, work toward, sacrifice for, revisit, reinvent, sometimes regret and, if we are lucky, celebrate. Those goals seemed once to have an expiration date so far in the future, it was impossible to imagine not reaching the other side. Now, each day I am aware of the future pressuring the present. Often, I sit at the kitchen counter, my laptop in front of me, staring at downtown Manhattan at midday, making little progress toward any end. There are emails and unfinished posts opened, lunches and class parent responsibilities dotting my agenda book; there is work to complete on deadline. How aware I am that there is little time among these to devote to window gazing.

I no longer obsess about calories or cellulite, fashion or gossip, but I worry about growing old. The old ladies in my neighborhood do not seem as alien as they once did, when I was a graduate student, unable to imagine a time when I might be left alone.

I realize I have more than I ever expected or could have dreamed. Gone, mostly, are the fantasies that extravagant vacations (I've taken one or two), invites to fancy parties (I have been to several) or the right address (I've tried this over and over) could minimize my problems. And yet, I do not have everything that I want. So few of the answers I desperately hunted down truly satisfied. I designed my life without knowing it: three surprising, remarkably funny children; a husband who supports my writing; friends I miss all over the world; a life in the big city. I spent years searching for the "path" without seeing I was on it.

This gratitude, humility, uncertainty and ambition come not with this decade exclusively, of course. They come with our experiences of the years -- both the staggering and the casual. With being in what may be the middle of my life. These come with a moment when looking forward is infinitely more promising than looking behind me.

This was originally published on Mama One to Three.