Turning 40: Plans and What I’ve Learned

This is how I want to be remembered.

Miles run today: 4.5

Mornings spent at the beach last week: 6

Years I’ve been alive: 40!

I’m back! My husband, two kids and I spent last week at the beach with: my sister and brother-in-law, Mom and Dad, my aunt and grandmother and three dogs.

It was every bit as crazy and fun as you would expect. We spent every morning on the beach, spent most afternoons playing Apples to Apples or dominoes (Mexican Train, which I hadn’t played before) and laughed a lot. My good friend and her family happened to book the same week at the same beach, so we got to visit on the beach and share a meal together.

While I was there, I turned 40.

I’ve thought a bit about what I want to do before I’m 50 and what I’ve learned by this mid-life point. I thought I’d share them with you.

To Do List Before I Turn 50

1. Learn to surf. I don’t mean that I plan to win competitions in Tahiti with the kind of surfing where they drive you out on a high-powered jet ski and drop you off on waves that would top my two-story home. I mean that I want to learn to stand on a board and catch waves and wipe out a lot and not care.

2. Publish a (New York Times bestselling) novel. While I would love to say that I’m okay with toiling away in obscurity, the truth is that people reading and enjoying your writing is a very big part of why people write. I will keep trying. And even if my novel is published when I’m 49 1/2, I will continue chanting to myself, “Fifty is the new 40.”

3. Visit San Francisco and California wine country. I haven’t done a lot of traveling, and I would like to do more. Tahiti and Thailand and various spots in Indonesia and Australia top my wish list, but I thought I’d be realistic. My kids will (sob!) be heading off to college within the next ten years, so jetting off to Madagascar might have to be on hold for a little while longer (the Before-60 To Do List??).

4. Stay healthy. The old saying about how your health is the most important thing used to confuse me as a child. Health? It was so taken-for-granted that I thought only old people had to worry about it.

Like after you got old (35, maybe 40), things like cancer or multiple sclerosis could sneak up on you and kill you in a second. Then you were gone, and it didn’t matter anyway. No biggie. Maturity and growing wise are double-edged swords: now I know how quickly you can go from the picture of health to fighting for your life. For years.

I am now officially one of those old people who talks about treasuring your health. Let me bore you for a while.

5. Help my children love themselves and eventually make meaningful contributions to society. All of you parents out there who are working hard to do the right thing for your children: kudos. We all have different ideas about what the right things are, but if your children know they are loved and supported, they get to start out their adult lives at a distinct advantage.

I know, because I felt like I got a jump-start on most of my peers. My parents (gasp!) sacrificed to make sure I started my adult life happily and healthily.

And now, if I had to write a letter to my 20-year-old self, here’s what I’ve learned in the past 20 years:

Dear 20-Year-Old Anne,

You’re a good kid. Not perfect, mind you, but pretty darn good.

I know you don’t have any big image in your mind of life at age 40. That’s okay. But someday you will think about the choices you made and question them. Here are some things I’ve learned to try to save you some time in the intervening years.

1. Get rid of the jealousy. Other people have talents and great gifts. You have them, too. Stop looking over your shoulder and comparing yours to theirs. You’re just fine as you are.

2. Wear sunscreen on your eyelids. Seriously. You haven’t heard about this phenomenon yet, but your eyelids will one day have a disconcerting way of sitting on top of your lower lids. I know. It’s not cool. Wear sunglasses and protect yourself. Contrary to what you may think now, you will not be a multi-millionaire who can pay to correct this horrible misfortune. You will have to live with them as they are.

3. There aren’t any Major Life Points for achieving the perfect life before you’re 30. We all know you’re goal-oriented. And this will cause you no end of angst. Not everyone (including your future husband) is on the same ambitious timetable. Maybe you could sit back and have a few more pieces of Cracklin’ Oat Bran. It all works out just fine in the end.

4. You will meet someone who doesn’t think marriage and kids are akin to death. You will also, later on, keep having friends and family members tell you that he looks just like David Beckham, which frankly, gets a little old. I know: You haven’t heard of David Beckham yet. Trust me; it’s worth waiting a few years to find out. Yum.

5. Start writing the Great American Novel now. You have some kind of romantic notion that you are very busy at age 20. I am here to tell you that you are the least busy you will ever be again. The hours are stretching out before you like a 5-year-old’s wait for next Christmas on December 26. You may not have a whole heck of a lot to write about, but you could start practicing.

You know that time that you think you’ll have after the future babies are born, when you’re “hanging out” at home, not doing anything? Maybe I should let you in on a little secret: you will be so sleep-deprived that you forget your sister’s phone number. Yes, the same sister you call every day. You will also have, not quiet, well-mannered babies that exist only in the imagination, but babies who talk to you every second of the day. If you think you will get tons of writing done while you’re a stay-at-home mom, rethink that plan.

6. Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s becoming a parent or being a stay-at-home parent, or getting older. But you will mellow in these 20 years. When someone cuts you off in traffic, you start thinking back to that really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day you had that time when you couldn’t see out the windshield because you were crying so hard.

When the men who happily held the door open for you when you were pregnant but dropped the door on you when you had a 2-year-old in tow and a huge double stroller with a starving newborn inside, you were able to take the high road and feel bad for that man who couldn’t stay home with his little ones.

And when the store clerk is rude, you are able to feel pity for her. She might be going through a divorce or wrestling with chronic pain.

Someday in the future when you are in pain or manage to offend someone else, you can only hope that the other person has learned the same lesson.

7. The best news of all: you get to be 40. Not everyone does. So when someone laughs at your middle-agedness or the dressing room guy at the Banana Republic Outlet Store looks down his nose at you as if you are too old to wear such fun, youthful clothes, give him the full eye-twinkle look. Be proud. You made it!

My Kind-Of Stint at Rehab

I love these unusual hibiscus flowers my mom got from a friend.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Words written in novel so far: 32,655

Years I have been a freelancer: almost 12

As I prepare to head back to “traditional” work this fall, I thought I’d do a series of blog posts about my illustrative early work. Hope you enjoy it!

I spent some time at drug and alcohol rehab.

Not in an Amy Winehouse kind of way, but as a “staff” member.

Back in the ’80s, I was a goody-goody. I guess I’m still kind of a goody-goody, and I’ve made my peace with that.

The summer I was 16, I needed work. Word got out, and my parents asked around, and before you could say, “Paycheck,” I/they had something all lined up.

What I pictured for my 16th summer: me, as a lifeguard at a water park, wearing a bathing suit and flirting with new and exciting teenage boys from exotic high schools across town.

What I got: a stint at drug and alcohol rehab.

The woman across the street was a secretary for a local drug and alcohol rehab clinic, and she discovered that they needed someone to cull the files so the center’s building was not overrun with papers.

Why not get a goody-goody to do it? Yep. You guessed it. I was that goody-goody.

Guess what that teenage goody-goody got paid? Hold onto your seats, now… Six dollars an hour! I know. It was like winning the lottery. I was destined to be rich forever with such an auspicious beginning.

I did half-days, so about 10 a.m., I would drive over to the seamier side of town with the windows down. I would not be exaggerating if I told you that Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” played on every single trip to work. I came to think of it as my theme song. Would you like for me to sing it for you?

When I arrived at the nondescript rehab center, I couldn’t decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing, but no one questioned my badge or my reason for being there. I flashed my badge authoritatively and strode to my office like a champ.

The front part of the rehab center looked like an office complex. The back? Who knows? I never got to see it.

I walked in, down a narrow hall to the right and into a file room with no windows. I spent my hours at rehab in a gigantic, vanilla box. The file cabinets were beige, the walls were beige, and the files themselves were beige.

I started to think that rehab might not be that interesting.

And then, when I started reading the files, I reconsidered. These 16-year-old kids who played basketball and ate lunch and went to group therapy just on the other side of my vanilla wall had, in fact, had very interesting lives.

People even took the time to write long tomes about their experiences. Longhand. Like, not using Microsoft Word.

The administration must have known that goody-goodies read things. Unlike renegades, who might merely trash random papers and hope no one finds out, I felt compelled to read the provided materials. In great detail. What I learned: Parents had not been parenting, kids had devised creative plots to obtain illegal substances, and rock bottom meant much more than it had in Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” drug education program.

My job was to get rid of documents B, F, and M (or whatever) and clip the bare bones, most dire documents back into place.

My job was fraught with injury. Can you say “paper cuts”? I learned to employ Band-Aids as a sort of thimble.

My job didn’t require me to be there full-time. I learned why: it wasn’t because they didn’t have the money to pay me.; it was because they were afraid I would die of boredom. And they didn’t want any blood on their hands.

The lessons I took away from that job were:

1. I needed a job that included other people. I would have settled for one other person. Who breathed.

2. I needed to learn how to type. I did not want 50 pages longhand to be part of my future career.

3. I needed to find a job that people cared about. The kind of job that made people say, “Now, that was helpful.”

4. I needed to learn to take a better photo for my badge. My badge photo rivaled my driver’s license picture for awkward supremacy.

5. I needed to remember to “Just Say No.” Rehab sounded all fancy when celebrities did it. But a vanilla building in the suburbs wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And I didn’t want some 16-year-old goody-goody reading about my exploits.