Friday, May 18, 2012

I Am Turning Forty - Sto per compiere Quarant'anni


I legally turn 40 in 23 hours and I cannot help thinking about my life. I used to think 40 was old. "Se non lo faccio adesso che sono giovane quando lo faro'? Quando avro' quarant'anni?"  (If I don't do it now that I am young when will I do it? When I am 40 ?) In my mind, there has always been the idea that, when the age of a woman ends in ANTA (e.g. quaranta, cinquanta, sessanta), 90 times out of 100 this means that she is:

a mature and confident (even if she is not) woman that sets and follows rules, has security, is allowed to talk, complain and judge people. She no longer knows how to have fun outside the kitchen, has wrinkles, abundant make up (which often turns her face into a mask), shoulder length hair, short hair dyed to cover the grey and uses tons of moisturizers to stop her skin from drying out. She is respected by everyone, has status, is wise, or perhaps just boring, in some cases, stuffy, I mean


The truth is that a woman turning 40 receives age warnings from every person she meets: the primary care doctor asks her to get parts of her body checked in case there is something rotting away or breaking down - His request usually starts like this: "You have turned 40, I am afraid..."The sales assistant with a tactful tone utters these words: "I am afraid at your age a moisturizer is no longer sufficient". If you Google "turn 40" you get depressing results. Basically, when you turn 40 you are no longer young - you hear it all around - and believe me, this really sucks!


So the other night I went on a ladies night out to celebrate my 40th birthday. My original plan was to meet a bunch of girlfriends for cocktails, followed by dinner to end it all on the dance floor. I was sure that in a way or another I would have got all of us to dance, as in the good old days in England.

We drank our cocktails but none of us mentioned the dancing, not a single time during the evening. The night ended with us glued at the table in front of our unfinished desserts. I enjoyed so much chatting with my girlfriends (also moms turning 40) that dancing ceased to be the top priority for the night. We all needed to chat, badly, and believe me, it was such a therapeutic experience! Yet, this morning in the shower, I could not explain why I did not bother to get up and drag my friends to the dance floor.

40 years... as a teenager it seemed so far away and appeared as the age when you will know who you are, right? When you will be sure of your look, what you want to do, your career, your relationships, what you love and hate. The day I turn 40 I will know who I am.
Well, in the last year my body has reminded me that I’m not twenty any more. My mom job often feels like hard labor. There are days I feel so worn out I cannot open my eyes in the morning until 11 am. My feet hurt on a regular basis and I use a mountain of pillows to position myself comfortably in bed before I can fall asleep. Strangely, I – my soul – doesn’t feel any different than before: hotheaded, stubborn, rebellious. Yet, me as a twenty year old girl was imagining a very different 40 year old than the one I am now.
I don't know why, I always imagined myself either in a brilliant career as a manager or in the role of an artist in constant need of expression. For some reason, there was always in me the idea of a completely different "me", either the idea of a woman  super organized and efficient or the opposite, a woman who keeps a notebook beside her bed to jot notes of her creative ideas in the middle of the night but who cannot remember to turn up at a doctor's appointment. For some reason, I had to turn into one of these two types of women and the men I was dating also had to fit into one of these two categories, always leading to bad mistakes on my part.

So there were two possibilities.
Either I would have put my hair up all the time to look like a manager, I would have lowered the tone of my voice to sound refined and sexy and would have had a wonderful career with the confidence of the woman in Basic Instinct...

Or, I would have been a crazy artist, with the head buried in creative thoughts in a messy and filthy apartment. A terribly good looking boyfriend. The exhibition I could finally go to with my long dress (like Kim Basinger in nine and a half weeks) and my unusually pointed shoes. My friend Laura probably remembers these past fantasies of mine."Oh mio Dio!" (OMG!), she would say at the end.

Come on, I was sixteen. Forgive me for being so naive at that time. When I was sixteen, I was convinced that I would remain single and childless for my entire life, in constant search of adventures. This is what I would have probably said if I had met the 40 year old woman I am now:
- "OMG! a child? I have a husband too? Are you kidding?"
- "Where is my cool job? ah, I moved to Boston. Why? To stay at home with a child? You loser! Yes, the child is really really cute but how can you stay for more than an hour with him without forgetting him on a bus? You have changed!"

I don't know why everything turned out differently than I expected. It did, and I feel much richer for it; more in control of my choices, including the hard ones. Is this what turning 40 is about? Is this why they say that "life begins at 40"? Perhaps. The other night, while I was enjoying a simple chat with the ladies, this strange thing happened:

Man: "Can I just ask you a question? Is the color of your dress green or blue? We are currently having an argument on this. My mother says it's green, I say it's blue!" 
One of my friends: "It could be either, depending on how you want it to be".

The answer wasn't just about the dress. If he had asked me whether I was still in my thirties or in my forties, the answer would have probably been the same. Funny how the mind goes.

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