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A daughter turns 40; it's Mom who freaks out

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 30, 2002

My older daughter is about to turn 40! It just hit me, full frontal impact. I remember when I turned 40, knowing I was no longer a thirtysomething and that I was well and truly middle-aged.

What does my daughter think she's doing, turning 40? I'm not ready for her to be 40! She still drinks Coca-Cola for breakfast. Grownups require coffee in the morning. She slaps on a baseball cap when she's having a bad hair day. She wears grubby jeans. (Come to think of it, so do I.)

I've spent an entire decade thinking of my girls as "in their 30s," which of course they were. What do I get for my relatively complacent decade? She's turning 40 on me, and now I have to change my whole view of who she is . . . and who I am. Not fair!

I remember looking at my nose when I was 40 and thinking that it wasn't fair for a woman of my mature years to have to worry about a zit. I remember feeling pleased that my children were growing up so nicely, and sad that it was happening so fast. When I was 40 my marriage of 21 years was ending. It was a civilized end -- no yelling, no rancor, no fights over stuff -- but I faced being alone for the first time then.

I got reading glasses for the first time that year. I was struck by what a tidy midlife crisis I was having. MIDLIFE! Yikes. I still think of middle age as being half way between my age and the age of the oldest person I've ever heard of.

My whole family made a big deal about my 50th birthday. The entire clan assembled, and we all shared the case of flu that was going around that year. My younger brother turned 40 that year, but he still gloated about my advanced age. Fifty didn't seem a big transition to me. I was nine years into my second marriage, and I certainly didn't feel old. My older daughter had her first son with her, a tiny baby. My younger daughter was still in graduate school, unmarried and not yet worried about her biological clock.

I remember how my older brother worried that no one would pay any attention to his 60th birthday. He was wrong about that. We all took pains to tell him how young he still was, how athletic, how "with it." He is dead now. He didn't make it much beyond 60. That was certainly a wakeup call for me.

When my about-to-be-40 daughter had her first child, my mother announced that she positively loved being a great-grandmother. However, she wasn't all that fond of being the mother of a grandmother. (It will be a few years, I hope, before I have to face that one.)

I read recently that residents of Okinawa routinely live to be over 100. Maybe it is the rice, or maybe it's the laid-back, rural lifestyle. Maybe it's because they don't pay much attention to milestones like birthdays. I personally think it's because they go barefoot a lot. Going barefoot always makes me feel happy and young. (Maybe I'd better eat more fish and rice, just in case.)

A few years ago there was a National Geographic story about centenarians who lived in the mountains somewhere near Uzbekistan or one of those (then) remote places. Seems they stayed young by eating lots of yogurt. So, many of us held our noses and began eating yogurt. I now love yogurt but have lost faith that yogurt alone will grant me longevity.

My almost-40 daughter is in the throes of being the hub of her family. I remember that role. The problem seems to be that I have a life now. After my mother was widowed, she never remarried, kept the big house and encouraged family to visit often. I, on the other hand, remarried. I married a Swiss. We travel, often to places other than the homes of our children.

My daughter tries to keep from lecturing me on how self-indulgent I am and from pointing out that she is more aware than I of how quickly her children are growing up. She loves me and wants me in her life. (A widowed babysitter would be handy too.) Of course, she doesn't yet have the awful awareness of how short life really is.

Now she is about to be 40, and I'm freaked out about it. I wonder if she was freaked out when I turned 60?

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