39 lessons on my 40th birthday

I love birthdays, especially when they’re not my own. I like decorating cupcakes, surprising people with balloons, coming up with fun little gifts to put into the mail. This birthday, though? It has weighed on me for a while.

Today I’m 40.

Portrait of the author as a 40-year-old

Portrait of the author as a 40-year-old. Wearing a perfectly imperfect scarf she made with inspiration from Pinterest.

I’m not so keen to be 40. I’m not as skinny or as financially secure as I imagined I’d be. I haven’t written a book or run a marathon. Heck, I haven’t run a 5k! I have calloused heels, a cluttered kitchen and a to-do list that won’t stop running through my mind.

When I turned 30, my husband and I had been married for four years and were just easing into our second year as homeowners. We had a 5-month-old baby and jobs at the local daily newspaper.

I thought I knew a lot.

At 40, more of the known unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld would call them, have taken shape. I may not ever feel as sure of the world as I did at 30. Still, there are a few things I’ve learned that are worth sharing.

  1. Whatever you saw on Facebook is not the whole story.
  2. You can say no.
  3. Life is too short to drink wine you don’t like.
  4. Bad coffee, though, is sometimes better than none.
  5. Everyone looks better without direct flash. (And don’t even think of taking a selfie from anything lower than eye level.)
  6. It’s OK to buy the red car.
  7. The best craft projects for kids can be eaten or recycled.
  8. You’ll never read all the great books that are out there, but it’s sure fun to try.
  9. The only thing worse than owning a house is not owning a house.
  10. My parents were right about almost everything.
  11. Best part of being a mom on a business trip? Taking a hot bath without any interruptions. True story.
  12. Go ahead and cry if you need to.
  13. Egg drop soup and DayQuil are all you really need to get through a cold.
  14. Your children don’t care what you look like in a bathing suit; they just want to go swimming as often as possible.
  15. On a related note, your friends don’t care if you haven’t mopped the kitchen floor in six weeks. Invite them over anyway.
  16. Your vote matters.
  17. Take time to feel gratitude for small things. It’s clinically proven to boost your mood.
  18. If you go camping with someone for a few days and still like each other as you’re packing up the tent, that person is a true friend.
  19. Save the receipt.
  20. Internet friends are real.
  21. You can have frozen yogurt for lunch.
  22. Don’t underestimate the power of a really good back-up plan.
  23. No one else’s project looked just like the picture on Pinterest, either.
  24. Treasure the parenting milestones that don’t get a mention in the baby books. You know, like the first time your kid barfs into the sink instead of into her pillow.
  25. Try to cultivate friendships with people much older and younger than you are. They know how to have fun!
  26. You can’t have too many AA batteries in the house.
  27. Learn to say thank you when someone compliments you or your work.
  28. Go ahead and whoop when you ride your bike down the hill. You’re definitely not too old.
  29. Real friends will tell you when you have something stuck in your teeth.
  30. They will also show up when you’re having a crisis, whether you need help cleaning out your flooded basement or just a hug.
  31. The book was better.
  32. Send someone a real letter with a stamp on it at least once in a while.
  33. Prayer really does help.
  34. Sometimes, you have to toss out all the Tupperware and start over.
  35. Don’t put it in an e-mail if you wouldn’t want your mother to read it.
  36. It’s better to be too dressed up than to be the only jerk wearing jeans.
  37. Legos are still awesome.
  38. So is Play-Doh.
  39. I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline. (I’ve seen this bit of wisdom attributed to Duke Ellington, but it sure applies to writers!)

I’m leaving slot No. 40 empty for now. I’m sure this year will teach me some new lessons.