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Rites of Passage at 40-Plus

Confidence and freedom? Love it! Chin hairs and being called ‘ma’am?’ Not so much.

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Illustration of party next to woman sitting at home enjoying time alone
Kruttika Susarla
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As a preteen, my mom told me about all the important milestones in a young woman’s life, like getting my period, sex and the perils of indulging before marriage. (OK, she didn’t actually tell me; she just handed me some pamphlets and signed me up for a middle school sex education class. But I liked to read, so it was all good.) Consequently, I was prepared for the cramps, the ginormous maxi pads and the possibility of going to hell because, apparently, sex before marriage was a sin. This aging thing, though?

I. Was. Not. Ready.

Where was the sit-down discussion about getting older? I really wish my mom had given me a heads-up about what would happen once I hit 40. The closest she ever got was to knowingly caution me to “just wait” when I’d laugh at her struggling to get out of a low chair or hear her joints pop. Her ominous tone should have been a clue that something was up. But back then I had limber joints, a flat stomach, perfect eyesight and not a care in the world.

Fast-forward twenty years and now I’m the one snap, crackle and popping as I get up from the couch, searching desperately for my missing metabolism and finally breaking down and buying reading glasses. In restaurants and stores, I’m now addressed as “ma’am.” How come I didn’t get a pamphlet telling me that at 40 the universe would flip a switch and my body would change, seemingly overnight? That my chin would suddenly sprout hairs so long they curled in on themselves like a pig’s tail? A few weeks after I discovered the first one, I spotted a grey pubic hair. I can still feel my soul seizing.

It seems as if every day I discover something new and different about myself. When did I start randomly humming? My jaw clicks when I yawn. The grey hairs on my head scream, “Vive la révolution!” as they stubbornly defy dye. My short-term memory is like Swiss cheese. What was I saying, again?

I’m learning to adjust. Every few days I do a chin check to make sure I haven't sprouted any new curlies. I try to eat healthier and exercise more. And to be kind to my joints, I've stopped doing things like kickboxing (I still miss it though) and dropping it like it's hot. The last time I actually tried it was at my 40th birthday party. The dropping is the easy part. It's the getting back up that's the problem. I dropped ... then plopped. My knees were like, “No, ma'am, we're on break.”

Even though I’m surprised about physical changes as I get older, I’m forever thankful for the maturity and confidence these last 43 years have brought. Back in the day, my “crazy girl” clique hung out and partied as a pack. If I wanted to go to a bar or the movies, I never would have dreamed about going without one of my crew. Now, I’m happy to try out a new bar or have dinner alone. I love uninterrupted me time, and I’ve learned how important quiet and solitude can be. Like Auntie Maxine, I’m reclaiming my time.

I recognize now that caring about what other people think about me is a waste of my time and energy, and I refuse to live my life by someone else’s rules. If I want to wear my studded cat-ear headband out in public, I’m rocking it. And if I want to date a younger guy? Put me in the wild and call me a cougar.

It took me a while to recognize my growing confidence as I age. The physical changes were glaring, as if someone had switched on a floodlight. The emotional maturity came to light as if someone had slowly raised a dimmer switch. But what’s evident now is that, yes, my eyesight is failing and my joints are stiff. But I’ve got the confidence of a superhero, the courage of a honey badger and the energetic spirit of a sparkly unicorn.

Just don’t call me ma’am.