By Todd Craig
A little over a year ago, I turned 40. 40 is a nasty age on paper because as I’ve discovered, every cliché about 40 happens to be mercilessly true. 40 is the age of your parents. 40 means turning the radio down instead of up, watching CBS instead of MTV, going to bed because you’re tired, and taking pride in working the crossword puzzle. 40 means losing hair in places where you want it - like on top of your head for example - and growing it places where it shouldn’t grow. Last night I plucked hairs out of the edges of my ears for Christ’s sake.
Fuck that shit.
Ten years ago, my body was nice and lean. I had a full head of hair and knew the singers of the music that everyone danced to. I made killer cd mixes, went out until mornings on the weekends, ate and drank with abandon, and never had to work out.
But then my thirties happened. I met a cute boy who was 20 and married him. We bought a house, owned a little wiener dog, adopted a baby boy, and began life together.
In fact, many of the dreams I had as a single gay man in my teens and twenties came true in my thirties. By the end of my 39th year, I was a successful gay man with a gorgeous young husband, a beautiful son, a nice suburban home, and a successful career as a middle school English teacher.
So when 40 arrived, I had a lot going for me.
Yet I dreaded 40. My impending birthday seemed like a day of reckoning that I wasn’t sure I was ready for. I kept thinking about things that I needed to do, things that I wanted to do, and trying to make sure that my last 40 years on this planet accomplished more than my first 40 years.
Why was I dreading my 40s, and what was I gonna do about it?
For me, 40 was a midlife crisis that couldn’t be solved with a new sports car, which was probably good because I didn’t have the money for one anyway.
Let the personal reflection begin.
I started off my forties with a gym membership. That tall, lean body I mentioned that I had at the start of my thirties? Yeah, somewhere between then and the end of my 39th year had seen me pack on more than fifty pounds. Part of that weight gain was due to parenthood’s endless stream of macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets; part of it was due to laziness and exhaustion that changing diapers at two in the morning necessitates. Part of that weight gain was also due to the natural slowing of my metabolism, too. But the reasons why I’d put on weight didn’t really matter as much as the so-what-the-hell-are-you-going-to-do-about-it part. All I knew was that my 32-inch waistline that I had when I was 32 had seemed to increase incrementally as my age increased. Was a 40-inch waistline at age 40 something that I wanted to have? It never occurred to me that being overweight would be a part of my being. What had occurred to me was that I wouldn't be taking my shirt off at the club anytime soon.
Again, fuck that shit.
So I made myself a promise that I would make the gym a part of my daily routine like brushing my teeth or wearing pants. I dug into the internet and found some workouts that I was pretty sure I could do. I visited my doctor and received a physical. My hubby and I pre-paid for a full year’s gym membership, and I hit the treadmill and weights with equal amounts of trepidation, embarrassment, and fervor.
I started out easy, lifting the My Little Pony weights, working my way up through Strawberry Shortcake barbells, and on past Rainbow Brite ones. I would sweat through one t-shirt doing cardio, run down and change in the locker room and sweat through another lifting weights. I became careful about the foods I ate. I quit snacking after 8 p.m. I started taking vitamins and drinking protein drinks.
After three months of work, a lot of the weight had disappeared. After a year, even I felt good about the amount of muscle that was beginning to form.
At the risk of sounding like George W. Bush, I could announce that part one of my midlife makeover, incorporating fitness into my life, was a mission accomplished.
Part two was going to be trickier. You see, I love my teaching career, and after almost two decades in the profession, I’m pretty good at what I do. My successes outnumber my failures, I’m still finding ways to keep my teaching fresh and different every year, and most importantly, I’m still finding ways to have fun teaching.
But like every English teacher ever, I was also a frustrated wannabe writer. I had gone back and forth when I enrolled in college whether or not I wanted to be a journalism major and be a writer or get an English major and be a teacher before I eventually chose to teach.
It never occurred to me that I could be both.
Sure, I’d kept journals along the way. I wrote a few poems, submitted an article or two here and there for publishing. But really, my career as a writer never existed.
So at age 40, I began to write again. Maybe it was grading all of those student essays and giving all that advice over the years, but maybe, finally, the teacher was listening to his own lessons. Whatever the reason, writing came back to me with an ease that took me by surprise. The words flowed naturally. I submitted articles, essays, and even some poetry for publishing, and I had enough success that I earned enough to buy me a nice writer’s desk and some bookcases and even claimed the title of “freelance writer” on my tax forms.
I love that I’m writing again. It’s given me a new voice and a new challenge that I had been missing out on for most of my young adult life.
Missing out on things that I want to do?
Yep, fuck that shit, too.
Turning 40 also gave me the swift kick in the ass I needed to start living life on my terms.
Maybe I don’t know much about the Kardashians, and maybe I do find The Mentalist more appealing than Jersey Shore.
I’m 41 now, and it turns out that other stuff isn’t made for me.
The stuff that I’m really interested in like my family, my health, and my passions are things I have to invest myself in. And I’ve discovered that the more I invest, the more I get in return.
So if you don’t mind, I’m going to turn the music down, hit my two-drink minimum, and turn in early for the night.
Turns out I’ve got lots to do tomorrow – just as soon as I finish this crossword puzzle.