by Jackie Sanders

I am 40. You’d never know it if you looked inside my soul. You’d think I was 23, maybe 26 at the most. No, the only giveaway is my face, my body. The changes don’t happen all at once, they’re gradual, hardly noticeable, until all of a sudden, they’re very noticeable. I looked down at my hands the other day and said, “These aren’t my hands, these are my mother’s hands.” At that moment I remembered my mom saying the exact same thing when I was a kid.

When my mom was the age I am now, I thought she was a sweet, content woman who had no desires, regrets, or ambition. She lived to serve her family and loved every minute of it. I believe that probably every ten-year-old thinks the same thing about their mom. You don’t get to hear the true story until you’re all grown up (as it should be).

I remember my mom loved to do flips down the shiny floor of the department store where she worked. I thought she was the most talented gymnast I’d ever seen, and I was so proud to see her show off in front of customers and coworkers alike. I didn’t know of any other mom who loved to jump and dance around like she did. She used to tell me she still felt 16, and I truly couldn’t understand. How could she still feel like a teenager when she was so, well, old?

As a child, how can you possibly understand how it feels to watch yourself grow older? Youth is power, youth is everything—being middle aged will never come knocking on your door. You have all the time in the world to learn, explore and rule. You will have time to make mistakes and then correct them. You will have time to travel the world, have an important career, marry, have children—all while figuring out your purpose in life, your meaning. After all of that, you will happily retire, enjoy your grandchildren, have no regrets and finally, die a peaceful death.

And that is what I really thought. And that is what I’m sure my daughter thinks. And God bless her, maybe somehow she can come close. But for me, those expectations led me to be incredibly disappointed. Disappointment. What an appropriate word for our human existence. We’re given so much hope and visions of grandeur as children that we’re just bound for disappointment.

When I was 16 years old, I met the man of my dreams (well, alright, boy). I thought that if I could just catch this perfect person, I would be fulfilled. I got the boy, who turned into the man, who did everything to make me happy. But of course, 25 years later, we look at each other and wonder if we helped or hindered our spirit’s growth, leaning on each other rather than developing our own true selves. And on top of worrying that we’ve disappointed ourselves, we worry that we’ve disappointed one another.

At 40, I’m just trying to figure out where I belong in this world. Sometimes I feel as though there’s no room for women my age, that all the riches of the world belong to those nubile young women who are just starting out with such endless possibilities. But in this next chapter of my life, I have such a new found sense of freedom. The old insecurities I constantly felt in my youth have been replaced with confidence and a desire to live life to the fullest. When I do cartwheels down the street and my daughter giggles and claps, who else do I really need to impress?