Okay, everyone get out your shiny new day planners, calendars, and time management apps.
Good. Now put a big star around October 11. That is my 40th birthday, and you are all invited to my dance party/dinner/fun fest. I want an excuse to buy a new dress and laugh until my sides ache. And I want to be happy. Because you know what? I’m pretty damn excited about where I am and where I’m going.
I know that turning 40 is supposed to make me cry and wonder where all the time has gone. I remember the black party decorations for my mom when she hit this milestone, and the ‘holding at 39’ jokes. I guess she was supposed to be sad about being that age and that her life was over. My brother Michael did not handle 40 like a champ. It was probably because we threw him a lame family party he told us not to do. When my brother Rob turned 40, he had a big party at his house and doubled down on sporting hobbies that proved his youth and vigor. And I haven’t been exactly kind to the myth of the death of youth and fun at 40 myself, having deemed our friend Old Man Curtis when he became the first of our group to hit that age.
And now 40 has come for me, well, in nine months anyway. And though I’ve been upset about it in the past, today, I’m not. I am not giving in to the stereotype recently reinforced by the movie This is 40, and neither are a lot of really smart women I know.
First, my marriage is in a good place. My husband and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we have figured out a lot about how to work together. I’m sure we have a lot more to learn, but for now, we compromise well and take good care of each other. I firmly believe my husband puts his family first and is intentional in the way he loves us. We’ve survived loss, new lives (Twins! What a fun marriage test!), and two years in Poland away from friends and family. Also? My husband is hot with grey hair at his temples and his toned legs from walking to work every day.
My twins are going to be in kindergarten when I turn 40. I’m not sure why, but it feels like I’ve reached some sort of achievement by keeping them alive until school age. It’s like I leveled up in the parenting game, and I am so ready. Though things are harder emotionally for big kids, and I already worry about how they will face bigger disappointments, I also get to watch them begin their life’s path. They have blossomed so much in this past year, and I know it will only get more interesting as they enter school. I love their perspectives on life and the way they look out for each other. I can’t wait to see the next steps.
But Stephanie, you say, turning 40 for a woman is all about lost beauty and lost opportunities. Well, to you I say:
Because I’m too busy being awesome. I’m not a super cougar hottie. I’m not Stacie’s mom. But, I’m not too hard to look at. This body has done a lot for me, and I can’t blame it for being a bit worn in places. My stomach? Dude’s been in battle. My legs? They have danced a thousand dances and continue to carry a five-year-old when needed. My face? Lined with laughter’s left-overs reminding me of how much happiness I’ve seen. (My neck? Crap. My mom told me for 25 years to take care of it, but I didn’t listen. Thank God for expensive neck cream. I will continue to buy it even if it means I can no longer afford new shoes. Yes ma’am. It’s that serious.)
I have a good vibe going on in my mental and spiritual world too. I know me well. I’m not perfect, but I know where my imperfections lie. I’m somewhat able to work around them. For example, I know I procrastinate, and I try to fight that natural tendency with lists and self-imposed screen-time restrictions. I face all the parts of me, and I’ve even been known to make a joke or two about them. I know my passions. Writing is back in my life, and I am a happier woman for it. Not only that, but I think I’m a more driven person as well. I want to improve my writing and be read and appreciated by more people. I will write my Poland book and who knows what else. I am surprised because I guess I thought you couldn’t have new goals and dreams at this age.
My heart is also screaming out and yearning to get back to teaching. I remember going to my 10-year high school reunion. I had just decided that teaching sucked, but I had no real plan for another path. So, I worked an hourly job at Citibank and wallowed in existential questions. Could there be a better time to meet up with people who knew you when you were an over-achieving honors graduate? I cried a lot that weekend.
But now, I’m sure. I am a teacher. I love English. I would marry the rules of grammar if it were legal. I am here, ready to help you with your writing and work on my own. I want to talk about books and themes and the power of language.
I have so much to look forward to just in 2013. We are moving back to Texas. I get to see my friends and family. I get to go to writing conferences and continue to meet women who inspire me. When I went to my writing conference last October, it was like a new world opened up to me. I guess I didn’t think old ladies like me could make new friends. But I did. And they happen to be women with goals and dreams and positive attitudes. I want to start a new part of my blog that includes video lessons for families needing grammar and writing guidance, and these women helped me solidify this idea. They make me a better person, and I can’t wait to see how that manifests for me as I turn 40.
So, Judd Apatow, this is really what 40 is and can be. It’s being at a place where you can use the lessons you’ve learned and try new things. It’s a time to enjoy some of the rewards of your hard work while you continue to seek new successes. It’s a time when anything is still possible though sometimes at a slower speed. So, if you come to my 40 and fabulous party, don’t bring any tired stereotypes or weak jokes about getting older. I will punch you in the throat and then blog about it.
So, what about you? What do you like about your age? What are you looking forward to as the next milestone approaches?
A weekly service where I teach you some Polish.
koniec–[konyech];noun, end, finish
Example Sentence: To jest koniec. (This is the end.)
Notes: Well my friends, I did it. I had my final Polish lesson last night. I earned my certificate which proclaims me to be at level A2, and I’m guessing the highest you can get is Z100 because that’s about how far I am from being fluent. My teacher gave me a gift; it was a flashdrive with a song that reminded her of her mother who passed. It is in both English and Polish. Why would she give me a sad song? She had read my blog about my brother passing and how I grieve, and she thought I would like to hear it. How sweet is that? She really was a great teacher and is a kind person. I’m glad I was here to meet her. For my final lesson, we listened to “Silent Night” in Polish and translated it. It was so beautiful. I couldn’t find the version we listened to, but I found one that is nice which I hope you enjoy.
Wesołych Świąt. (Merry Christmas.)
I think we can now agree I shouldn’t post while emotional. My post on Friday after learning of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, was written quickly (without editing, gah) and just isn’t what I meant it to be. I’ll leave it up though because many people were kind enough to read it and comment. I also think it does show one reaction to news of 26 dead at an elementary school.
Yesterday we took the boys to Old Town in Gdansk. It was softly snowing. The river was frozen. We ate at one of our favorite restaurants and enjoyed hot chocolate and classic Polish Zurek. After our late lunch, we walked the main street and looked at lights as snow continued to fall. We were able to see the Christmas market and eventually find our way back to our car. We dusted off the snow and headed home for a quiet night in our cozy apartment. We had a near-perfect family outing. It was pure Christmas joy and family love. It both soothed my nerves from Friday’s news and broke my heart. I can’t even imagine how those families are feeling, how snow and beautifully lit trees will bring back the hurt again and again.
And then I read my father’s words and felt even stronger hurt for our country and the things that are broken. My dad is a good man, and he tries to see both sides of every issue. He thinks his feelings through, and rarely acts hastily. He also doesn’t try to share them on Facebook because he prefers a real-life discussion. So, his published words really made me think. Here is what he posted on his Facebook:
“Tougher gun laws or no? Lots of discussion with good arguments on both sides I guess. What occurs to me is our whole culture seems to glorify violence, greed, and sex. I think it has dulled our senses to what we have become. When my grandkids are here, I can’t even watch most television because of the trashy programs. The same ‘caring’ Hollywood personalities that take a high and mighty stand on social issues make a huge living on sex, violence, and greed. Our legislators care more about getting re-elected than any other objective, and fill their pockets from donors and influence-buyers. It is hard to name a big formerly solid organization that hasn’t been tainted i.e. religious entities, boy scouts, teachers, unions, police officers – you name it. Social media is so dangerous today we should not let our kids use it unsupervised.
My heart aches for the victims and families of this latest atrocity. We are all hurting if we have a speck of humanity, and we should all consider what we have made important in life.”
Those are some really good points. I think this isn’t just a tragedy about a school and its inhabitants being so grossly violated, but it’s also a picture of what we’ve become. And sadly, they were probably not the only children killed by guns this week. My friend Addye left some comments on my post Friday that spoke to this as well. She was saddened and angry by the deaths on Friday, and it was important for her to remind us that violence is not so newsworthy in many cities in our country because it is just so common.
We also will be talking more about mental health issues after this. I alluded to it poorly in my original post. Whether or not the killer was mentally ill is not the main point. Mental illness does not egual evil; most people who suffer from mental illness are not destined to go on violent rampages. As with gun control, I meant to say I hope this tragedy brings about a discussion on how we view and treat the mentally ill. We cannot leave them to suffer because we assume they are dangerous or unworthy. And we can’t paint all persons who suffer from mental issues with the same brush. They are as individual as the rest of us. Don’t push away this tragedy and say it was an anomaly because the gunman was crazy. Don’t use that as a reason to do nothing.
That brings me to my real main point from Friday. We can’t keep getting upset and then doing nothing. What is bothering you today? Are you sad that guns are so easy to get? Are you mad that you have lost family members to mental health crises because they had no support? Do you wish we showed violence and other harmful activities less often on TV and in movies? Then do something. Change your family. Change what you talk about. Bring up the hard topics and try to get people talking in a constructive way. And please, please, write and call your politicians. We need to make them accountable to what we want as citizens.
Finally, I would like to share some wiser words I’ve read this weekend. As a writer, I try to read the best, and it makes a difference in my writing and in my heart. I’d like you to see what I find to be well-written arguments and concerns. Some are calls to action, and some are just hearts pouring out their pain.
“Every country has a sizable contingent of mentally ill citizens. We’re the one that gives them the technological power to play god. This is all about guns — access to guns and the ever-increasing firepower of guns.” by Gail Collins of the New York Times.
“Why in the world do we regulate teddy bears and toy guns and not real guns that have snuffed out tens of thousands of child lives? Why are leaders capitulating to the powerful gun lobby over the rights of children and all people to life and safety?” by Marian Wright Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund.
“I cry for the parents, running to the school as if they themselves were on fire, hearts pounding, praying out loud, please let my baby be safe, please let my baby be safe.” by Alexandra at Good Day Regular People.
“As a culture we must set better priorities. We have created an environment where an abstract sense that everyone is entitled to own guns in this country trumps a safe reality for our children.” by Korinthia Klein at Korinthia’s Quiet Corner
I admit that I am easily riled. I can get angry or excited pretty quickly. Yes, I’m very cocker spaniel puppy that way. I’ve learned over the years to slow down and think before I act on my impulsive feelings. Usually.
I’m not going to wait today. I’m going to get it all out because this is important. It’s important that good people start getting angry and active.
We need more restrictive gun laws in this country. We need them yesterday. And we need more access to mental health services. Yeah, I’m making that connection early in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy, but I know that these two things are related.
First, don’t tell me not to ‘politicize’ this today. I’m not. I’m personalizing it. I’m owning my anger and frustration and acting on it. I’m using these feelings to act and do my part. I’m mad. I’m anxious. I’m terrified. I’m sick to my stomach. And the only way I can do something is to voice it, to write about it.
Things I’m thinking about today:
1. “Guns don’t kill, people do.”
Yeah, that’s true. But you know what? People with assault rifles kill more people faster. Angry, drunk, or mentally unstable people commit rash acts that are only intensified with a gun in arm’s reach.
2. “Cars kill more people every year than guns, should we outlaw cars?”
No, we don’t outlaw cars, but we do have many restrictions in place to make them as safe as possible. Police monitor our driving and keep tabs on who is being responsible and who isn’t. And you know what? When it is warranted, we change those restrictions. Minimum driving ages have been raised since I was a teen. Why? Because as safety issues change, laws change. Well, for cars anyway, for guns we say, “No! Do not change ANY of my right to bear arms.” Listen, when our Constitution was written, guns took a lot longer to load and reload. Our founding fathers could never have imagined the power that modern weapons have. And that’s why our Constitution has provisions for change. Times change, and our morals and values do too.
3. “Criminals will find a way to get guns no matter then laws, why take away my rights?”
Drunks find a way to get behind the wheel too; let’s just forget about drunk driving laws. Or, we could keep enforcing the laws we have and maybe even tighten them if they are not strict enough. Criminals act against the law, but that doesn’t mean we abandon laws. That is ridiculous. Oh, my house was robbed? Crap, no use trying to make breaking and entering illegal then if people just do it anyway.
My main concern today is how to keep kindergarteners from being murdered at school. The only way I can do that is talking about ways to curb violence. And I believe one way is to put heavier restrictions on gun ownership. Will this inconvenience law-abiding citizens? Yep. Do I care? Nope. Add gun permit/regulation worries to that part of your life where taxes and the DMV live. I think it’s worth it.
I also think I need to do more to make my voice heard. And so do you. We need to be stronger and louder than the NRA. It feels like a mountain we can’t possibly top. I know. But, we won’t know unless we try.
Sick people kill children and teachers at school, but well people have a responsibility to learn from these tragedies and act.
It goes a little something like this:
When I get a case of the Mondays, it’s a bit different than the kind an office worker gets. It’s me screeching away from the boys’ school after drop-off like I’m leaving the scene of a crime. Even a stop at the grocery store is less annoying. I get my list items and some fresh bread to celebrate. Then I get home and run a victory lap in a quiet house.
Don’t get me wrong; I love our weekends. We hang around the house in jammies, and we play. But there’s just something so great about having the house to yourself. No one is here to tell me ‘no’. No one is here to silently judge me for propping my feet up in front of HGTV as dirty clothes threaten to smother us. (Okay, truth. Michael doesn’t care if I watch TV instead of clean. When he gets tired of the filth, he gently asks if I can get to it ‘sometime this week’. The silent judgement I assign to him is my projection. I feel guilty when I sit down. I feel I do not deserve a break from doing bare minimum. In other words, my brain does special Stephanie-thinking.)
After Monday, my second favorite day of the week is Stay At Home Mommy Day. This is the one school day a week I keep the boys home. It’s usually Thursday, but sometimes we wake up, and a rainy Tuesday is just the perfect day to stay inside. I love being able to keep them home when either they or I feel like it. I will miss these days when they go to kindergarten, and I go back to work. I actually get chores done because they play with such gusto. They are free to do as they please, and they know it. They do not waste a minute. They can play one thing all morning. And of course they invite me along.
One of our favorite games on Stay At Home Mommy Days is bear family. We all pretend to be bears, and my bedroom is our cave. As bears, we fish, gather honey, and take naps. Yes, being a carnivorous beast is exhausting, even if you’re on the small side. The naps are only pretend, but I enjoy the chance to cuddle under the blankets with my sweet boys. I often get roped into telling stories during bear naps. Then the boys will tell some. It’s pretty great.
These Stay At Home Mommy Days are my special reward. I seem to be able to enjoy the boys and who they are becoming while also getting things done around the house. They are the days I hoped to have when I pictured being a stay-at-home-mother. I will never regret this time with my sons, and I hope they remember that Mommy was not all work and no play.