On May first I decided I had to get it together. I had two months until I turned 40. And somehow those two months—as opposed to the 39 years and 10 months I’d already had—meant everything. I decided that I was going to really exercise every day, like I used to. I decided my mile-and-a-half bike commute didn’t count anymore and I needed to take it up a notch. Training to bike through Provence was an easy way to make that happen. And when I wasn’t riding—up hills, to friends’ houses, and even outside of the city—I made sure I did something else. I stretched on my shag rug, affirming that this was an important part of my training. I grabbed every free barre class I could, squatting lower and extending longer than I had in months. These were my cyclist’s buns and quads in action. And I ran when I could. I cherished those runs even if they were just a couple miles. Running is, and may always be, my favorite kind of exercise and therapy. But I felt like I’d had a slice of that over-40 wisdom by acknowledging that even though I couldn’t run as much as I wanted to, I would simply do something else: bike. And while I may never love biking as much as I love running, doing it was a kind of adulting that gave me a quiet pride.
The two months were a race of preparation for not only the big 4-0, but my trip to France which begins the day I turn 40. When I wasn’t riding or with friends or man-friend, I lounged on my couch watching French films while reading library books about France. This is particularly challenging when the movies have subtitles. But for movies simply set in France or those I’d seen before, it was easy to get that je ne sais quoi of the film. The dreamy wanderings of 1995 Sabrina, the barren trees at the Jardin de Tuileries in Charade, the fantastical, jaunty soundtrack of Amelie…I was getting closer to Paris by the minute. And who knew the library had dozens of books about living that Parisian life? “Lessons from Madame Chic,” “Living Forever Chic,” “Love Parisienne,” “Paris, My Sweet,” “Parisian Charm School,” “What French Women Know,” and “Ooh La La! French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day,” to name a few. I might never be a French woman, but a striped top, smart trench, and an air of mystery were a start. I was making shit…merde…happen.
I also started treating myself better. Not that I ever treated myself badly (hello, luxury bike tour and fabulous trip to France) but better in ways that weren’t necessarily glamourous but would benefit me in the long-term. I said “no” in the affirmative of things I did want to do. I became obsessed with finding the optimal, most strategic percentage contribution to my 401K, realizing that it was a simple toggle on my computer to change the future. And then I wondered what other small things I could do now that would also improve the land “over the hill.”
One was supportive footwear. I’ve said just about all I can about my plantar fasciitis, and while I’ve done the PT, activity ease-up, and custom orthotics, I hadn’t actually bought a lot of quality new shoes. So no more cute ballet slippers or quirky flats from Old Navy. I went to the Walking Place and bought–still cute—Dansko slip-ons that held my custom orthotics. Then I ordered (podiatrist-endorsed!) Vionic sneakers. And THEN I bought Seibel sandals with a sturdy cork arch support. Had I been wearing unsupportive footwear because of this same battle with worth? Who was I that I thought I didn’t deserve to walk without pain? It was all craziness and it had to stop now—before 40. I told people I was building myself from the ground up. I thought of myself as tree with new, strong roots. The new Jan Brady.
In those two months I did everything with more fervor than I had in the last year, maybe ever. I poked around at what I wanted my career to be. I asked questions and investigated, but most importantly I began to assess and value my skills; learning which were strongest and which weren’t. I had people over on a day I slept five hours, worked four hours, grocery shopped, ran two miles, baked a cake from scratch, and made three Italian appetizers—handing guests a chilled Aperol spritz as they walked through the door while smiling “welcome drink?” I had phone dates with friends I hadn’t talked to in months while I walked neighborhood hills. I tried to keep doing…exercise, read, write, and French films…Was I perfect at it? No. Did I skip a long ride to watch a two-hour Jane Fonda documentary? Maybe. But I learned a lot. I learned that like Jane I’d had many chapters, or acts, of men and careers. And they might not be wrapped up in a neat little bow by 40. But do you know what Jane Fonda has done since she turned 40? Won an academy award, an Emmy, two Golden Globes, revolutionized the fitness industry, and married and divorced Ted Turner. So yeah, I’m not done yet either.
I also *tried* to be nicer. I know, you didn’t notice. But really, I tried. Because my boyfriend is so genuinely kind, so noticeably kind, so pervasively kind, I played a little game with myself. When texting, emailing, and talking I thought “WWLD.” What would L do? And often it was something kinder than what I would do. Often it meant a simple rephrase or emoji addition. Sometimes it meant biting my tongue. Sometimes it meant a true inconvenience for me that would be kind to someone else. Maybe they were imperceptible differences, maybe I lazed out more than I followed through, but the important thing was I was aware of the difference between how the two of us moved through the world. I hoped to be more like him in this way. This (I hoped) would be 40.
I'm down to less than three weeks. Everything is becoming even more intense—almost exponentially. I’m biking up steeper hills. I’m prioritizing friends, fitness, man, and me. I’m going to make a roast chicken and chocolate mousse for my French-themed birthday party, because every woman should know how to make a good roast chicken. I’m trying to give L my kindest self, just as he’s given me. As I write this I’m listening to ODESZA’s Loyal, a song we squat, extend, and arc our arms to in barre. I love sweating to this song. I love that maybe it means I’m “loyal” to my body, and to whatever 40 holds.
I will turn 40 in an airport hotel in Paris. Then I will take a train to Avignon and bike 20 miles through the French countryside. I paint a beautiful picture, but it’s very likely I will have had no sleep out of sheer excitement or be coming off a Unisom hangover. That’s the thing about the big 4-0, we just don’t know what it’s like over there. Because my birthday is halfway through the year, half of my peers are like me: gritting their teeth and panicking in anticipation. The other half are sitting on the other side telling me that it’s not that different. What does it feel like when everything, or nothing, changes? What does it mean to meet or miss a culturally-dictated deadline? Am I too late or just in time? Maybe we’re all still that 9-year-old kid tooling around our neighborhood on our banana-seat bike. Only now we can go up steeper hills.