My Obligatory 40th Birthday Poem

Photo by Jessi Burton, taken the day after my 40th birthday celebration.

Days before the sun rose on my 40th birthday,

I wrote a poem

it was akin to a potential masterpiece,

a work of philosophical beauty and inspiration,

It began with the line

“In 10,000 years I will be a descendant of myself”

(There was wine involved)

Since the writing of that poem

I have not been able to take myself quite as seriously,

I have officially survived 4 decades,

eaten mushrooms for the first time

since becoming somebody’s mother

and then saw a candid photo of myself,

taken the day after, looking blissful

and as old as I’ve ever seen myself on paper

Thus began my next poetic venture

entitled “the beauty of aging”

but that’s as far as I got — because in reality,

when I look at the picture what I mostly see

is a crumpled forehead, gray hair and

a nose too big for my face

and I want to be inspirational and

motivational and cliché and

write about loving every wrinkle

and appreciating every gray

But if I’ve learned anything in 40 years

its that being genuine

is what best serves us

and those around us best

Some days I am intelligent and capable and

can walk with confidence into any room

other days I can’t even straighten my shoulders

for the breath it takes

Most days I can hold space for

parents of children with special needs,

but there are those others

when I am overwhelmed and exhausted

and depleted and terrified

and I long to get in my car and drive

to anywhere but here

Some days I got this –

kids, marriage, adulting…

other days I am an utter failure

Some days I own this body

can feel the ripple of strength

with every movement

the desire of every curve

the friction of every touch

and my husband and I put to shame

the rumor that married sex is fleeting and uninspired.

Some days I walk about the world feeling

young and free and vibrant,

and then I come home and look into the mirror

and see the physical signs of aging and responsibility

In those moments I am reminded of younger years

being offered advice from 40 year-old women -

from a female biker in a Sacramento bar I learned

I should always work out my triceps

because once you get chicken arm-it doesn’t go away –

and I should be ashamed for you all to know how often

I have grabbed that fleshy part of myself

in judgment and remorse

from a crazy, alcoholic Danish sailor I was told to

always sunscreen my chest and cover my face–

lest I develop the feared look of ‘wrinkled leather’

and, I’m not going to lie,

as lines begin to crawl across my flesh

I am more conscious of my relationship to the sun,

and my mother, who offered many beautiful

and empowering lessons

on strength and pride and competence

but also taught the importance of being thin

and not letting the world see your weaknesses

and if you are wondering where in all this advice,

are the wisdoms on how to live a full and happy life


so was I

we live in a society that does not expect women

to age beautifully

or gracefully

and too many women enslave themselves

with the burden of

trying to slow the natural flow of time

so now that I’m 40,

now that I am in the position to

offer my own advice,

to you, to my daughters,

and to any young bright-eyed girl

out there wondering

how to approach her future

I say this,

yeah, work your triceps,

work your triceps so you can be strong and

always carry what life hands you,

take care of your skin because you deserve

to be healthy and

our exposure to the sun is getting harsher,

be thin, if that feels good and natural

but if you and your body are happier

and healthier in a larger size,

then honor that with pride,

as for showing weakness,

cry those tears of rage and grief,

let the world see what it has become!

I would say, perhaps most importantly,

be genuine, and love yourself in that,

because you will age –

and the only way to do it beautifully

is to be yourself

and as a sidenote:

if you can celebrate your 40th with

your favorite people,

drinking whiskey,

laughing and smiling to make your face hurt,

and dancing all night to 90’s hip hop

until your knees ache

and a dread begins to form on

the back of your head

then god damn girl,

you must be doing something right!

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