Seriously, Sam? is a monthly column that takes a lighter look at suburban life. This month, Sam has a middle-aged epiphany.
On December 31st, 2018, at approximately 10:30pm, I declared to my husband, with a mix of fascination, resignation, genuine surprise and mild relief, that I was officially Middle Aged. No, I am not a New Year’s baby; in fact, my birthday isn’t until May. I hadn’t finally seen that long, grey hair standing straight up in the middle of my dark brown eyebrows; that happened two days later. It wasn’t even because we were on a beach vacation and, for the first time, I packed more one-piece bathing suits than bikinis, so I would have a wrapper for my jiggling mid-section. The thing that sparked my middle-aged epiphany was that my 9-year-old daughter wanted to stay up until midnight, and I was really pissed-off that I couldn’t go to bed.
My love of an early bedtime is hardly new. I am kind-of infamous amongst my friends as the one who prefers cocktails at 5pm, dinner at 6:30 and lights-out by 9:00. I would function quite well at Del Boca Vista. But this moment was different. This time I wasn’t at a dinner party weighing my fear of missing out (or FOMO for you youngsters) against the fact that I need 7 hours of sleep to function (really 8 but, c’mon, that’s just not realistic.) This was my kid. My adorable daughter, so excited to celebrate New Year’s Eve with her mom and dad that she got all dressed up in a silver lame dress, brushed her hair (!) and put on eye shadow. My 7-year-old son just wanted to watch YouTube and go to sleep; but my daughter, she wanted to be with me. And, even though I knew that there were only a few more years that I could possibly be this important to her, I was still desperate for sleep. For me, being ok to admit this meant I had finally grown up, for real.
I have resisted my actual age for most of my life. My youth was spent trying to be older. At 12-years-old, I had vacation romances with high school boys by claiming I was 16 (I developed early). In college, all of my friends were a year ahead of me, so I spent my senior year as if I was a visiting graduate student – during the week I lived alone and worked on my thesis, on the weekends I went to the city to live my “real” life with my newly-graduated besties. When I was 25 and relatively successful in my job, I talked about being “almost 30” so colleagues wouldn’t notice that my face had no wrinkles and my suit was from the Gap.
When I actually turned 30, I had a major age-identity reversal. I believed I was an old bride at 32, and an ancient mom when I had my first child at 35. I felt particularly prehistoric when we moved to the suburbs, a year after my daughter was born; here, I was suddenly surrounded by mothers who were either actually younger than me (and therefore had more energy and naturally better bodies,) or, who had already figured out how to balance young kids, family meals, school applications, fitness class schedules and near-anorexia so that they looked 25, even if they weren’t. I spent the next decade doing a delicate dance between feeling like the baby and the senior citizen in the room, and never quite living in my own skin. That stopped on December 31st.
I am now just a few months shy of my 45th birthday. I don’t use Botox, fillers or any of the other modern miracles available to women my age to help us look 20-something again. I’m not saying I won’t. I’m just saying I haven’t. And so far, all things considered, I think I still look ok. I typically dress like a millennial with glittery stars on my shoes and pre-made holes in my designer t-shirts. Most days I wear no make-up. None of that is very Middle-Aged behavior. But, last week, I was dressed-up for a meeting and walking down the street in the city, and a construction worker said “Hey, can I get your number?”; I was supremely flattered. When my mom started flirting with construction workers, she was definitely Middle-Aged.
After my New Year’s Eve declaration, I asked Google “When does middle age start?” Turns out, depending who you ask, it begins anywhere from 40 to 55. This gives me an entire decade to decide whether I want to define myself that way or not. For now, I think I will. Because for me, being Middle-Aged is about finding comfort in the cognitive dissonance between grey hairs down there and ripped jeans, of singing along to DJ Snake and adoring Led Zeppelin, of knowing that I look better with make-up but still choosing not to wear it a lot of the time.
Middle Age is the time when you can soften the hold on striving and finally just be. For me, that means even if I am tired, I will push through until midnight on New Year’s Eve, to see the delight in my daughter’s eyes when the fireworks explode over her head. And I won’t be afraid to complain about the deafening noise.
About Samantha Woodruff
Samantha Woodruff holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. She spent most of her career at Viacom’s MTV Networks, where she oversaw Strategy, Business Development and Consumer Research for Nickelodeon and a host of other brands.
After becoming a mom and moving to the suburbs of Manhattan, Sam left corporate America and made being a mom to her 7 and 9 year old kids her full-time job. In her free moments, Sam teaches yoga and takes classes at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence. She is working on her first novel and writing essays that take a lighter look at the life of a former type-A executive turned suburban mom. Her work has been featured in Read650 and she contributes a monthly column, Seriously, Sam? to Suburbs 101.