When the kids were younger, I would make them birthday badges. These were handmade with whatever scrapbooking paper, ribbons, and embellishments I had lying around. They’d wear them all day and when we’d go out to the restaurant of their choice for their birthday dinner, the workers would all know which kid to bring that free sundae to.
Thirty-five was not an age I felt like advertising to the world. It was the first time I’d ever felt old. But I didn’t want to disappoint the kids and make them feel like I was ungrateful, so I wore the badge all day. Or at least for the hours that the kids were around.
Now, I am staring forty in the face. In just a couple days, when any survey asks for my age group, I’ll have to check the 40-45 box. This is the number the world sees as “finally, actually old”. The age to mourn, because now your pretty much going to return to being the dust of the earth at any moment.
Along with several other friends, I’m currently involved in a 52-week photo challenge. Our first assignment was “Self-Portrait”. I was excited about this topic because I’d been wanting to get a more professional looking picture of myself for business purposes. So, I set up my backdrop, the tripod with my camera, and a reflector. I had Ike stand where I would be standing, and I focused my lens on him. Then he moved and I took my place in front of the camera. And then I froze. I had never done head-shots of myself before, and while I am perfectly capable of telling others what to do when they’re in front of my camera, I felt like I had no clue what to do with myself. I felt so awkward and silly. After several minutes, (and after Ike had left the room), I started to loosen up. I took 82 pictures. And I kept nine of them.
Looking through the images was enlightening. I’m not what I was when I was twenty, but I didn’t think I was. I’m heavier, have scattered white hairs, bad knees, and the lines on my face are becoming more pronounced. Some of what were once freckles are now age spots. But when I saw myself I thought, “Hey, that looks like a happy person. That looks like a person who understands who she is.”
I have to say that I’m actually pretty excited about turning forty! I feel like I’m entering this new phase of life, where my kids are old enough and independent enough that I can learn and develop my own talents more. I’m making a concerted effort to go to more classes, to get more creative, and to put myself out there. I care about my health, but I’m good with having a lil more (okay, a lot more) of me to love than there ever has been. In fact, I feel way more comfortable in my own skin than I did when I was in my late teens and early twenties and was actually a fox. I don’t have qualms about appearing in a swimsuit in public. I haven’t dyed my hair for several months and I have several white hairs starting to say “hey, we want to come to the party too!”
Today in Young Women, I taught the lesson entitled “Who am I? Who Can I Become?” Sometimes when I teach these young girls, I limit my thinking to however it relates to junior high school. I try to think of ways to help them understand the gospel more personally. As I prepared today’s lesson, however, my mind went to my own 13-year-old self, to my 18-year-old self, to my 23-year-old self, and to every other year between then and where I find myself today. And I thought of my self-portraits. I thought of the lines that I wear now on my forehead and the white strands of hair and thought about how grateful I am that I have worried about different things in my life. It means that I’ve loved and cared. I thought about those crow’s feet creeping in on the corners of my eyes. They mean that I have laughed and smiled A LOT! I thought about my bad knees and the sun spots on my face and how they are testaments of the running around on sun-filled days, chasing after giggling kids or feeling the warmth of the sun as the family hiked up to the Grotto.
I looked at myself, and I saw that I had become a happy, confident, God-loving woman. A woman who knows who she is and what else she can become. Who happens to be forty. And I’m happy to wear a birthday badge proclaiming it.