Monday, July 21, 2014


This Is The Day Before 40

It's my birthday and I'll weep uncontrollably if I want to“July 18th” read the email that appeared a couple of weeks ago at the top of my inbox, so bold-faced and full of promise.

Ah, the day before my 40th birthday, I thought; Josh must have something fun planned for My Big Middle-Aged Moment. Dinner at State Bird? A weekend in Big Sur? Ooo, a Billy Joel concert?

Back when 40 sounded as far, far away as 50, I had all sorts of plans, too. Oh, by 40 I was supposed to have been a New Yorker staff writer; a Kenyan-level marathoner; an unselfish mother. (I mean, if a mother at all, which was not so much on my "To Accomplish List" as it was on my "To Put Off Until the Last Possible Moment and My Husband Makes Me List.")

I was supposed to be the mature adult I’d always avoided being, but by the time I actually turned 40 presumed I’d just naturally, you know, be.

But now here I am, a day away from the birthday every female dreads—despite Tom Junod’s recent backhanded ode to women even two whole years older—and I’m 0 for 3:

The New Yorker once paid me $1,200 for a short piece, but then it never ran. I haven’t run 26.2 miles since the year 2000. And as for the unselfish mother thing... weeeell, I just took a two-week solo trip to Bhutan, the other happiest place on earth, and left my two little kids at home.

Which brings me to my less, shall we say, lofty goals. You know, the stuff I just expected to have gotten around to by the dawn of my fourth decade. Like, learn to ride a bike. (Yup, pathetic, I know. 0 for 4.)

By 40, I was supposed to have done something about my hair. I was supposed to have put my wedding photos into an album and read Moby Dick and purchased matching bath towels and prepared for the earthquake. I was supposed to have stopped ordering take-out Thai food twice a week and drinking wine six and started calling my grandmother once and having sex with my husband at least every other.

I was supposed to have stopped buying airplane movies like Awkward Moment and watching The Bachelor and, according to my friend Katie, waltzing around in bikinis. I was supposed to have remembered my nieces’ birthdays and been a prompt thank you note writer and started making my own tomato sauce instead of spending nine bucks on a jar of Rao’s. (But their Arriabata is just so damn good.)

I was supposed to have cured my allergies and done Invisalign and finally booked a dermatologist appointment to make sure I don’t have melanoma, because—after early years spent lathering on the Baby Oil and later years pretending my Neutrogena SPF 15 face lotion counts as sunblock—I bet I do.

I was supposed to have been nicer to my mom and calmer when crossing streets and cooler when mingling at cocktail parties. I was supposed to have learned to make decisions (wise or otherwise) and love beets and pull-off white summer pants and spell “rhythm” right on the first try.

I was supposed to have mastered a softer laugh and slower speech and conversational Spanish and an ability to intelligently discuss Middle East politics.

I was supposed to have worn shoes other than flip-flops or clogs, and have a closet full of appropriate clothes for every occasion, not a closet with a slight mold issue that recently turned my sole pair of leather boots fuzzy with green stuff.

I was supposed to have stopped eating four slices of pizza in one sitting and “carrying the one” when adding a tip on a credit card slip. I was supposed to have started doing yoga and taking shorter showers and checking for lumps. I was supposed to have rid my dresser of holey socks and shrunken wool sweaters and totally stretched-out lacey Hanky Panky thongs, all of which I still wear. Which begs the question: Should 40-year-old women even be wearing thongs?

I know: most 70-year-olds would give up their weekly canasta game to be 40 again.

I know: I’ve lost people I’ve loved before they even made it to 30. I know being Forever 29 isn’t, really, any fun.

I understand the alternative: You either turn 40 or... you don’t.

Still, I don’t know. By now, my Billy Joel obsession not withstanding, wasn’t I supposed to have felt even a little more like... an actual 40-Year-Old?

It wasn’t until I opened Josh’s email that I actually kind of did.

“July 18th, 8:30 a.m.” wrote my sweet, thoughtful, balding husband of seven years. “I made myself a dermatologist appointment—and made you one, too.”

I’m 1 for 40, just in time.


Photo via exfordy/flickr.

Rachel Levin is a San Francisco-based writer and former senior travel editor at Sunset. Her work appears in The New York Times, Outside, Pacific Standard, Food & Wine and on Ozy.com, where she is a contributing editor.

18 Comments / Post A Comment

Erica Geissman@facebook

"I was supposed to have stopped ordering take-out Thai food twice a week and drinking wine six and started calling my grandmother once and having sex with my husband at least every other."

Gorgeous. One day, I'll be able to spell that word right on the first try <3


lol niiiiice @t


Shouts for not being able to ride a bike.


Rhythm Has Your Two Hips Moving. There!

up cubed

@disco_clone: Wow! Do you have any other mnemonics for spelling? I never got beyond 'i before e, except after c'.


thank you @disco_clone !
2 for 40!


@disco_clone WHAT SORCERY IS THIS??

Also, does everyone else have to keep logging in every time they want to comment? It leads to me giving up on commenting 80% of the time.


I can't wait for the day I can spend $9 on pasta sauce. Don't wish delicious convenience away!


I've got a few years left, but still, WORD. Hard not to look at the big supposed-tos with some measure of frustration and lack of control (sorry, nonexistent offspring I was supposed to be done creating at 35, I am not an amoeba). But the small ones become almost badges of honor, don't they? I kind of take comfort in the fact that I still can't say "corduroy" (I know how it should sound, but my mouth likes to sprinkle in extra 'r's for the hell of it). I don't think I would feel quite like me if I ever mastered it.

I think it's the middle-ground ones that really taunt you. I'm close, but can't quite seem to finish the Ikea-to-real-furniture transition. Nothing says "accomplished adult" like taking your clothes out of a ten-year-old, overstuffed, broken Malm dresser!


@bureaucrab ah yes thank you. with you on that one too! forgot that i've been meaning to get rid of my old Busvans for Bargains dresser which I bought and painted this odd dark yellow when i first moved to SF, after college.


Beautiful piece, thank you!


Oof. You just made this 31 (and a half) year old tear up at her desk. I thought I'd stop crying at work by the time I was 30, or at least be smart enough to carry tissues with me. It's oddly comforting to see these deadlines don't magically meet themselves the older you get.


I'm 41, so here's my much older and wiser take: 1) Don't worry about Bhutan, your kids would hate it because there's no smoking. 2) Nobody short of Tom Ricks can really discuss the Middle East intelligently, so don't worry about that either.

The rest, you're on the hook for. Step it up, would you?

Mercy Brown@facebook

I’m Mercy brown by name I have a few testimony to share with you all about myself, I was in a relationship with this guy and for 3years and we were about getting married when we both have misunderstanding with each other and he ask me for a divorce and we both agreed and after 4months I head that he was having an affair with one of my closest friend and I was very upset and worried so a friend of my advice me and told me if I still love my ex and if I really want to have him back so I told her yes, and she ask me to contact Dr. Madurai the spell caster and I did although I never believe on spell so he gave me something when he was casting the spell and ask me to say my wishes on it and after the casting of the spell a receive a phone call from my ex and was ask me at which I did and now we are back together again I’m so happy and I wish not to ever have this mistake again in my life. I will also advice anyone with this kind of issue to contact him for help he is really nice on phone and always there to answer you question giving you the good advice that you need. his email is maduraitemple@yahoo.com


Interesting read. Keep up the good work.
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Bolang NO@facebook

casting of the spell a receive a phone call from my ex and was ask me at which I did and now we are harga hpback together again I’m so happy and I wish not to ever have this mistake again in my life. I will also advice anyone with this kin

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Doug Naidus

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