On Turning 40


Forty just sounds like such a milestone. Somewhat like 30, except that you’re a decade closer to 50. Since I just celebrated 41st birthday,  I thought I would write about what 40 is like now that I’m a veteran and all.

For each decade milestone, I realize that my definition of “old” continues to be pushed back further and further on the timeline. I remember being about 5 years old and thinking that 30 was such a very big number, and that it was so far into the future that I couldn’t imagine it.

Mom & Gwen in 89

That’s me as a teen in the late 80’s with my Mom. In my mind, my Mother will always be somewhere in her 30’s. Whis is really stretching the space time continuum because I myself am also eternally internally in my early 30’s as well. I think this is some sort of law of nature.

At 20, I felt like was not a child anymore. I felt that I was a legitimate adult, but really more like an adult in training for…being a more real adult. I married at 20, and dreamed of a home and starting a family. It’s what I always wanted to do.94-12-16 Kyle and Gwen married! b&w2

At 30, I felt like I had arrived at adulthood. Finally. I had adult responsibilities, I’d been married for a decade and had 2 children, and I’d put some mileage on my adult body. With the racing stripes to prove it. This is me at my baby shower for my 3rd…I was in my early 30’s and had a nice case of the last trimester chubb.

Claire and Gwen

Life in my 30’s felt like a constant whirlwind of activity. I’d have a baby and it seems just a few months later I’d be potty training a toddler. My kindergartner was suddenly in the 5th grade. We faced a constant carousel of laundry, dishes, schoolwork, missing socks, and jeans that were too short. Of picking up toys and sweeping floors and brushing teeth. Car seats and maternity clothes were packed away forever. And suddenly, I flipped the calendar and there is another decade staring me in the face.

Darrens surprise party

I turned 40. I didn’t really make a big deal out of it. I wanted to cautiously dip my toes in (the way I do at the pool) and wade in slowly to determine how painful this would be. Turns out, it’s not that bad at all.

At 40, I’ve realized that if there is really someone out there keeping a tally of whether or not I’m an adult, I don’t so much care anymore. I do however keep a tally of the stores in which I’ve been given a senior citizen’s discount. (Kroger. It’s Kroger.)

I wear red lipstick and high heels when I feel like it. But I don’t feel like it as often now, and don’t feel like I need to look the part because I understand what being classy means now. I’m more comfortable and confident with who I am. When I dress up, I can be fully present in the moment and own it. I no longer look like I’m dressing up in my Mama’s nice clothes. I’m the Mama now.

Most days, I don’t dress up…I wear things that are comfortable and colors that inspire me. I’ve seriously cleaned out my closet and only keep the things I love. Life is too short to waste time wearing stuff to try to fit trends and styles that are not true to who I am. So I wear what I like. Life is also too short to wear cheap jeans, but I’m too cheap to buy nice ones. So I buy nice jeans at the thrift store. Demin that sags and poorly placed back pockets are not your friend (not in any decade of life.)20150104_190928

Being 40 means that I am beginning to get way too comfortable being ridiculous. Sometimes I sing (and twirl) with my little ones. Sometimes I sing like Barney Pfife or chase my kids and do fake Ninja poses, and take goofy pictures. Now that I realize that there is no system to check for legitimate adults, I feel more free to express my inner goofball. I plan to continue exploring this type of uninhibited self expression well into my 90’s if given the opportunity. It keeps my people on their toes, and laughter is good for the soul.

40 for me also means that I’m past the stage in life of having babies. Which is bittersweet. On the one hand, there was NOTHING in life more amazing than the experience of carrying my children inside my body, meeting them for the first time, and watching them grow. On the other hand I want to do cartwheels over the fact that I can sleep all the way through the night. Every. Night. That everyone in my house is now toilet trained and can wipe their own bottoms. And that I am no longer watched by a small contingency of food snipers. (Unless chocolate is involved, and then all bets are off.)

But, oh, the sweet sorrow of my baby turning five. It’s coming soon. His pot belly and plump cheeks are getting slimmer every day, and I am savoring every smooch and cuddle. He’s a good sport about it and let’s me sometimes kiss his cheek, and requires allows me to sing to him every night (but not like Barney Pfife).


I’m blissfully reminding myself that the next decade should include grandchildren and hopefully being able to find my office supplies where I left them. That last one may be a pipe dream. But I’m holding onto it.

Turning 40 means my babies from my 20’s are growing into teens and I get to watch them transform from gangly awkward kids, into gangly awkward teens who eventually, somehow unfurl into beautiful young adults. I am formulating a theory that their brains melt and re-shape into functional adult brains at some point along this timeline. I’m hopeful. I’m entertained, and I’m amused. But mostly, I’m constantly praying. Two of them are taller than I am now, and one is not yet a teen. There is much work to be done in these last few years at home.


Turning 40 means that I can hear someone express an opinion and I don’t automatically start questioning my own stance. I’ve learned that people come in all different lovely varieties and I’ve come to appreciate my own uniqueness without feeling insecure around others who are different than I am.

At 40, I’ve got even more mileage on my body, but I’ve also learned more about how to take care of myself and that it’s not selfish to do so. Grey hairs and wrinkles don’t scare me or bother me. But becoming brittle in mind and body does. There is great value in paying attention to and caring for your body and mind. I’m noticing that people who are a couple of decades ahead of me who don’t take care of themselves age much faster than those who do. And I’m not ready to slide down that hill yet. I want a strong body, a strong mind, and a strong faith. They are worth fighting for and investing in.

At 40, I’m done with bandwagons. I’ve discovered that in general we humankind love the security of being told how to think, but bandwagons are never one size fits all. It all starts smoothly enough, but then there’s the enevitable squabbling, bickering, or pushing over who is not doing what right when everyone tries to cram onto one platform about any given issue. There is no one right way to raise a child, to feed a baby, to educate children, or to lose weight. There just isn’t. I’d rather see you succeed at doing things your own way than fail trying to cling to a bandwagon for all you’re worth. Hop off. The scenic route is where I’ve learned the most about life, about myself, and about my kids. Hopping off isn’t failure…it’s the start of your own adventure.

That’s what the start of my 5th decade feels like- turning 40 is the start of an adventure that I’m ready to take, with the people I love most.

If you’re past your 40’s, I’d love to hear what you feel like were your greatest lessons. Give me something to look forward to outside of office supplies…how have you handled your empty nest?

If you’re still in your twenties or thirties, I will tell you this: it gets easier in many ways. It gets better. It gets harder. Just keep going and changing and enjoying the ride. ♥


    Leave a Reply to Shannon Harrell Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. ChristineG says

    Wow! I am 42 and I could have written that post, Gwen. (Actually, I’m pretty sure I could have submitted a picture pretty close to that one, too. LOL!) I don’t think you expressed a single thing I am not feeling, too, at 42. Well, I’m not sleeping through the night and I’m still wiping bums since my youngest of 8 is 2yo. I also waver back and forth between being content to leave the baby years behind and wanting to run right back to them. I just always felt like I was born to birth and nurse little ones. I like the ‘adult in training’ idea from your 20s — I always say that I didn’t feel like a real adult until I was 28 and had birthed my 3rd baby. Before that, I felt like kind of a poser.

    Thanks for such a beautiful post, dear Mama.

  2. Teresa says

    I’m 64. You are pretty wise for your age. I think as time passes you will become more so. I think with age comes a new appreciation of everything. Every day I wake up is a blessing. Sharing the lives of my grandchildren is a huge blessing. You really begin to see more of God’s grace in every day life.
    You become acutely aware of the passage of time. Sometimes I feel like I have one foot on a banana peel heading down hill! But you have to stop and enjoy every precious second.
    Enjoy your kids, they will be gone in the blink of an eye.

  3. says

    Lovely post Gwen, and very timely for me as I will be turning 40 in July. Turning 40 feels much easier than turning 30 did to me (30 seemed soooooo old to me then) – you’re right about feeling much more comfortable in your own skin.

  4. Mrs. Right says

    Wow – great post! I’m at the far side of my 40’s, so I’ve been through the same things, and come to most of the same conclusions. My 30’s were better than my 20’s, and the 40’s better than that. It’s hard to believe that 50 is right around the corner, when it seems like just a couple years ago when we were throwing Over-the-Hill 50th birthday parties for my parents and their friends. However, I do believe that the 50’s will be even better. I have the man I love by my side, and lovely children in all stages of growing up, and I fully expect to have some grandchildren in the near future as well.
    Oh yes, you asked a question: what were my greatest lessons? Hmmm… just live each day to its fullest (just because I KNOW this, doesn’t mean I DO it), and love your loved ones fiercely; you never know when your last moment together will be, and nobody wants to regret times spent in anger or apathy when love, joy, and peace is the goal.

  5. Sheila Casper says

    I’m 44 and I totally agree – every decade gets better bc I’ve gone through that many more lessons and survived/learned from them! I don’t have any desire to try to seem younger than I am. Since I started child rearing so young, I already have three adult children. I MISS babies!! Being older I appreciate life even more than I ever have. Thankfully I am a preschool teacher and am blessed to still be around little ones!!

  6. Sarah de Alfaro says

    I just turned 40 on Tuesday. Someone said to me, “Well, you know, 40 is the new 20.” All I could think of was, “I don’t WANT to be 20!”30 was as nice age, but I have also learned so much between 30-40 that I am ok with 40. It did take me a full year to realize that 40 would be ok, though. On to more learning and growing. :-) I will enjoy this decade thoroughly.

  7. Katie says

    I really loved this post! I’ve been looking forward to my 50’s since I was at the end of my 20’s. I’ve just hit my 40’s and am loving this time of life.

  8. Dennis says

    I really like that you wrote this post after a year of being 40 already. It is a huge milestone. I try to get my employees to eat healthy and tell them they will thank themselves later. You have offered so much perspective for those of us nearing 40 and things that we can be grateful for. I appreciate all of the thought that you put into this post. Great job Gwen.