I’m staring 40 in the face. It’s only two days away, and it feels huge.
I don’t feel that old. In so many ways, I feel like I’m still waiting for my life to begin.
My 20’s were full of naïveté and ease. I thought was strong and competent, and I think I made a pretty good show of it. I spent a lot of my 20’s pretending. I longed to be somehow more and less than I was. I wanted to be both physically smaller and eminently bigger (read: attractive and important) because I bought into the lie that those were the most important determining factors of self-worth.
I spent my 20’s creating a version of myself that I thought was strong and competent. I took a teaching job at a school so small that I was a department unto myself, so I was in charge of a lot of people. Granted, they were all between the ages of 14-18, but I was still bossing people around for a living, and I was good at it. It wasn’t hard to feel important—big fish in a small pond and all.
I had my sights set on family, on 2.5 (well, I wanted 5) kids and a white picket fence. I had the husband, the job, the house. It felt like a video game level I had to complete. But then I turned 30, and that mask of competence and badassery was ripped away in a hurricane of infertility and epilepsy.
It felt like someone pulled the plug on the Nintendo when I was just about to rescue the princess.
My 30’s have been pockmarked by loss and disappointment. The doctors told us a biological family was not only unlikely, but physically impossible. They told me I had epilepsy, chronic migraine, and fibromyalgia, and they tried a zillion medications to quiet my overactive nerves and get the seizures and headaches under control. I surrendered my job, my consciousness, my driver’s license, and my dignity.
So much for feeling strong and competent.
My 20’s were about striving for an ideal, about striving for the “American dream.” It was a time ripe with possibility and confidence, and the self I’d crafted reflected both. But my 30’s have been about learning to live without that mask I’d made in my 20’s. Actually, they’ve been about exactly that—learning to be without—without a driver’s license, without a job, without biological children, even without makeup. I’ve even embraced my natural hair color—figured I should enjoy it before it turns gray.
My 30’s have been about radical acceptance of what is, about collecting the shattered pieces of my reality and trying to fashion them into something new and beautiful. But my 30’s have also been about grief, about the death of so many dreams.
I never did rescue that princess. When the Nintendo rebooted, that game no longer worked. I found myself playing a different game entirely.
So as I embark on my 40’s, I am facing a fresh start. A second (third? fourth?) chance. A new game.
Every decade of my life has been an act of creation. I want my 40’s to be marked by the daring humility of new beginnings.
I just earned my yellow belt in taekwondo. I realize this may not be much of an accomplishment—it’s one level up from white, which is the color all beginners wear. But that wasn’t the true accomplishment. The true accomplishment was setting down my own stubborn pride and allowing myself to be a beginner. It was opening myself to the possibility of failure. It was embracing the discomfort of inexperience and recognizing that failure is simply a risk one must take to truly live.
I spent my 20’s avoiding failure.
I spent my 30’s mired in failure.
I want to spend my 40’s boldly risking failure.
So, in that spirit, I’m going roller skating tonight, something I haven’t done in more than 25 years. I might fall. (I realize that I probably will—I scheduled a preemptive chiropractor appointment for Monday morning.) But I bought a hot pink romper, put my hair into a wild side ponytail, and slathered on the blue eyeshadow to commemorate the occasion.
My roller skates even have pink light-up wheels.
I have decided to spend this next decade doing some of the things I’ve never dared to do before:
Cheers to new beginnings and bold failures.
Here’s to a fresh start, a reboot, a bonus life, and a new princess to rescue, even if it takes a few tries.
It’s time to be 40. Might as well make the most of it!
We threw a Quinceañera last night for our Mexican foster daughter, despite never having been to one ourselves. We were out of our element, but in an incredible way, and the party was fantastic—so fantastic, in fact, that one guest refused to leave.
Maybe “guest” is the wrong word. She wasn’t invited, and her presence was a bit shocking.
I’m talking about a dog.
She just wandered into our yard, looking scruffy and unkempt. Maybe she followed the taco truck, hoping for a free meal. Maybe she followed the crowd; I don’t know. Whatever the reason, she came for the party, and when I woke up this morning, she was asleep on the front steps of our house.
Like she belonged there.
I honestly wouldn’t mind if she stayed. She has a wonderful presence, at once sweet and serene. Her ears are scabby and she needs a good grooming, but she’s gentle and well-mannered. Guests at the party spent time pulling clumps of shedding fur from her coat and cockleburs from her tail. She has a beautiful, friendly face and those melt-your-heart eyes.
But she has a collar, even though there are no tags on it.
Someone owns this sweet creature.
(If she were my dog, I would want her back.)
I’ll keep her as long as she needs, but she already feels like my own. In my heart, I’ve already named her Quince, since she came to us on our foster daughter’s birthday. I can feel myself falling in love.
Hold on loosely, I keep telling myself. Just like you must with foster kids.
Our foster kids are never entirely ours, not even after an adoption is finalized. They are always and forever someone else’s first, and the goal of foster care is always reunification.
As a foster parent, I am always mindful of this. I was mindful of it as I planned and organized a Quinceañera—an event I knew almost nothing about. I was mindful of it as I did my best to wrap tamales in corn husks, as I built a dance playlist of songs in Spanish that I had never heard before, as I shopped for dresses and crowns and shoes. And I was especially mindful of this last night as I watched our Mexican foster daughter share a dance with her grandmother, as I watched my sweet husband take this woman gently by the elbow and lead her out to the dance floor to share a dance with her granddaughter. I was mindful of this as I watched them converse in rapid, fluid Spanish that I could not understand, though I sensed great love and a swell of family and cultural pride between them. It was such a private, beautiful moment that it brought tears to my eyes. Yet I was not part of it—I could only bear witness.
Although this beautiful girl has become like family to me, she will always belong to someone else in a way I can never replace. In a small way, I know that she will always be mine through this shared experience, even if I cannot call her such. I know that my role as foster parent is at once merely supplemental and so incredibly necessary. She could not have shared that moment with her grandmother had we not thrown her this party. I am a bridge between past and possibility.
In the meantime, however, we are doing our best to provide a safe and loving home, a welcoming space to live and grow until things get sorted out, whenever that may be.
So for now, I have a Mexican daughter.
And for now, I have a dog.
I don’t know how long I’ll have either of them. I know that they belong to others, that I have no right or claim to either of them. In my heart, I know that, as much as it pains me sometimes. But for now, they are with me, and I feel called to provide love and care until it is time for them to move on, and I know I must support the outcome no matter what, even if I am not part of it.
But I am always, always holding out hope for adoption.
On occasion, I work at an antique store.
It can be slow, so to pass the time during stretches between customers, I wander the aisles, strolling among the McCoy pots and the vintage dresses, the vinyl records and mid-century modern furniture, and I just look. Not much changes here. It’s not supposed to – this place is a time capsule.
There is a stained-glass kaleidoscope that always catches my eye on these ventures. (I love mirrors and stained glass, so of course it does.) The wheel is full of colored glass chips, translucent propeller beads, and a small plastic camel. (Yes, that says camel. It’s weird.) When you look at the components imprisoned within the wheel, it’s hard to imagine beauty. It looks like the bottom of someone’s junk drawer, like a confiscated toy and a broken necklace got stuck to the shards of a broken lollipop in the bottom of Mom’s purse.
But every time I work here, I pick up the kaleidoscope, peer through the hole, and give the wheel a spin. No matter how I spin it, the result is stunning—even that odd plastic camel is somehow fractured and transformed. I’m always dazzled by the images, by the way such debris can be made beautiful by a simple shift in perspective.
I bought that kaleidoscope today because I need to be reminded of this miracle.
There are so many aspects of my life that feel irreparably broken, that feel awkward or out of place, that feel awful or unfair. I tend to fixate on them, like that plastic camel stuck in the wheel, and I cannot imagine how such crumbs could yield any beauty. I am quick to forget that those things serve a greater purpose—I only need to change my perspective to see it.
This is what it means to hope.
Hope is a kaleidoscope. It’s trusting that any circumstance has the potential to yield unexpected beauty. Hope means trusting that the result will be beautiful no matter how the wheel turns. Hope means surrendering our own ideas of what things should look like and allowing ourselves to be delighted instead by the surprise.
It may not be what we expect, but it will be beautiful.