Family life

Reflections on turning 40

Tracy Chappell is 40 — and happy.

photo

This is 40. Photo: Tracy Chappell.

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

Vegas was everything I expected — loud, bright and busy, and a lot of fun in a short spurt. We were there from Wednesday night to Sunday night and it was definitely long enough to cover the highlights and spend too much money (though I’m happy to say we came home with some!). We walked the strip, shopped and ate too much. We rode the crazy roller coaster that sits on top of the New York New York hotel (it was awesome!) and enjoyed a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, landing at the bottom for a champagne picnic (truly amazing!). We saw three shows (you must go see Le Reve and should definitely skip Criss Angel), magnificent hotels (we stayed at The Palazzo and it was lovely) and 1,000 wobbly bachelorettes with their pink sparkly banners and tiaras (each with an entourage to prop her up as the night wore on).

Read more: What would you do with four kid-free days in Vegas? >

Yes, all the crazy clichés about Sin City are true; and the ones you don’t experience are easily imagined as you wander around after dark. And now I’ve become one of them by celebrating my 40th there. Cliché, yes, but pretty cool too. It’s not somewhere I’d plan to return, but we had a blast. You can’t help but get pulled into the adrenaline that seems to pump through the city.

And now, I’m 40. I had said that, in place of a party, my wish for my birthday was to wake up somewhere else, somewhere I’d never been. Instead, I didn’t fall asleep at all; I pulled an all-nighter — but not the kind you’re thinking. We left Las Vegas on the 11:30 p.m. red-eye. I figured I’d crash out the minute we were in the air, but I guess the crowds and neon and ping-ping-pinging of Vegas were still pulsing within me and I couldn’t drift off.

Read more: 10 vacation must-haves for moms >

As my birthday officially arrived, I was about 30,000 feet in the air over Utah or Colorado (technically, still places I’ve never been). Mine was one of only a handful of overhead lights on in the cabin and I could hear the soft slumbering of everyone around me, Sean included. It was so dark and peaceful. I was in the middle of a captivating book (Wild, by Cheryl Strayed), so I read. Every once in a while, I’d stop and just sit. I thought about things — and about nothing. At one point late in the flight, I was overcome by a crazy desire to see my kids — to be wrapped up in their gangly limbs and hear their high-pitched “Mommy!” squeals — and my heart ached for them so bad that it brought tears to my eyes. This is kind of unlike me. Maybe I was really, really tired. Or maybe I knew I was heading back where I belonged.

We drove directly to my parents’ place from the airport, and arrived at around 8 a.m. on my birthday. (They had taken the girls away for the weekend, and we tried to sleep until they returned.) So in fact, I didn’t wake up on my 40th birthday somewhere I’d never been, but instead, at the place in this world that is the most familiar and beloved to me. A place where I know I am always loved and welcome; a place that reminds me of my roots, and of how far I’ve come, of who I am — and who I am not; a place that tells me, without any words, that I occupy important space in this world.

I took the picture at the top of this post on our first night in Vegas. A selfie (also quite unlike me). My friend and I had just made a Sephora stop to see if the makeup was cheaper there than at home, and asked for an impromptu eye makeup demo. (It was on my bucket list, so we thought we’d squeak it in under the wire and have our makeup already done for our night out.) I find that in photos, my eyes kind of get lost, so I decided to see if the makeup made a difference. I never like photos of myself, so I was surprised when I liked this one. It’s not that I thought I looked gorgeous; I thought I looked happy. And I was. And I am. And I loved that I got a snapshot — as grainy and “selfie” as it is — that looked exactly how I feel inside right now.

A year ago, the thought of turning 40 filled me with dread. I still can’t put my finger on why. I created a bucket list because I thought it would make me feel better about who I was at this stage of my life; I would have accomplished a tangible list of things to be proud of. Maybe it was just something I felt you were supposed to do before you turned 40? I don’t know. All I know is that something very important —“Be happy” — wasn’t on my list. Why isn’t that ever on anyone’s list? Maybe the idea is that all the items tally up to happiness, but in my experience, that’s not really the case. Sometimes lists can motivate you. Other times, lists can make you feel inferior, or place too much value on things that don’t truly matter.

As my 40th actually rolled around, the number, and the stereotypes around it, had stopped bothering me. I put aside my almost-finished bucket list. The idea that I was supposed to be this or that by this age was nagging at me — it made me focus on all the things I wasn’t, instead of appreciating the things I am. And I realized that the most important thing I am at 40 is happy. I can’t think of a better thing to have accomplished — at any age. As for the rest of it? Life is nothing if not a work in progress.