On Turning 45

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turning 45So today I am turning 45, and I think it is my best age yet. When I was younger, even in my mid-30s, I walked around with so many doubts and worries – what do the other moms think of my parenting choices, do my colleagues at work value my opinion, have I made the right choices in my work-life, so I haven’t ruined my children’s childhood, etc.

And honestly, I feel like so much of that has fallen away during my 40s. It came as a surprise, but in my 40s, I have found a new sense of confidence.

Maybe it is all the therapy I have under my belt, but I have really worked out a lot of my childhood issues (don’t get me wrong, they jump up and surprise me, sending me for a loop now and again, but I recover from these events much fast these days).

My husband and I have worked our way into a rhythm and have a reasonable balance of tasks that works for our family (and it doesn’t hurt that the kids are grown enough to help with the household chores). And while we still periodically argue, we know these issues will get worked out and that they aren’t the end of the world. They aren’t as scary or destabilizing as they were 10 years ago.

Because we are more stable in our marriage and our lives, I am more confident in our parenting choices.

Our kids seem to be growing up to be good humans. Their teachers and coaches say that they are kind, listen, and take correction (so even if they often don’t show these behaviors at home, I know they have learned these to be important family values). I have stopped worrying about what other people choose for their families and what they think of our family’s choices. And I see that my personal and professional choices aren’t screwing them up irreparably (face it, all kids are scarred by their parents and probably will benefit from therapy, but if my kids can need less therapy than I did, I will consider it a win).

And when it comes to my career, I finally feel like I am leveling up and being seen as a person that is sought for their contributions and leadership skills.

I am no longer trying to get by and “be good enough,” which was the only possible goal for both my work and parenting when my kids were little so that I didn’t lose my mind. People now ask me to take on leadership roles and mentor other people. My professional network map is populated with people who support my success and are excited to join my team for collaborations. I know what failures at work feel like and that they aren’t the end of the road, but an opportunity to step back, mourn a little, get reassurance from my network, and try again. I have learned to set reasonable goals and execute them. I feel established and valued, and it is amazing. 

Now don’t get me wrong, my 40s haven’t been a bed of roses. I got a cancer diagnosis. I have struggled with depression and anxiety (and the pandemic didn’t help that at all). I have had to face losing both of my dear grandmothers. And this year as I’m turning 45, I tore my meniscus completely away from my knee, requiring surgery to reattach it and hopefully only three months of wearing a brace, using crutches, and getting physical therapy (still in process, but it is going well so far). So clearly, the warranty on my body has expired, and I will probably keep experiencing new failures of one variety or another until I die. But that is ok.

The thing is, I keep surviving to have these new experiences. I have gone through so much that I know how to handle things, who to reach out to for help, and that even if something scary is happening (hello cancer), that with the village of friends and family I have collected over the years, I will get through it.

So as I am turning 45, I am thrilled. I am excited to see what this next year brings. I look forward to my time spent with my family and also the prospects for doing new things in my career. I embrace my white hairs (referred to as my sparkles), my new dietary restrictions, and whatever will come next because it means I am alive and kicking. I am so lucky to have a wonderful family and a fulfilling career, and while everything will keep changing in the future, I am looking forward to the ride.

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Erika is a professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies and mom to two kids (2010 and 2013) plus two cats (2005 and 2019). A Midwestern transplant who has lived in 32 places, she has happily called Fairfield her home for the past 12 years. At work, she directs a program to support first-generation and underrepresented student success in science. In town, she can often be found driving her kids back and forth to their respective sporting events and teams or sitting in a coffee shop using the wifi to get a little work done before pick up. Erika loves spending time enjoying the water, cooking, theater, reading, and hanging out with her husband.

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