“How old are you Mommy?” my 11-year-old asked me the other day as we were driving to the grocery store.
“Really? But I remember when you were 38 and I thought that was SO OLD.”
I had a party for my 40th birthday in Inverness, California, where my aunt lives. I was hugely pregnant (though the baby wasn’t due for three more months) and very happy. Forty was a good year. Ever since, being in my forties feels right. My hair is starting to gray in the front. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in West Africa but I like the gray; I think it makes me look wiser.
The deep crevices (aka wrinkles) between my eyes that I started noticing when I was SO OLD (around 38) are another story. James thinks they come from my dislike of sunglasses. I think they are worry lines. My mom never had wrinkles between her eyes. I remember her in her early 40s: newly divorced, pursing science, madly having affairs. She was rather flamboyant then. She was an expert flirt and wore bright scarfs wrapped around her hair and high heels.
My mom looked remarkably young for her age. I look remarkably my age. But after looking much older than I should have in my teens and much younger than I should have for most of my thirties, I am relieved to look my age. This is the age that I am and it is the age I want to be.
So, here are 43 pearls of wisdom, random insights, and thoughts from my 43 years:
1. A quarter of a teaspoon of turmeric in half a cup of lukewarm water cures any headache except a migraine.
2. You don’t need to preheat the oven.
3. Young adult novels are as good, if not better, than novels written for grown-ups.
5. We Americans spend more money on health care and have worse outcomes than at least 40 other first world countries.
6. Our premature birth rates are the highest in the world, right up there with Nigeria and India.
7. We need a national health care system.
8. Norwegians believe it is not necessary and is even cruel to neuter your dog.
9. I like to cook but I hate to do the dishes.
10. Children change. Just because you have an easy baby doesn’t mean you’ll have an easy toddler. Just because you have a difficult pre-teen doesn’t mean you’ll have a difficult teenager.
11. Sometimes a bad day is just a bad day. Sometimes it’s a cry that your life needs a makeover.
12. It’s cowardly to attack someone personally because you don’t agree with their point of view. It’s brave to disagree with them intellectually, using facts, not emotion, to back up your argument.
13. You can save a lot of time on email if you include a detailed subject line (“Class meeting, Friday at 3:00 p.m.” instead of “Hi, class parents!”)
15. People often think with their genitals.
16. Just because there is no conclusive proof that something is dangerous does NOT mean it is safe.
17. Most people are unable to understand that science is an on-going process of inquiry, not a dogma.
18. Doctors are often wrong.
19. Malaria was thought to be caused by bad air until we realized it was spread by mosquitoes.
20. For over 30 years, from 1938 to 1971, pregnant women were given diethylstilbestrol (DES) and told by their doctors (and Harvard researchers) it would help them avoid miscarriage and could even make their healthy pregnancies healthier. The doctors and scientists were mistaken. A synthetic estrogen made from pregnant mare’s urine, DES was found to cause cancer in young people whose moms had taken it during pregnancy.
21. People who vehemently defend the mainstream are not skeptics.
22. Emerson was right, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
23. It’s easy to forget everything (including all the cute things your kids did when they were little), which is why it’s important to write it down and take lots of photos.
24. Stuff won’t make you happy.
25. We need less than we think.
26. IPods and cell phones and 24/7 internet access probably make us less connected and more unhappy.
27. My relentless insomnia started before I had children and will probably continue after they are all grown up, though it would be convenient to be able to blame it on them.
28. You don’t need plastic produce bags for apples, oranges, broccoli, or just about anything else. You can just put the fruits and veggies in your cart, even green beans.
29. Plastic is everywhere and it is poisoning us.
30. It’s important to put a high price on your time. If you do excellent work, people will gladly pay what you ask.
31. Good journalists and photographers who have integrity care about the story they are writing and about getting the facts straight. Their loyalty is not — nor should it be — to you.
32. If you don’t like the way someone writes about a subject (including how they write about you), write your own article the way you think it should be written.
33. Just because a child cannot talk does not mean she will not form memories of what she is experiencing.
34. Children need to be bored.
35. The older you are the more people you know with cancer.
36. A cardboard box has many fine uses: a boat for sailing the ocean, a table top for playing school, a writing surface, a house.
37. It’s cheaper and easy to make your own laundry detergent.
38. Formerly loved presents, experiences, or homemade treats are always better than store-bought gifts.
39. If you have not questioned your childhood beliefs or changed your mind about anything you feel strongly about, you probably haven’t been thinking very hard.
40. Autumn is the sweetest, and the saddest, time of year.
41. Just because it’s good to breastfeed doesn’t mean it’s easy.
42. Confident, secure, well-loved people don’t get angry at others for doing things differently from them.
43. There was a time before McDonald’s and there will be a time when McDonald’s is gone.
How old are you? What do you think about the age that you are? What have you learned about life?
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Her latest book, The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line, will be published by Scribner in April 2013.