In September, about two weeks after I had a baby, I turned 38. I didn’t feel weird about that age, really. (And by “weird about that age”, fine, I’ll just say it: I mean that I didn’t really feel old.) Sure, recovering from a second child was no picnic, and, yes, the silver hairs I can no longer keep up with just by going to the stylist every three or four months drive me nuts. But by and large, I’m fine with 38. And I’ve never been terribly hung up on aging, anyway. Or at least, I never thought I was.
And then we bought a new recycling bin.
For years, we’d had an old, ugly, dilapidated bin with no lid. It smelled exactly like the basement party-room at my college boyfriend’s fraternity house. And because it was so old and rickety, it was hard to carry down to the curb, and — just as annoyingly — it was a terrible eyesore on our front porch. The new one, however, is handsome and sturdy and lidded. My husband even hand-stenciled our address on it so that people won’t be tempted to steal it. Every time I see it, it sparks Marie Kondo-esque joy in me.
But I will be honest: Along with that joy comes recognition that this is a very prosaic thing to get excited about. When I texted this realization to Ashley — “We got a new recycling bin and I am so happy about it and that makes me a little sad” — she wrote back: “Haha. Quinn and I got new trash cans last week and we stood outside and admired them on trash day. We even put fancy stickers on them with our address. So cool.”
Me: “What does this even say about us?”
Her: “Easing into middle age via recycling bins.”
She nailed it. Age may just be a number, but Middle Age is getting excited about things that once — not so long ago — would have either put you to sleep or bummed you out, if you ever even thought about them at all. In my case, this isn’t just the bins in which we keep our refuse, but a whole slew of other sort of dull things. To wit:
* My favorite shoes — by a long shot — are sensible flats. (I’ve written about them before!) I sometimes imagine my current self weakly trying to explain them to my 28-year-old self: They seem like French-girl shoes to me?! And I have to carry so much crap for my kids now.”
* I am glad and even a little smug on the rare occasions when I actually remember what people on social media mean when they use the acronyms GOAT and TFW, without having to first look them up on Slang Dictionary.
* When I realize that a swimsuit/pair of shorts/halter top is too young for me, it is not with the wistful longing of a woman who wishes she could still wear that swimsuit/pair of shorts/halter top, but instead with great relief that I don’t have to try to look good in that swimsuit/pair of shorts/halter top.
* I am so happy when the city paints new lines on the streets, because not being able to see the lines is unsafe. And I care deeply and increasingly about road safety in this city. (Related: My fondest city wish is for a speed bump in the middle of my street, and a stop sign at the end.)
* I asked for a vacuum for Christmas. (Yes, it was one of the irobot ones that cleans your house while you sit on the couch, but still.)
* I bought — and enjoy — a waterpik.
* One of my favorite parts of the last concert I went to was that I got a seat.
I won’t bore you with the other two dozen things that could go on this list. (It only goes downhill from the waterpik.) But it has recently hit me that this might be why people even have children in the first place — so that once they reach the point in life when sitting down at a rock show is a priority (even though they are wearing very comfortable, sensible shoes), they can be reminded to get excited about the truly fun, non-lame things, too, like play-fighting with lightsabers and throwing snowballs and eating dessert. In short: Thank the Lord for my children, otherwise most of my thrills at this point would top out at a two-for-one La Croix sale and finding a great new 30-minute series on Netflix. (Admit it: You think those things are awesome, too.)
On the other hand, I will say this about the surprising (and surprisingly lame) things that bring us happiness as we get older: By now, most of us have probably learned that life is just better and brighter and more fun if you collect small joys and gratefully revel in them … and that that’s true wherever you may happen to find said joys. And so, my fellow middle-aged friends, if you ever walk by my house and see me smiling as I lug the recycling out to the curb, or hear a quiet sigh of contentedness as I turn and walk back toward the door, well … you’ll understand.