Today I am 40 years old.

I woke up today and I was 40. It was terrifying. I took the above picture this morning as soon as I woke up.

But here is the thing. I have so few wrinkles. A little parentheses around my mouth, but that’s from smiling so much, so how can I complain. I do have one weirdly pronounced wrinkle between my eyes and some very fine lines under my eyes that are only there when I don’t drink enough water. I get carded at movies and when I buy drinks. I know I look young for my age.

But that’s just looks. To get graphic, if I may, I will say that my ovaries and uterus and eggs are very much convinced I am 40. They know that they don’t have to do much for much longer. They’re like, “Hey. What’s the deal? We remind you we’re here every month, waiting to be put to use. When are you going to do something about us? We could collect Social Security right now if we wanted to! We will retire soon and we aren’t going to tell you when.”

I will say that my ovaries and uterus and eggs are very much convinced I am 40.

I only ever had one dream for my life that stayed the whole time, and that was to be a mom. I watched my beautiful mother carry 10 children to term (and lose 5 others to miscarriage and pre-mature birth). She was really always pregnant in my childhood, and  I wanted to be her. Everyone knew my mom was well-spoken and outspoken, brilliant, slender (even when pregnant somehow), elegant, classy. She gave birth to a daughter who has always been a bit on the swarthy side, but I have the child-bearing hips an OB dreams about.

I had a few serious-ish boyfriends, but nobody I wanted to have a child with could bear the idea of kissing me (see “swarthy” section, above), and I couldn’t imagine wasting time in a relationship with someone I couldn’t live without. So I worked. A lot. At low-paying jobs that fulfilled my need for service but left my bank account dry as a bone. I  taught farm kids at a tiny school in Owatonna, MN for 15 grand a year, worked 12-days and helped with all the extracurriculars, but HEY I had my summers off, and a lovely family invited me to live with them, rent-free. I made it work, but I made it work by not paying back my student loans and credit card bills and other expenses no one should have allowed me to have.

Do I have regrets about those years? Man. That is hard to say. I sure loved those kids and am still in touch with many of them today. But I didn’t take time to meet anyone new, potential fathers for my potential children. My friends married and had children, or had really amazing jobs that paid them amazing salaries. I had debt collection letters and a lot of love from kids and their families. Who’s to say which is more valuable?

Okay. Most people could tell you right now.

I went on to a bigger school in a suburb of Chicago that paid a little more. But that didn’t work out. So I was unemployed and now had rent to pay and a car that was about to die and no support system. I had gone back to school to get a master’s degree and was almost finished. So I made another decision that marked another impoverished period of my life. I moved back in with my parents and the remaining siblings there and I took the first job offered to me, as a paraprofessional at a therapeutic day school for 11 dollars an hour. I would regular get beat on buy a student, peed on, bled on–but BOY did I love that job. And I felt like I was really making a difference. So I stayed, even after getting my masters degree. And accrued debt. I finished my master’s degree, took a part-time job as a counselor for, yes, 11 dollars an hour (must have been the going rate for a sucker at the time). I drove an hour and a half to one job, then an hour and a half to the second job, and then the hour home. How did I survive?

I had a few other great, wonderful, life-changing jobs that I felt horribly guilty to leave when opportunities that would bring me closer to becoming financially independent came my way. They couldn’t quite bring me there, and my debt continued to accrue, but I was also able to slowly pay down old debt, and that left me feeling accomplished.

(Okay, here is where I realize that you may be thinking I am a pathetic loser to have all that debt, that I probably managed my money very poorly. You would be correct on both counts.)

The problem that comes with not caring about money is that YOU HAVE TO CARE ABOUT MONEY. You can’t live without it. People would tell me to take this job or that job because it helped people and because God would provide, but I looked at their lives, at their two-income lives because they are married, or at their I-graduated-from-school-without-any-debt lives and they could never actually understand me. I do wish I would have made more money somehow. But I didn’t, and here I am.

Thankfully, I had a family that could take me in. I am thankful beyond words for that. But I would look at my life every birthday and say, “How am I [insert age]-years-old and living at home again?”

And today, I have a great job. Two great jobs. I work full-time in advertising for a company that I truly believe in and make a living wage, and I have a part-time job as a counselor (not great money, but it helps pay down that debt). I have a three bachelor’s degrees and master’s degree.

I would look at my life every birthday and say, “How am I [insert age]-years-old and living at home again?”

But I don’t have that one dream. I am not a mother.

And now I am 40, and I feel everything shriveling up and dying. I suppose I could foster and adopt when I am older, but then I wonder if I will ever have a house to put those children in. And would I foster, and fall in love with the child, and then lose the child to the system? Would I survive that?

I have a boyfriend now who I love, and who loves me. But he is younger, and, besides, his body doesn’t have an expiration date. He does not want to get married yet. He doesn’t know if he wants to have kids ever. His sister died a few years ago, and left behind three children, and he takes care of those kids. He has said that they’re mine, too, jokingly, to pacify me, and to quell that sad, longing look I probably always have in my eyes.

What will it mean for me to give up this dream for my life, the one dream I always wanted to come true? My mother had kids well into her 40s. I probably will be able to as well. But what if I don’t, or can’t?

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