Balancing Act: Celebrating 40th Birthday With a 10-Year To Do List

By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune.


My friends have started turning 40. Some of them started years ago and have moved on beautifully to turning 45, 50 and 55.

This group is different. These are the friends I grew up with. These are the friends I graduated with. These are the friends whose 40th birthdays mean my 40th birthday is fast approaching.

My calendar is populated with surprise 40th birthday parties and reminders to compile 40th birthday toasts and prompts to contribute to 40th birthday memory books.

All of which has me taking stock of the knowledge I’ve gleaned from these four decades on Earth. Decades filled with love and loss and leggings, which have come in and out of fashion a half-dozen times since I began dressing myself.

I like to read the various collections of wisdom that make their way around the Internet. “What You Learn in Your 40s,” by author Pamela Druckerman, recently spent several days on The New York Times most-emailed list. I admire the unequivocal advice, delivered from a remove that suggests both worldliness and closure. (From Druckerman: “There are no soul mates.” “Never suggest lunch with people you don’t want to have lunch with.” “Forgive your exes.”)

But I’m always left thinking, I don’t know much.

I figure if I make a list of the things I don’t know, maybe I can methodically check off items over the next few years. Maybe I can write that other kind of list, profound insights and sage instructions, by my 50th birthday.

Maybe you’ll read my list and feel inspired to send me a list of things you don’t know. I’d love to read it.

Meanwhile, here is a collection of some, but certainly not all, of the things I don’t know:

How to use Instagram.

When confronted by a bully, whether to remain calm and walk away or give it back as good as they’re giving.

Whether to avoid gluten.

How to keep a reasonably clean house that is also an enjoyable house in which to live, play, eat and host other people’s children and make crafts that involve glitter.

What color to paint my bedroom.

What to tell my kids about God.

How to change a flat tire.

How to French braid.

How to play chess.

How to cook a turkey.

How to get more sleep.

What a Roth IRA is, even though I have one.

Which universally accepted truth I believe: “People change.” Or, “People don’t change.” (I’ve said them both.)

The answers to an astounding number of my kids’ questions. (“How fast do planes fly?” “What’s the difference between a typhoon and a hurricane?” “Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable?” “What makes lightning?”)

Lay versus lie.

The proper speed at which to pull a seat belt around a kid so that the seat belt obliges, rather than stubbornly locking upon first yank and steadfastly refusing to budge no matter how many profanities you hurl toward it.

How to talk to my only brother.

How to apply makeup that doesn’t leave my face looking like it belongs on a different neck.

How to speak a single foreign language.

How “Moby-Dick” ends. Or begins, for that matter. Never read it.

What compels me to read, instead, articles like Real Simple’s “A-to-Z Guide to Cleaning Almost Anything,” knowing full well I will never, ever clean my ice-maker.

How to answer, “Mom, why don’t you use your phone voice when you talk to us?”

What to do with kale.

How to make any kind of sense out of the Dow Jones industrial average.

What to talk about in elevators.

Whether allowance is teaching my kids financial literacy or turning them into self-interested layabouts who won’t lift a finger unless they’re paid.

How to spell vacuum. (Have to look it up every time.) Same with rhythm, vicious and khaki.

How to clear my browser’s cookies.

What to make for dinner.

Whether I’m too old to wear leggings.

Willing to share the thing (or things) you still don’t know? Send an email to:

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