Getting a bike for my 40th birthday was something I was very loud and clear about for a few months. So no wonder, when I woke up on the morning of my “big day”, and went downstairs, here it was – a mechanical, beautifully-made, white horse with a delicate sunflower on the handlebars to complete the girlish look. Three pairs of curious, hazelnut eyes were looking at my reaction, trying to figure out if I approved the gift. My charming prince did not rush in on a gorgeous white horse, sweeping me of my feet, hustling me to a far-away land; instead, he wisely provided me with a self-serve option. I was perfectly fine with that.
It was a simple bike, without fancy, thin wheels and 25 speeds; I had to break by pedaling backwards, rather than pushing it on a handlebar, equipped with various wires connecting something to something. I would never be able to participate in a 40 miles bike race, dressed in a tight spandex suit, lowering my body over the bike, hitting the pedals as fast and as hard as I possibly could, passing others to victory. This would not be the case of pushing my limits, and doing my personal best. Instead, I would go on a ride around the neighborhood or enjoy a nature biking trail. I would welcome the light wind, the smell of grass and trees, the wild flowers and birds’ singing. I would be dressed in my regular every day jeans or shorts, a simple T-shirt, old sneakers, and no helmet.
It was a bike I rode in my childhood in the little town my grandmother lived in. I spent most of my summers there. One-story houses, water from the well, a wooden-box toilet outside, chickens running on the roads, annoying rare drivers, a chorus of roosters and stray dogs. I’ve never felt more relaxed and carefree in my life. Biking was our preferred way of commuting to stores, the library, beaches, parks, friends’ houses. It was either that or walking, which was not nearly as much fun. Most of the time we did not need a reason to jump on a bike. Getting out of the house and enjoying our surroundings was a reason enough. Rushing through the streets and trails, screaming to each other, with the wind blowing in my face, messing up my hair, raising the skirt that I was desperately trying to keep down, was so liberating and invigorating. Spending most of the year in the tiny city apartments, we were unleashed, like feral animals, released from our urban cages into the wilderness. There were no signs, no helmets, no supervision, and no laws to obey or break. This feeling, long forgotten, I wanted to experience again.
I did not have my own bike; I rode an old bike found in my grandmother’s barn. It was bought either for my mother or for one of her sisters, or for somebody else decades ago. Big, black and rusted, it was made to last for ages. Nobody took care of it; it’s been through brutal winters and hot summers; but the wheels kept turning, so it was still in business. Some of my fondest childhood moments were created by this old, scary, metal monster.
Then I grew up, my grandmother sold her house, I moved across the ocean; and the free-spirited girl on a bike turned into a faded memory. She got buried in everyday stresses, commitments, problems and disappointments. She drowned in a never-ending circle of jobs, chores, screaming kids, attention-starved husband, demanding bosses, and financial decisions.
A sudden and inevitable approach of my “milestone” got me thinking about my life, that’s passing by with the speed of light, with no signs of slowing down. I’ve decided that it was time to stop for a moment, catch my breath, and do some logical analysis. To make it more meaningful, I’ve decided to employ the philosophical concept of causality to establish the relationship between the cause (me getting older) and the effect (my quality of life). Below are some of the findings:
-My kids are getting older. I am getting older.
-They are more independent. They are not interested in spending time with their mother.
- I would like to find something that we all like and can do together.
- According to the experts on the topic, I need to start exercising, because the muscle tone goes down the drain after 40.
- I want my kids to spent time outside instead of being glued to electronics. I also love being outside.
-Biking seems like an activity that meets all the requirements above.
-I need a bike.
Fast- forward 25 years, the girl on a bike is back. With a few younger companions. With new wrinkles on her forehead, and more brains in her head. With a sack on her back full of life experiences and memories. She is not so free-spirited and carefree anymore, but, nonetheless, happy, wiser (hopefully) and more confident.
I always imagined 40 year olds as mature, boring, seen- and- done- everything people, who were only good for giving lectures, and teaching others how to live their lives. In my mind, they were all wrinkled, fat and wearing “mature people” clothes. Turning 40 was the time to start thinking about retirement, re-evaluate 401K contributions, make sure that the mortgage would be paid off soon, slow down, and hang out with other “old” people. After countless years of marriage one-piece bathing suits, tons-of-makeup, overworked wives were barely tolerating their beer-belly, constantly-watching-TV, complaining about various known and unknown deceases husbands. Or, if you were lucky enough to be rich, you would stroll Barneys, admiring the new jewelry collection with your unmovable, botoxed face, while your husband conducted business (or so he said) in his Park Avenue corner office, and your kids rode their respective pet ponies in the lush green fields of your suburban second mansion.
However, a quick glance in the mirror revealed a woman with no makeup, a pony tail, in $10 T-shirt and low-cut jeans. Am I really 40? Is that possible, or am I crazy (or “mildly insane”, as my son would lovingly characterize me)? For some reason, I think that my life is just starting, and I have a world of new, exciting things ahead of me to explore. I want to go back to school when my son starts college, to travel around the world, to cook new foods, to meet interesting people. 40 feels like a midlife conversion to some joyful, blissful insanity- the new beginning. May be I am crazy, but I am not planning to see the psychiatrist just yet; I would rather be crazy than “old”.