MOM KNOWS BEST: A Midlife Crisis Guide to Somerville

Turning 40: maybe not quite as fun as these cupcakes would have you believe.

As Scout Somerville turns 40 (issues) old this month, I’m preparing to turn 40 (years) old this December. For Scout, this is a time for celebration. For me—I’m not so sure yet.

mom knows best

Friends don’t buy friends this card.

I’m conflicted about it. I think I’m supposed to feel fabulous; at least one supermarket magazine a month tells me so. Every time I start to feel less dread about it, I come across something like this 40th birthday card, which reads “Bad News: You are 40.” Guys, don’t buy that card for anyone, especially me. Inside it reads “Good News: We got plenty of booze.” Obviously, the makers of this card have never turned 40 themselves, or even 30, for that matter, since “plenty of booze” at this age means “a two-day-long hangover. Minimum.” My husband keeps asking me what kind of party I want to have, but I’m leaning toward ignoring my birthday and replacing that kitchen cabinet I’ve always hated. (That plan has been vetoed, although I’m still taking recommendations for contractors if you have them.) I tried shrugging it off like it’s no big deal, but that’s really not the case. So, what’s a girl to do? Well, there are actually lots of things in Somerville that make it a great place to turn 40.

New Wheels

Bicycle Belle's Carice Reddien shows off her own Workcycle.

Bicycle Belle’s Carice Reddien shows off her own Workcycle.

Apparently getting a new ride in your middle years is a thing, and I did this a little ahead of schedule when I got some two-wheeled transportation from Bicycle Belle in 2014. While Somerville is a very walkable city, it was time for us to get a second family vehicle, and I didn’t want to add another car if I could help it. (I’m not really a big car person, although I dare you to say a word against my beloved Scion xB.) Luckily for me, Carice Reddien had just opened Bicycle Belle in 2013. Her shop really expanded the options for family biking in our part of metro Boston. We were able to test some bikes and fell in love with a Workcycles bakfiets (now called a KR8), which is a really well-made bicycle that’s common in the Netherlands and other European countries. I had been coveting one since I first saw one in Davis Square in 2012 (which I later discovered belonged to the writers of Carfree Cambridge, a favorite blog of mine). They’ve really started to catch on here as well, there’s even a Facebook group for Cargo Bikes of Camberville. The local availability and access to expert maintenance was the deciding factor in taking the leap for me, and I haven’t regretted it one bit.

Buying from a woman-owned and operated bike shop was an extra treat, and Carice actually turned 40 around the time she opened the business, moving on from her architecture practice to pursue her passion for family biking. Telling her of my own fears of turning 40, I asked if she had any advice for me and others. “Not really. Forty wasn’t a big thing for me—too much else going on, “ she says. While I do not have this level of zen about my age, I do have the ability to stay busy. On I go.

Creativity and Inspiration

I really couldn’t be in a better place (at least physically) for my 40th birthday. Somerville is a really creative and collaborative city, and living here has made it really easy to get back in touch with my creative side—the part of me that went to art school but stepped aside when I needed a job that came with health insurance. Affordable classes at Craftwork Somerville, the nearby Cambridge Center for Adult Education and Artisan’s Asylum served as a toe in the water back in. My favorite classes are at Somerville Community Access Television, where outreach coordinator Erica Jones’ enthusiasm helped me overcome my fear of live TV. I worked with Erica for a Somerville Local First show last year, and I discovered I loved goofing around on camera. These classes are affordable for members and non-members alike, and are really great for those looking to supplement a formal education, shift their career or just have some fun. The classes, coupled with Erica’s enthusiasm, really woke up the creative part of me that had been dormant. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I had the chance to learn some more. At SCATV, you can learn to produce a TV show, get the basics of podcasting or just rent a camera to film your own project. You can even have a regular show if you want—I’m still working on that one. Can someone find me some more hours in the day?

Cleaning Out, Starting Fresh

When I start a new decade, I like to really clean up. I spent the weekend before I turned 30 organizing my pantry (I swear I used to be fun, it was just a very, very long time ago), and as this birthday approaches I chose to clean out my attic office space. One great thing about getting older is realizing that if you’re not good at something, you should ask someone to help you do it. I was coming to terms with the fact that I have zero organizational skills, and I felt like I was getting a sign from the universe when I saw a fellow local mom post about her organizing services on Facebook. I hired Renee through TaskRabbit and spent a morning with her cleaning out my attic, which I then turned into a functioning writing space and studio, allowing me to pick up more freelance and consulting work when I had a place to hide from the kids and write. I also set up a small studio to build some backdrops for what became my new photography business, The Lovely Booth. It was incredible how much happened after I literally unclogged the room. At the risk of sounding too much like an Oprah rerun, it’s really amazing how little things like this can hold us back.

Help For My Aching Bones

With all the cleaning, biking and backdrop building I do, I need some help. My body has always been ahead of its time… in that my bones feel like they’re at least twice their age. I complained of an aching hip at age five. So I am grateful for my friend and chiropractor Dr. Cristina Grossi at Union Square Chiropractic. This woman is a true healer. A visit every few weeks helps keep my bones in order so I can still run with friends or keep up with my kids. But most of all, it’s fun to chat with her and catch up. My youngest son is almost the same age as her daughter, and she just celebrated her own 40th birthday this year. “Embrace the lines, the sagging, and pick up a great push-up bra,” she told me when I asked for her best advice. See? Nothing wrong with getting a little help.

Not Your Mama’s Hair

I recently visited Michelle Powers-Rao, owner of Studio M Salon on Somerville Avenue to get some help making a change with my hair. I’d had the same haircut for about seven years, but I changed to an asymmetrical bob courtesy of Katie Cavic at Workshop Salon this spring after two kids really took a toll on the ol’ mane. The bob was super cute, I felt I needed something more dramatic.  I explained to Michelle that I was feeling a bit blah about 40, and that I needed to feel a little less sad panda. A mom of a young daughter herself, Michelle knew what to do right away—better than I did. She worked tirelessly to create the color I’d wanted since I used to dye my own hair in my dorm bathroom in college, using soup spoons to clumsily spread bleach and manic panic through my bangs. Again, this is part of getting older: getting professional help for things you just don’t do that well.

kat rutkin

A few hours and many, many pieces of foil later, layers of pink and blonde exist to balance out the fear of 40. I had started  looking for a little pop of color, but she basically convinced me to go full ’90s dream hair, and I’m so happy I did—even if i almost missed school pickup that day (#momproblems).  

Michelle recently turned 40 herself, looks amazing and is running a successful business she started just a few years ago. “Coffee,” she replied when I asked her what her secret was, “and a Red Bull. Also, Snapchat filters are pretty great.” Done and done, but… what’s Snapchat?

Retail therapy

While I’ve said I try not to do this too much, 40 really calls for some special outfits. Sadly, it also calls for high daycare costs and summer camp. So on the days I’m in Davis doing live broadcasts from Diaper Lab, I can swing by Goodwill and Buffalo ExchangeSome of my favorite clothes of all time have come from the Goodwill, as I’ve been a faithful shopper since my college days. Back then it was the only place to find good retro fashion. And yes, I had to walk uphill both ways to get there. (Note: The Davis Square Goodwill is closing for a few months of renovations!) When I last went in for a few things, I got a sweet wall hanging, too, which was almost as exciting as the day I found a framed portrait of Gloria Steinem in the trash on the day after Harvard students moved out. The best thing about thrift shopping is that it allows me to catch up on fashion from a few years ago since motherhood has me chronically 18 months behind the rest of the world. Which reminds me, it’s probably time to start watching that final season of Downton Abbey.

Talking it out

Feeling limber, with great new hair and clothes (and wall art!), I still had my reservations about 40.  I stopped by ONCE Lounge at Cuisine en Locale to see the owner, JJ Gonson. As one of the supportive members of the business community that I love so much, JJ always has a few minutes to chat. She also started her catering company, Cuisine en Locale, the year she turned 40. “It was an incredible time,” she told me. “I had so much energy. I felt… impenetrable. People used to call me a fireball.” With two babies at home, this was no small feat. The only fireball I resemble is actual fire when my hair catches the right light.

As her business expanded from catering to meal delivery, JJ was able to bring the locovore movement to Cambridge. “I had a confidence I didn’t have in my twenties—I felt comfortable taking risks.” She then went on to take over the dormant Anthony’s event space on Highland, creating ONCE, an event space with a lounge that’s open for dinner almost every night of the week. It’s where the cool kids (and sometimes actual kids) go for locally sourced tacos every Monday night. “It’s a good time to be nice to yourself, feel confident in making your own choices, be happy to be home and nesting.” Or, apparently, take over the (local, food and event) world.

So, what did I learn about 40? Do I feel fabulous? Not yet. But I do know that 40 is confident, 40 is clever and 40 is kind. Maybe I’ll schedule that birthday party after all. Anyone for a britpop brunch?