This morning I’m posting an essay I wrote a few years ago. It’s an opportunity to get to know me (and my writing). If I were to write a similar essay today, it would be called “Pain, Pools, and Turing 50.” (Sounds like a another blog.)

Last Friday my husband turned 40. This weekend he’s putting the finishing touches on a three-wheeled motorcycle he built from scratch during the last few months. Are these things related? I think so.

First, the man is no mechanic. A fine cabinetmaker and all-around handyman, yes. But typically, I can’t even get him to change the oil in my car without nagging. So last fall when he announced he was going to build a vehicle, I was stunned. And skeptical. I kept it to myself of course, after gently asking, “Are you sure that’s what you want to do, honey? You know how much you hate to work on cars.”

But the “trike” was different—a funky blend of Volkswagen bug and Goldwing motorcycle that resembles a mutant dune buggy with fat tires and cool handle bars. The trike became an obsession. First he brought home the decrepit orange “bug” that would become a fixture in our yard for months. Then he spent hours searching the Internet for information, downloading hundreds of trike pictures in the process. Entire weekends were consumed with trips to Harrisburg and Springfield, tracking down obscure parts and make-shift pieces. Then the long haul began, night after night spent in the garage, step by painful step, putting the thing together.

My husband is not an electrician either, but he mastered the wiring system of a VW and recreated it to make the trike street legal. He also taught himself to weld steel, do extensive bodywork, apply fiberglass, and paint metal. It’s been a tremendous amount of work. I’ve never seen him so happy. Or so obsessed.

Turning 40 isn’t easy. You hear about men buying spendy red sports cars or running off with their secretaries. I’m proud of him for turning his mid-life anxiety into a creative endeavor that the whole family can enjoy. But I’m glad it’s over. The weekly trips to Furrow’s and Knecht’s began to drain our checking account. And I started to think he’d conceived the project just as an excuse to accumulate every tool he ever wanted. (Who really needs a compression gage?)

But I’m mostly anxious to get out on the road. I grew up with motorcycles and have missed the rush of adrenaline that kicks in as you swing your leg over the seat and fire up the motor. I’ll be forty soon enough myself, so I know what he’s been feeling. In fact, I found myself in a tattoo parlor yesterday afternoon having a blue butterfly etched into my calf. How did this happen? my mother and husband both wanted to know.

It was easier than you might think.

The night before, a youngster where I work announced her intention of getting a tattoo, and I was hit with a pang of jealously. I’d wanted one since I was a teenager. But I’d always worried that someday I’d be 40 and cringe at the sight, hearing that nag in my head say, “What in the hell were you thinking?”

But that day was almost here, and so still was the desire. Even the design and color I wanted remained unchanged after 20 some years. When another co-worker, also approaching the big 4-0 said, “Let’s do it,” I thought, why not?

It was a great adventure, a day filled with the same nervous excitement I experience before boarding an airplane—that tumultuous feeling of knowing that when I walked out of there, I would never be exactly the same again. And liking the thought.

Yes, I know, someday I’ll be 60, and possibly I’ll look at my tattoo and shake my head. But I’ll know what I was thinking when I got it. I was thinking that life is short and the thrills are few and far between once mid-life (parentally inspired) maturity sets in. So to hell with convention. Next weekend I’ll throw my tattooed leg over the seat of a trike and ride with the wind.

  1. Go for it! We’ll all be looking for that motorcycle mama! You’re not alone – i know quite a few ladies, older even, who decided to get a small tattoo. Nope, not me, ever. I hate needles. But I’ve considered a few more piercings in my ears. (and only there)

  2. Way to go L.J.! We now need a picture of you on the cycle with your tattoo showing. I’m thinking the author photo to go on the next cover. Seriously.

    No really, I’m serious.

  3. Excellent essay all the way around. I got my naval pierced when I hit 40 or so after losing a lot of weight and even though I”m not as toned as I was then (I’m still working on that), I still enjoy it. My mother just looked at me and shook my head sadly. Same when my sister got her tattoo.

  4. That Trike sure is pretty. May you have many miles filled with lots of smiles. Really enjoyed this post.
    Adelle ‘Legs’ Laudan

  5. And here I thought I was brave when I got my ears pierced when I was in my thirties. Only cheap girls pierced their ears when I was growing up. Still, be brave, do what you’ve always wanted to do. Believe me the 70s come around sooner than you think, and I’d rather regret getting a tattoo then regret not doing what I desired. Same goes for the bike.

  6. Thanks for sharing this great story! I turned 40 this year and to commemorate the milestone I’ve been trying to do one thing every week that I’ve never done before. Your post reminded me that riding a motorcyle is on the list so I’m going to try to do that this week.

    As for a tatoo, I wasn’t brave enough to get a real one but on my 40th, I got a henna tattoo for the first time. It gave me that same little thrill you described.

    Here’s the post I wrote about my big day…

  7. Enjoyable post. Ah, to be able to look FORWARD to turning 40 again! LOL The male mid-life crisis is vastly under-rated – we men go through just as much silly stuff and crazy states of mind as women do. We just call it “branching out” – heehee

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