This year I turn forty. I’m pretty sure I have no particularly strong feelings about forty – or at least I thought I didn’t until I felt the need to say that I don’t – so maybe I really do; or in fact I really don’t. I guess I’m undecided on that part – but humour me and read on.
Most days I think of myself as relatively young. In spite of my terminally wobbly belly, the mortgage, loud and large family, 7-seater car and steady job; in my head I’m still 26 – or maybe on a bad day, 31. I’m not dashing into Coppers on a Tuesday night but I catch myself inwardly gaffawing when I hear myself talking about my sons and my daughter, like I’m some childless-feckless-twenty something who is playing at being a grown up. Plus I’m still partial to wearing converse and jeans to work and probably have a strange pride in the fact that I still don’t own a suit, but then that’s just a reflection of my poor sense of style – which appears to be the only part of me that’s ageless.
When my own parents turned 40, the ‘BIG 4-0’ seemed like such a big deal. In my youthful and conceited head this massive milestone marked the start of a slippery slope to old-age and retirement. But of course the relativity of time means what seemed so ancient then, is today definately (and defiantly) quite young! Maybe because so many of my friends still have young kids – and are having babies well into their 40’s, and because none of us have a snowball’s chance in hell of retiring by 65, I’ve managed to convince myself 50 is the new 40, so really I’m just turning 30. Again.
The fortieth birthday party – like the numbers, have also changed in significance. My own Mum’s fortieth is memorable for Dad’s dubious choice to mark the occasion with an intimate (read: tiny) celebration. That pleasant (read: underwhelming) gig was followed by an extended period of collective mortification as we watched her looking in cupboards and behind doors, waiting for the big ‘SURPRISE!’. It never happened. But whereas my folks had a house full of teenagers and an appetite for a gin-soaked bash, I find myself looking at the three young kids and shying away from the mere thoughts of a big birthday party. Rather than calling in the caterers, I feel more inclined to just bribe my husband to rush the young minnions down the stairs quietly that morning so I can celebrate with a massive dribble encrusted lie-in.
Of course the key part of my self-delusion is the reality that the bigger change in my own life came last year. I went back to work nearly a year ago (eeekkkk) knowing I wouldn’t be disappearing on another nice long baby-raising ‘break’. Right then it dawned on me that I was leaving the disruptions of baby-making behind, and that I was entering another stage. Like when you move from school to college, college to work, work to travel, and from womanhood to motherhood, there’s a kind of release that comes with starting a new phase of life which is loaded with the great potential for reinvention. It’s a good time to ask myself what I want to be when I grow up – even if I’m not quite sure of the answer.
But of course, forty is happening and it moves me into that next box on the survey form. No longer will I be able to tick ’34 to 39′. I am going to be 40+ and yes it should be celebrated. But with a few months to go the onset of forty feels nice so let’s hope it smooth sailing all the way there. So yes, maybe I will go all out and mark it all with a lie-in AND a big bash – albeit a pyjama party where make-up is banned and copious amounts of gin are served. Yes. That sounds like a great plan for aging gracefully. That’s the plan.