Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Turning 40

I turned 40. I’m still getting over it. I expect that by the time I have got over it I will be well past it. Possibly closer to the next big milestone.

The year I turned 40, life hit me in the face. I had two miscarriages, a collapsing roof to deal with, and then I very nearly lost my Dad. Oh and my daughter started school. I don’t lump that in with the other things, but it was a major life event and having a child in school is another being a proper grown up milestone. No matter that, at 40, I am one of (if not the) older mothers in the tiddler section of the school. It was the year that I had to face life and think about death

So a couple of months ago I finally became middle aged. And I can’t get my head around it. It’s only a number, but it’s a big number, it marks a new life stage and, even if I live to 100, I’ve now used a large chunk of my time.

My friend invited me to her husband’s 40th birthday party, shortly before I reached the milestone. I puzzled over the invite. “But I’m sure we already did this, a couple of years ago.” Slowly, it dawned. That was 10 years ago you idiot - that was his 30th. So there goes a decade. It’s true you know – time really does speed up as you get older. Except for Monday mornings. 

Chocolate and mortality in Bruges

Turning 40 came as a bit of a shock. I’d just about come to terms with being in my thirties. I was comfortable with that. I felt like I got good at it. I accomplished a few things as well. When I turned 30 I was married with no children. Since then I have gained a PhD, a divorce (surprisingly not related to the PhD) a good job, a five-year-old child and a new partner. I have also moved house four times (maybe not an achievement, since one of the times was moving back with my parents) and grown out my fringe (we’d been together a long time). I have still failed to publish a novel, but I have a blog which was going pretty well until my annus horribilis kicked in (more on that shortly). Put like that, maybe I don’t sound so bad. I mean, at least I’m doing stuff with my time.

Turning 40 was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak year for me. Two miscarriages, a collapsing roof (very expensive and stressful to sort out), redundancies at work and my Dad spent 12 weeks in hospital dicing with death (he got better).  

My 40th birthday was spent wandering happily around beautiful Bruges hand in hand with my beloved, drinking beer that is stronger than I can possibly handle. It was idyllic. The icing on the cake (metaphorical at the time, although I got one a few weeks later) was my mum’s heartfelt message that my Dad had suddenly taken a huge turn for the better.

My new favourite place in the world: Bruges. Photo by Jacob Surland via Flickr Creative Commons

Fear begins at 40

I moved into my 40th year on this planet feeling bruised from a relentless few months. Trying to spend and treasure every possible moment with my loved ones. And feeling terrified about the future, because when the past 12 months can do that to you, then you can’t help wondering what the next 12 will bring. My dad came face to face with his own mortality this year, and we faced it too. There were many times when my family and I were certain we were losing him. Once, my daughter, who always starts difficult conversations from the back of the car, asked me: “Will I ever see Grandad again?” And I had to keep driving and say brightly “of course you will, sweetheart” hoping that it was true, not least because I knew he, the one who was waiting outside the door when she was born, was missing her even more than she was missing him.

And I look back on my year of horror and realise that so much of that is what being 40 is. I’m grown up now, so while my little girl is allowed to fall apart, I am not. Disasters, like collapsing roofs, will happen and I will just have to deal with them, not necessarily alone. Miscarriages – if you’re going to try and have a baby at this time of life, then they’re more common too. And whilst once I needed my parents' support (and still often do), now sometimes they need mine.

I've noticed I type my date of birth now self-consciously – it seems such a long time ago. I don’t want to admit to my younger colleagues that I remember the eighties, that I grew up in a world without memes and mobile phones.

Many of my friends got to 40 ahead of me, and they seem to be coping OK with it. Is it just me? 

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