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The Big 4-0

40 has always loomed large in my mind.  I remember being younger and kids discussing whose parents were over 40 and whose parents were still under 40.  I don’t remember my parents turning 40, but I remember hiding upstairs with my cousin during her mother’s 40th birthday party.  She had a waiter walking around the room, bringing hors d’oeuvres to the adults, and I thought that was the epitome of sophistication.  The waiter was gorgeous and named Marco.  I promised myself that when I turned 40, I would have a gorgeous waiter named Marco bringing us fancy Shirley Temple cocktails on a silver platter.

I am turning 40 this year.

One needs to be okay with it in the sense that the alternative is that I am dead and not turning 40.  But in all other regards, I’m not okay with it.  I’ve been barreling towards 40, seeing it in front of me and feeling as if I’m in an out-of-control car that is about to crash into that numerical wall.  And come out the other side?  And simply stop?  What happens once I cross that age line?  Beyond the obvious answer of nothing.  I am well aware that I will wake up the next day and still be the same person living the same life.  So why does this randomly-chosen age have such a hold over my emotions?

I worry about vitality.  Am I needed?  Luckily, I chose a career that can go on indefinitely.  That doesn’t change appreciably over time so there is rarely new things to learn.  An essay is an essay.  If I could teach a child how to write an essay at 30, I could teach a child how to write an essay at 80.  It’s a low-tech base of knowledge, and the changes come so slowly that it’s not very difficult to keep up.  Also, while publishers may expect me to know how to upload a manuscript using their FTP client, as long as I have the basics of word processing down, I can pretty much sail on for decades.  I don’t work in a field such as engineering or medicine that demands that I stay knowledgeable about new advances.  So on one hand, I feel as if that sense of vitality is on lock. (Isn’t that what the young’uns say?)

But is my voice as meaningful at 40?  My mentor used to have me list my age in my cover letter for submissions.  He said my young age was one of my selling points.  He stopped telling me to list my age somewhere in my thirties.  The message I’ve gotten over the years from society as a whole is that the ideas of the young are fresh! exciting! brilliant! new! whereas the ideas of the old are weary! worn! mundane! out-of-touch!  Do I think this is true?  No.  Especially because I can point at writers who have gotten better with age.  First books are rarely as good as fifth books in terms of construction.  But is that the message I’ve picked up in our youth-obsessed culture?  Absolutely.

I worry about still being visible.  About still contributing to society.  My opinion being heard.  About making a difference.  I’ve grown accustomed to the world treating me in a certain manner, and I don’t want to lose that type of interaction with the greater whole.  My thirties were pretty damn sweet.  I want my forties to follow suit.

I don’t know how to mark the occasion.  Marco delivering a Shirley Temple on a silver platter no longer appeals to me.  I don’t want to have a do-gooder party like Josh, mostly because I am not as good a person.  We’re not really in a financial space right now to host a big party, and I’m not really a big party person anyway.  I could grab my cousin and serve us Shirley Temples to honour that childhood promise.  Part of me wants to go somewhere loud and kitschy like Dollywood and Graceland, and part of me wants to go sit on a deserted beach and contemplate the ocean in silence.  Nothing that I’ve come up with so far feels quite right for marking the moment.

What did you do to mark 40?  Or if you’re younger than I am, what do you plan to do to mark the occasion?  I may borrow your ideas since I am too old and decrepit to come up with my own.


1 nicoleandmaggie { 04.24.14 at 8:48 am }

I imagine we’ll do nothing. I usually get sick on my birthday anyway (it usually happens right after midterms when students seem especially germy).

2 jodifur { 04.24.14 at 9:33 am }

I told my husband for my 40th birthday I wanted a hotel by myself overnight with a bottle of wine, a movie, and a spa day. No phones, no internet. My husband was insulted. The last thing I want is a party.

3 jjiraffe { 04.24.14 at 9:55 am }

Darcy and I went to Rome, the eternal city. Something about that place felt appropriate: where the old buildings and culture are not forgotten, but live on, cherished and seen, among the middle aged and new.

It felt appropriate.

4 Justine { 04.24.14 at 9:58 am }

I had a small party at our local women’s club. It was just simpe food, cooked by a friend, and a space for the kids to run and play, and for me to look at people from so many of the corners of my life all together and feel grateful for those who have helped me to become the person I am, who make me the best version of myself. I hope you feel the same warmth and wonder at 40, and walk into the next day, feeling, as I did, that you’ve come a long way, and that there are amazing mountains still to climb, and ever lovelier views along the way. (I also hope you’ll let me take you to tea some day, or do something else equally celebratory but intimately appreciative. You are well-loved, Mel, and at this point in my life, one of the people I want to most be like “when I grow up.” ) Will you remind me of the actual day?

5 Kate { 04.24.14 at 10:37 am }

I’m coming up on 40 next February and struggling with similar angst. I don’t want a big party, but I’d like to do something special. I spent my 30th birthday pulling up old carpeting in the house we just bought while my husband was off on a work trip. We have enough life craziness going on right now that I’m worried 40 will end up being a similar bust.

6 Sharon { 04.24.14 at 10:51 am }

I spent my 40th birthday fairly quietly: my sister (who lives in NC) and I took a short trip to Charleston, SC, the weekend before and stayed at a B&B, and I spent the actual day with my sister and then-4-year-old nephew.

At that time, we had just our consult with the RE who would do our DE IVF cycle, so I definitely wasn’t at a place in my life where a big blow-out celebration felt appropriate.

I’m now 43, and if my experience and the experiences of my closest friends are at all typical. . . the 40s are even better than the 30s! 🙂

7 Valery Valentina { 04.24.14 at 11:08 am }

We went to Barcelona for DE-IVF treatment for my 40th.
memorable milestone!
and don’t let anyone say you are/should be “too old and decrepit”. Not even yourself. especially not yourself.

8 Tiara { 04.24.14 at 11:13 am }

I will turn 40 this October. I’m not sure what to do either, part of me feels it’s too significant to do nothing but have no idea what I want to do. I have booked the days around the date off work so I could go away if I decide but have no idea where to go. I had considered a night away alone as that sounded devine…but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I really didn’t want to be away from my daughter as I turn 40. Then I considered going to Disney…except I want her 1st visit there to be about her, not me…so I’m back to not knowing how to mark my 40th.

I have a bit of a different outlook on turning 40 than you it seems. Though how I feel doesn’t match what I think 40 is, I see turning 40 as a huge accomplishment to me. I have finally arrived. This stems from finally feeling secure about myself & who I am & who I want to be. I finally feel I am exactly where I should be in life. Is my life perfect? No, but I’m mature enough now to know it’s never perfect…but it is as perfect as it needs to be. I have been able to change from seeking my self worth from external sources to feeling it from inside myself. I have a confidence I never dreamed I’d posess. I want to think of somthing to do to celebrate these feelings as much as to celebrate turning 40.

Also, my very wise aunt who passed recently always told me that each decade of your life is better than the last. That is how it was in her life & it is how it seems to be going for me too…so I am excited to see what my 40s hold!

9 Shana { 04.24.14 at 11:49 am }

I highly recommend you read this. (I just turned 40 this last summer, and I totally want to be Karen Wolrond when I grow up) http://www.chookooloonks.com/blog/10-reasons-why-your-40s-are-awesome

10 Shana { 04.24.14 at 11:56 am }

Oh, and to actually answer your question. My husband threw a surprise party for me about 3 weeks before my birthday, to coincide when we were visiting my mom in California (Most of my old friends still live in California, so it was super convenient to get them all together at that time in that place). On my actual birthday I just invited 1 local friend over with her kids. We ate cupcakes, which I had baked myself, and went swimming. I also broke open a bottle of 1973 vintage wine which my father had given to me some years back. Forty year old wine, it turns out, doesn’t suck! Neither, as it turns out, does being 40!

11 loribeth { 04.24.14 at 12:15 pm }

I could (& probably will) write a long post on this topic. (For starters, I will refer you to the post i wrote on my (gulp) 50th birthday: ) http://theroadlesstravelledlb.blogspot.ca/2011/01/50.html

40 was a tough one for me, because we were right in the middle of infertility treatments and of course, when you’re infertile, 40 is one of those rubicons you live in fear of crossing. My birthday was on a Friday; would you believe I wound up attending a baby shower on the Sunday?? And broke out in shingles shortly thereafter?? I was told they are sometimes triggered by stress — hmmm….

But I did have a nice time on my actual birthday. I debated having a party as well (for my 50th too) — dh is not a party planner and it seemed somewhat self-serving to plan my own party. And (being in treatment) we didn’t have a lot of money to do a spectacular trip somewhere. (Vegas seems to be a popular destination among my friends for their 40ths… and I hear Oprah had a slumber party with all her girlfriends!) I wound up taking the day off work & spending it at the spa. It was the first time I’d done something like that. It was a package thing & I was there for about 5 hours, massage, facial, manicure & pedicure & makeup, including lunch. I loved it! And then I met dh & we went to a favourite restaurant for dinner.

However you choose to celebrate, you do need to celebrate! : ) It may be the end of one phase of your life, but it’s also the beginning of a new one, and the slate is clean. Yes, our society still worships youth a little too much for my liking :p — I hear you on the feeling invisible sometimes :p — but I think 40 is the beginning of acceptance. Life doesn’t always go the way we thought it would… there are some things we aren’t going to get to do. And you know what? It’s OK. (Most of the time.)

12 Another Dreamer { 04.24.14 at 2:15 pm }

Do whatever makes you happy.

I’m a young’un, I’ll be turning 30 next year. I used to joke about going to Chucky Cheese for my birthday, then seriously considered it after having my son since he’ll be turning 3 just a month before my big 3-0.

Honestly, we’ll probably just have a quiet night in… maybe dinner out if we’re feeling brave. And we’ll probably do the same thing when I turn 40. I’m really introverted, I don’t like big parties, I’m quiet, I don’t have a lot of friends, I don’t like large crowds either. Small intimate things (trips, dinner, movies), with my family or close friends are all I ever really ask for.

13 a { 04.24.14 at 2:39 pm }

I tried to ignore it, but my family came to visit (I don’t even remember why), and my sister brought me 40 presents for turning 40. So we spent 40 minutes opening silly presents. It was fun.

14 Geochick { 04.24.14 at 2:56 pm }

Dude, get out of my head! I turn 40 this year too and well, you nailed my emotions. So far, I’m not doing much of anything to mark it. Maybe in several months when I’m more comfortable with the idea.

15 Alexicographer { 04.24.14 at 3:13 pm }

I have no idea. My son would have been approaching 18 months, and we were gearing up for a trip to Europe to visit my brother and his family over the Christmas holiday. Plenty of that era is memorable — certainly the trip, which was magical (If cold. And dark. Early and often.) — but my birthday celebration apparently was not. No worries, the 40s are great. For real.

16 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.24.14 at 4:51 pm }

I remember my last milestone. I had a low-key but blowout bash. And woke up the next morning not much different, as you say.

Your post says so well some of my fears about moving through society and being “productive.” I feel I haven’t changed, but the way I’m seen has.

I wish I could afford to hire a Marco for you.

17 Laurel Regan { 04.24.14 at 5:09 pm }

My birthday is on New Year’s Day, so for my 40th my husband organized a New Year’s Eve dinner for us and a group of friends at a very fancy restaurant. We all dressed up and enjoyed an amazing multi-course meal with wine pairings, then at midnight donned our party hats and started blowing noisemakers right in the middle of the very fancy restaurant. So much fun, and such wonderful memories. 🙂

I’m staring down the barrel of 50 now (well, it’s almost 3 years away, but still!), and that’s bothering me a whole lot more than 40 ever did… because my 40s have been awesome. I only hope my 50s can live up to them!

18 Guera { 04.24.14 at 7:54 pm }

Leading up to 40 I decided that if I wasn’t pregnant and didn’t have a child by then I would do two things I had never done before: smoke pot and get a tattoo. But by the time I turned 40 infertility treatments were behind me and we were year one into our homestudy being completed and waiting for a match so I didn’t want to take any chances on doing anything that might remotely lessen our chances. As for the tattoo I got cold feet. So my closest family came up and we all went to a ritzy steakhouse in town and then came back to our house for cake. I knew they would all celebrate me turning 40 but I wanted to do something for them too. So, I wrote a card for each one of them telling me what they meant to me in my life and how important they were to me as I reached this milestone. Each one of them cried. That was May 2010, We met the birthmother that October and our daughter was born in February 2011. So, the year I turned 40 turned out pretty fantastic and since then each year is just, really and truly, just a number. And you are right…don’t regret getting older because there are those who do not have that privilege. Do what YOU want to do to mark the occasion and happy early birthday!

19 vablondie { 04.24.14 at 9:13 pm }

I turned 40 earlier this month. I spent the morning running around with my son (pretty much literally), and then spent the afternoon on me. I got a mani/pedi and a massage. My Hubby took me out to dinner that night, too. Quiet birthday I sort of had to carve out for myself.
(Then the next day had a transfer, but that may not be what you are going for.)
I generally go for a spa day when I feel I need to treat myself for something.

20 Wolfers { 04.24.14 at 9:15 pm }

Spent the 40th birthday with several good friends at a spa (got the WHOLE works!), and went clubbing, to see if we still had the moves- we certainly did.

21 Mali { 04.24.14 at 10:16 pm }

Like Loribeth, my 40th seems a long time ago. And it was in the midst of infertility angst as well, so I wasn’t well pleased about turning 40. I thought about what I wanted, what I would enjoy, and ultimately invited a small group of my closest friends for dinner. I very much enjoyed it.

I will say though that my 40s were a period of great personal growth, a discovery of contentment with life and myself, and (because we had no kids) exploration of the world (19 countries).

Coming to terms with my 50th wasn’t that easy either. It still isn’t. I shudder to say that I’m in my 50s. In some ways there’s a freedom to being 50, but in other ways there are barriers up for all sorts of things. Still, we went all out for that birthday, and I celebrated it in South Africa, with my husband, and lots and lots of amazing animals. (Oh, and lots and lots of South African wine too.)

22 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 04.25.14 at 12:18 am }

Here’s what I know about turning forty, based on my observations of those who already have.

As a young child you go through many phases in rapid succession.
Then the teens and tweens are an angsty time for reassessing all you’ve become and wanting – but not wanting – to pull away from the fold.
Then the twenties are when you’re kind of drunk on being away from the fold, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not.
Then the thirties are this very serious and anxious period of wanting to achieve what you need to achieve in life before you turn forty.
Then you turn forty and you get to say, fuck it, let’s have a dance party.

It seems to be a theme that people start to feel less pressure to build their lives once they turn forty and can instead start enjoying wherever they’re at more. Here’s hoping it’s like that for you.

23 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 04.25.14 at 12:21 am }

Oh! And you should try to have an outdoor film festival with friends (just because I think they’re awesome and they’re social, but you don’t have to spend the whole time socialising because, film, so less exhaustingly social for non party people, and you can put them on at a range of budgets, from BBQ and a white sheet up in the back yard where your biggest expense is hiring a projector and a DVD and asking everyone to bring a plate of food to share all the way up to the sky’s the limit).

24 A. { 04.25.14 at 6:14 am }

I like to travel for big birthdays. My husband is a little over a year out from 40, and he hates parties, so we’ll probably go somewhere big.

25 Shanna { 04.25.14 at 3:48 pm }

My husband, bless his stupid heart, leaves town for a golf tournament EVERY year for my birthday. So EVERY year I throw myself a little party. Last year for number 46 was the best turn out I have had. 40 was the year I got the most presents, though I did tell people not to bring gifts just come spend a few hours at my house eating and drinking with me. Turning 40 was easier for me then turning 20, that one sucked. Plus when I turned 40 I had found out the week before the I was pregnant. After 4 years, 3 miscarriages and deciding that 40 was my cut off for trying to have a baby, Marjorie decided to make her presence known and hasn’t stopped since. 😉 So you know, you could try that or just have a cook out with some friends. 😉

26 Coffeegrl { 04.25.14 at 10:22 pm }

I’m going to Vegas with my high school girlfriends. We saw each other through so many ups and downs and remain connected to this day. But being connected doesn’t mean we see each other nearly as much as we’d like to (esp. since we live in 3 different states). So we decided it was high time to reunite for a girls’ weekend (sans any other family members) and the year of our 40th birthday seemed like a perfect excuse to do so. I honestly feel really excited about turning 40. I feel more vital and fit than I’ve felt in a very long time and I really feel like this is a turning point. It’s not that I don’t have serious questions about some of the choices I’ve made in terms of my professional career esp. but I also feel surprisingly confident that I’ll find my way through it all (denial maybe?). And I have to say, the celebratory nature of the girls’ weekend seems to make it all the more fun and festive and not so much of the questions and doubts…

27 Catwoman73 { 04.26.14 at 10:56 am }

Seeing this late, but I went on a Disney Cruise to mark age 40. There is no better way to feel youthful than doing something Disney-related. I know you agree! 🙂 For me, 40 was soooo much better than 30. At thirty, I was single, with no prospects, and I hated my job. At 40, I was happily married, I was a mommy, and I had made peace with my stupid job. Life is just so much better now!

28 Mina { 04.26.14 at 4:39 pm }

I turn 40 next year, in October, but I’ve been saying for more than a year now that I am “almost 40”, which makes my husband snap “no, you’re not”, and I can’t see why. I am not bothered by this, I have never been this happier, I am very at ease with wrinkles and changed body shape (it has changed because I have borne my children, what could be a more lovelier reminder?), and overall, I would not change anything in my life.

I have no idea what I would like to do for that day though. I think the main two options are getting a piece of jewelery or going somewhere new and exotic (Seychelles, I dream of you). Definitely not a party, I have done that for all the other milestone birthdays, one of the parties was in a bar which we rented, had 130 invited guests (more came), a three-tier cake which even though it had Happy Birthday on it, the bakery still called and billed it as wedding cake, had my favourite band (at the time) sing Happy Birthday to Me and I that was very nice, but I would never repeat the experience. I am over parties, and the next big crazy party I will organise will be for when George turns 18. Until then, reasonable celebrations will be enjoyed. 🙂

I only have one wish: that when I turn 40, I will have been rid of stupid acne for a year and a half. I hate it! I have no words to describe this hate properly. There is always something, isn’t it? We’re never having IT all, darn! Gah. 🙂

29 St. Elsewhere { 04.28.14 at 1:39 am }

I really don’t know what I would do. There is a possibility that I would try to ignore it. I can’t be that old, right?

30 Ellen { 04.28.14 at 7:18 am }

I’m turning 50 in September, and wondering much the same thing. We’ll be a few months into a new country (actually, and old one, as we’re moving back to our home country, the US, in July), so, will I have new friends to celebrate with? Or any old ones? Or will it just be my husband and children? We’ve spent the last seven years traveling, but will have just bought a house, so there won’t be money (or even energy?) for a big trip. I think I’ll be okay if I don’t have to cook dinner for the evening: that’s the thing I really love about my birthday, no cooking!

31 LauraZ { 04.28.14 at 10:51 pm }

I’ll be turning 36 next month, and my IF is still unresolved, so I’ll be crying & drunk & trying to ignore it as much as possible.

32 Battynurse { 05.02.14 at 8:09 pm }

I don’t think I really did anything for my 40th birthday. Or at least I don’t remember doing anything. For a long time though I had viewed 40 as the “cut off” for having children. I kind of freaked out a bit in the lead up to my birthday but after it was past I didn’t feel immediately different. The one funny thing is that in my late 20’s and early 30’s my boyfriend was significantly older than me (12 years). I remember him saying things like “you’re young and looking to make your life, after you turn 40, you just accept what your life is.” At the time I never understood that. Now I can see a bit where he was coming from although I’m not ready or willing to just sit down and do nothing, just accepting what I have. My goals have changed though.

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