I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Leo, or an extrovert or just a raging narcissist but I’ve always loved my birthday. I love being the center of attention.
I’ve totally come to terms with it.
And maybe it’s because I grew up with so many siblings and never had a proper birthday party as a kid, or that my birthday falls during the summer so I always missed out on any sort of school celebration, but I usually organize some type of gathering of friends to help celebrate the day. And it doesn’t have to be just one event. Some years, I start celebrating my birthday as soon as the calendar page flips to August and squeeze in any number of birthday-related events – lunches, drinks, dinner. I consider August my birthday month and need to have as many people as possible pay attention to me.
One of my friends recently dubbed this phenomenon “Amy-ka” as the celebrations tend to drag over at least seven days.
But this year is different. This year I’m turning 49 and it doesn’t really make me feel like celebrating. What it really makes me feel like doing is sitting down in a dark room and looking at pictures of myself 10 years ago. Or making an appointment for a face-lift.
It seems I’ve hit an age snag.
And it’s ridiculous, I know. Any time I hear someone stressing about turning 40, I want to punch them in the face. I’m sure anyone reading this right now over the age of 50 would like to smack me, too.
In my head, I hear the good old Girl Whisperer telling me how good I’ve got it. My health and that of my children. Good friends. A nice roof over my head. Yes. Yes. Yes. I know all of this and am usually able to quickly reel myself in when my pity party goes into full swing.
I guess I just didn’t see it coming. I didn’t think 49 would trip me up like this.
Usually, I don’t even think about my age. If anything, inside I feel pretty young. I tend to like younger things – music, movies, zombies. Recently, I was sitting around on the beach talking to my group of Little Mommies. It’s what I’ve dubbed the ladies I’m friends with whose oldest children are all the same age as my little guy. And even though they range in age from about 40-45 and thus are not chronologically THAT much younger than I am, my experience with my three older children – the harrowing years between middle school and college graduation – have aged me considerably. In mom-years, I am probably double their tender ages.
So we were chatting about someone doing something and I was like, “Is she our age?” and then I thought about what I’d just said and rephrased. “And by that I mean is she 42?”
You see? A lot of times I usually forget how old I really am.
I’m just surprised to be nearing the end of my 40s. It’s been a great decade. I’ve done a lot of assessing and made a lot of changes to correct the course my life had been heading in the preceding four decades. I left my marriage, got a full-time job reporting, started a blog and was published in a national magazine. Not bad for some mommy whose claim to fame up to that point was successfully breastfeeding four children.
But if I was going to be really honest, really expose a little bit of my soul to you, I’d also admit that some of my anxiety also stems from being 49 and single. A while ago I was out doing some errands and returned to my car to notice this on the rear windshield:
It turns out my younger daughter had put the stickers on as a joke but I freaked out and drove immediately to the car wash where I paid a man $5 to scrape it off the window. I mean, is this how I want people to see me as I drive around town in my mom-car? “Hey! How ya’ doin? I’m 49 and like cats and often drink wine by myself!”
Granted, all of these happen to be true, but still. This is a sad way to illustrate one’s life.
But here are two things that give me hope as I round the corner towards 49 (please notice I’ve mentioned nothing here about 50 because 50 is bullshit and I can’t think about that yet). Item #1 … an essay in the NYTimes this weekend by Dominique Browning about being too old for so much of the hand wringing I’ve just blathered on about.
She writes, “Young(er) women, take this to heart: Why waste time and energy on insecurity? I have no doubt that when I’m 80 I’ll look at pictures of myself when I was 60 and think how young I was then, how filled with joy and beauty.”
I read those lines while lying in my bed reading the Sunday paper and quickly grabbed my laptop, Googled the piece and shared it on Facebook. Not long after, not one but two friends texted and messaged the same link to me along with notes that the article had somehow reminded them of me.
I can think of worst ways to be thought of.
Here is the second tidbit that brings me comfort in my final hours of 48: Halle Berry turns 49 the day after I do.
Of course, Halle and I have literally nothing in common except we’re both women and Leos (she was born on Aug. 14, 1966). She has been blessed with smooth ebony skin and the money to do something about it should it begin to sag whereas I’ve hit the cheap Irish skin lottery that acts as a flimsy covering to withstand life’s slings and arrows. It’s like going through life wearing a white linen suit and not having the money to get it dry cleaned.
Regardless, I like knowing Halle is right behind me. And that we’re in good company. Robin Wright and Salma Hayek were also born in 1966. These women are no slouches. They are strong, accomplished and beautiful.
I like being in that boat of ladies. It helps make this milestone a little easier to pat as I pass it by like the giant planter I round when I get to the end of the boardwalk and start speed walking back towards home.
Here’s what I hope: that this is only the beginning for me. It took turning 40 to really shake me out of a decades-long reverie of complacency. Realizing then that I’d hit the halfway mark in life really made me sit up and take stock of things. And now that I’m starting to move briskly through that second half of life, I hope it’s time for another course correction. I hope I can point myself towards all the things I really want to do before it’s too late.
But, like everything else in life, nothing is free. Everything comes at a price. So if the fee for continued self awareness and living a more authentic life is a few more wrinkles on my face and that crepey thing happening on my eyelids, I guess I’m willing to pony up. In the end, I’d rather be the woman I am now at 49 rather than the more taut gal I was at 39. Hopefully this all makes 50 a little easier to swallow next year.
But first, I need to get through all those birthday celebrations.