They say that the best years of a woman’s life are the ten years between 39 and 40. The implication being that women feel compelled to claim we’re 39 for a lot longer than our birth certificate would permit if it could talk. Very amusing, huh?
Whatever. Who even are “they”, anyway? I spit in their metaphorical eye.
I’m looking forward to 40 (touching nearest available wood I get there, of course) and I intend to stretch the merry hell out of those celebrations when they arrive.
There’s another trip around the sun to go first because tomorrow I reach the strange old milestone of 39. A year of transition, of sliding seamlessly – or, if I have my way, disgracefully – from one decade into the next.
My mam heaved me into this world on a Sunday afternoon, reminding me every year that she missed her own mam’s Sunday roast for the inconvenience. Tomorrow, almost in her honour, I’ll miss out on a roast too. I’ll be cocooned in a camper van on the Ceredigion coast, in a thunderstorm of biblical proportions, contemplating the end of my fourth decade on this overpopulated rock.
I might stretch to sticking a solitary candle in humidity-baked camembert and calling it a cake (approved by Nigella, don’t judge). But there will be no balloons and no bubbles.
For someone that usually makes a monolithic fuss about birthdays, it’s out of character. But after the madness of the past few months, sitting in a tin can staring wistfully out to sea while contemplating the transient nature of linear time feels like a definite mood.
It will be a gear shift, but not an entirely unwelcome one. I’ve marked past birthdays in a variety of weird and wonderful locations. From my 10th birthday in Minehead Butlins (where my dad staged a fire evacuation to trick me into being serenaded by a pile of terrifying furry mascots), to Café Del Mar sunsets, festival fields and coasteering clifftops, I’ve not had a bad run. But tomorrow, a good sit down and a hard think feels in order.
“Mum, why are you just sat there like a Rodin statue?” the boy will ask, in a parallel universe where he went to a posh school.
If I feel like ramping up the birthday-ometer, I may spend some time hunting out chin hairs with a tweezer before plucking out the wiry grey hairs that seem to spring eternal around my hairline. And this, I imagine, is how it begins. The insidious creep of middle age is upon me.
But there’s so much to contemplate. What do I want to be when I grow up? Am I emotionally prepared for my teenage son to leave the nest in a few years? Will I expire all alone, surrounded by passive-aggressive pets and Joni Mitchell records? Most of all, what have I LEARNED? I mean I’ve had 14,245 days in which to acquire the sort of wisdom I hear comes with age. I’m with Socrates on that one – surely the only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing?
What I do know for sure is that this past year has tried its best to teach me some lessons. About the futility of making too many plans and how easily they crumble to dust when virus-shaped forces conspire to press pause on all the best things in life. About how 3 am existential dread never really goes away – the themes just change, a bit like the Archers.
I’ve also become more aware than ever of the power of gratitude – for today, for tomorrow, for the tiny joys that bring some kind of meaning to a senseless world. Having lost my dad when he was a too-young 44, I suddenly feel acutely aware of the passage of time.
One thing I’ve noticed recently is how, as you hurtle towards the big four-oh, your 20s suddenly become saturated with a deep rose tint. Even though, in reality, it was a decade characterised by mistakes, badly-paid jobs, narcissistic men and an inability to say no to things I really should have.
Hindsight is both a curse and a privilege, I guess.
So here I am, on the precipice of Mrs Robinson’s age in The Graduate, still very much a Miss Robinson, trying to work out new ways of convincing my nan it’s FINE to be pushing 40 with no suitor in the wings. None I’d introduce her to, anyway.
At the same time, I am devising new arguments to persuade my son that it’s FINE to love mid-90s gangsta rap and play it far too loudly .
I’m not quite at the stage of being worried about my neck yet, Nora Ephron style, but I am concerned about making what’s left of my days on earth count.
See? It’s a lot to think about, no?