I turned forty yesterday morning at 10:20 a.m. At the time, my feet were being readied for blue nail polish. I have a knack for picking colors with problematic names. Yesterday’s was Happy Anniversary. Okay, I’m divorced. But it was the anniversary of my birth, so I went for it.
Went for it aptly describes my whole birthday experience actually. Forty had been looming all year, that much more ominously since my husband left. And it was pissing me off because I’ve never minded aging. While other women stay 29 forever, I was happy to turn 30 and 35. I wanted to be happy about 40 too.
Then I went to the optometrist and was told I need “progressives.” What are those? The politically correct don’t-freak-out-your-middle-aged-woman-patients term for bifocals. So there’s no line in the middle. They’re still bifocals. And they mean my eyes are middle-aged too. It didn’t help that the astigmatism that put me in glasses when I was the ripe age of six is now so serious that I walk into any budget optical place only to have the optician shake his or her head and say, “I’ll have to call the lab but I don’t think we can fill this.”
Old eyes. Divorced. Forty. It could have been miserable. I started planning for my birthday. I did not want to sit at home alone and feel sorry for myself. My ex was taking our son from 9:30-3 and I was afraid that rather than sleeping in or otherwise finding a way to enjoy myself, I would lie in bed and cry.
So I filled up the night before and day of with other people. On my birthday eve, I went out to dinner at my favorite restaurant with a group of girlfriends. One of them, who knew I felt particularly sad about filling my own stocking for my first divorced Christmas, arranged for everyone to get stocking-sized presents. And they brought a filled stocking, a Happy Birthday banner for the table, candles, and they sang. It was heart-filling.
Some people don’t like their birthdays. But I love mine. A few years ago, my friend Estelle sent me this message on my birthday: “I’m glad you were born.” I stole it. I send the same message to my friends now. It’s my favorite thing anyone has ever said on my birthday, though I also love hearing the story of my birth from my dad–driving through a snowy pass to avoid the town hospital run by nuns. In any case, I am also glad I was born and this year, especially, I want to celebrate that I am here.
On my birthday itself, I went for a pedicure, a meeting, and lunch with a friend. Then I had a party. I sent the evite out saying, “2010 was not what I expected. Now I’m turning forty. And I need a sweet year.” It was a cookie exchange filled with mamas I’ve shared a large portion of my last four years with and our sweet riled-up kids running around the house and the yard. I love a party that my son and I can both enjoy.
Last night, I went out to dinner with another group of friends. This time, somewhere I could order a margarita. They seated us right at the front of the restaurant in the middle of the room. One friend noticed I didn’t love it. I explained that I like my back to the wall. I don’t like to miss anything. And I don’t like to be that exposed either. We moved to a booth. Then I had to admit I can’t sit on the inside because I’m claustrophobic and had to be on the side where no one would be sitting to my right. My friend teased that she was learning all sorts of new things about me, that I’d been holding back. I promise I have never been accused of that before.
At both dinners, I handed my girlfriends pieces of paper and asked them to write me vows. All year my acupuncturist has been telling me that I need to have a love affair with myself. That means I must treat myself the way I would want to be treated by a great love, so that I won’t accept anything less than that ever again. Along with that love affair, it made sense to me that I would make vows to myself. But I needed ideas. I got some great ones, but I would love more. So if you have ideas about what one should vow to her great love (in this case, myself), please add them to comments.
Here’s what I gave myself for my birthday: the reminder that I am not alone. I am loved. The other great gift is the increasing understanding that people don’t have to show up. But often, if you ask them, they will. Thank all of you beautiful friends for showing up and loving me. That is truly the greatest gift I can imagine.