Putting Things into Perspective on turning 40

Hitting the halfway mark in life is a blessing or a curse, depending on whether you’re feeling the love, or counting crow’s feet instead.

This was the most memorable quote thrown at me when I cruised out of my thirties recently. Truly, I expected to be a banshee of sorrow on the day – primarily because I’m just not a spa and salad girl. I’m also not ‘worth it’ enough to spend R600 on wrinkle cream. And as Scottishly fair-skinned as I am, there have been many dark days of too much sun, zero water and sneaky boxes of sulphur-rich wine.

The literature says that I’ve failed miserably at looking after my external assets; and my insurance broker worries about my pension future, since I’ve tended to live for today, rather than plan for tomorrow.

I can’t imagine what type of celebration 40-year-olds held a century ago. Many were already dead; others were in the throes of raising an eighth baby; some were loosening their corsets and to hell with it.

But it was my party this month and I cried – and laughed, sipped chardonnay, ate three helpings and wore red lipstick. And, happily, so did everyone else; most of us were hitting the 4-0s or skating through them. Some were mere newts, having turned a fresh-faced 30 in months gone by.

Because our media-saturated brains promote ageist attitudes, I was sure that I’d be upset. And when I’m blue, I hide. An original plan to book a venue, invite 200 peeps and sing on stage fizzled with a bang and whimper. Next year perhaps, I said, when I’m more used to not being 21 anymore.

But my BFF was flying down from JHB and, being an organised, energetic 38-ish, insisted that we mark the occasion with my two favourite things : food and friends. It was such a last-minute shindig – from simple box cake at home with the kids to a full-on wine and platters knees-up with 18 girls. I didn’t know if I wanted this – until I did.

Between courses, I had time to review not only my life, but the lives of the beautiful, smart, funny women around me that night. Between us, we have dozens of kids, a handful of husbands, boyfriends or mellow singles, jobs ranging from stay-at-homes, law and interior design to administration, art and journalism.

When I was younger, I notched lots of success stories into my ‘me’ belt. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and I want more. But I want it less strenuously than I did then – which is ironic, considering that there’s less time in which to get it.

The touted adage is that 40 is the new 30. That’s bollocks and now I know why. There’s never a better time than now, no matter what age you are. My dear friend Penny recently completed a colourful road trip in remote parts of the country and brought back stories to tickle my funny bone. She’s in her sixties and does a hundred fun things regardless of age or health; I’d like her to write a blog, but she wouldn’t want to be tied down by the boringness of deadlines. She’s having too much fun.

We should celebrate milestones because we’re glad to be alive. Not because it’s traditional, or expected or to ward off the terror of getting older. At the very least, it’s a good excuse to eat cake.

Beth Howell
Journalist and editor

First published in The Herald

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