You only get to write one blog post about turning 40
‘Don’t be sad about your birthday, you’ve survived another year – that’s an achievement to celebrate.’ This is what my husband Nic, a precociously wise old owl in Blue Harbour chinos from the age of about 17, has always told me.
Unlike me, he was born with the calm and poise of a Buddhist monk, and I often turn to him for some perspective when my rather more anxious mindset gets too much.
Of course, despite the old man clothes, my husband is right.
We should be thankful for every day and leap for joy with each glorious birthday milestone.
Jesus only made 33, Mozart carked it at 35 and Edgar Allan Poe’s 40th birthday drinks were his last.
There was no second career as a children’s illustrator or novelty teapot artist in the olden days.
But no matter hard I try, it simply doesn’t feel like a celebration. At the best of times (say, my 21st) birthdays make me want to crawl under a rock and hide, weeping, until any possibility of age-highlighting celebration has passed.
And today (May 14), my 40th birthday, is no exception.
While it’s nice to have an excuse to eat a four pack of Co-op cupcakes for breakfast, my fortieth is just throwing all the things I have failed to achieve into stark relief.
All the ugly feelings of inadequacy I have failed to surmount and my continuing lack of any sort of coherent life plan are lit up in Tracey Emin-style neon handwriting, scrawled across my increasingly desperate psyche. You are still so shit and you know it.
Ok, so maybe I’m being dramatic. I own an insanely expensive peddledash terrace in London, I have three children to fill it with and (as explained earlier) the sturdiest husband I could wish for.
And occasionally people press ‘like’ on my typo-strewn tweets. Sometimes, by bank balance even tips into the black.
And, as The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman explained at the weekend in her blog about turning 40 (how dare she get there first?), the years have given me some sort of wisdom, at least.
It is not all weeping into the mirror at the grey hair and tuning into Monty Don on a Friday night to find out how he hardens off his courgette plants.
So, here we go, some useful stuff I’ve learnt so far. You might think this is all rubbish, but in a new intrepid spirit of not caring what anyone else thinks:
1. If you think you are crap, you are probably only as crap as most other people. To be ordinary is actually normal. It’s ok to be normal.
2. Very few people actually win. Look at cross country races: 250 runners, 1 winner. That might be you. If it’s not, your mum probably still loves you. Don't undervalue this.
3. Much of life is just a barefoot endurance race over gravel. Grief over lost loved ones, babies with colic, long illnesses, annoying bosses. Just endure and most of it eventually stops.
4. If you don’t feel like death, your legs are working and you can see out of both eyes, you’re winning, health wise.
5. Don’t expect people to know there is something wrong with you. Don’t speak in code or articulate your worries via Facebook homilies and feel sad when no one responds - ask people directly for help.
6. If you care a lot about career success and love your job intensely, think extremely carefully about having children. They give you hope, laughter, love and a tidalwave of free bodily fluids but they steal almost everything else.
7. Being busy and successful will not make you happy unless you already are.
8. Online shopping will not make you happy unless you already are.
9. There are huge consolations in watching plants grow, cakes rise and long walks in the hills. But don’t despair if the plants wilt, the cakes sags, or your knees can’t take the downward slopes. There is always the crossword.
10 - Resist the temptation to despise the young as you get older, no matter how irritating their arrogance and self-absorption may be. You were probably like that once. I know I was.