Thoughts on 40


Earlier this week I had a conversation with a friend of ours 15 years my junior. He was talking about struggling, looking at his life — he always thought it would look different at 25.

My response? Without an ounce of bitterness (really!) — in softer words than these, I basically told him to get used to it. I’ve yet to hit an age milestone that didn’t leave me with an overwhelming chuckle, a metaphorical shaking of the head.

In a separate conversation this week, I told other young-ish friends that the day you turn 39, you start thinking about your 40th birthday. It’s like you spend the whole year preparing — or if you’re like me, fantasizing about what that day will look like. I usually daydream these things while exercising, because the soundtrack du jour piped in from headphones is requisite. So, on various treadmills and trails this year, the big 40 has looked like any of the following:

  • I take a cruise with my high school besties. This fantasy was actually born from a suggestion by one of them at our 20th reunion. Our collective milestone was still 15 months in the future, enough time for it to be an easy thing to say, to agree to do. In truth? I will always love those friends, but we haven’t done a good job keeping in touch. As an added deterrent, I’ve never once desired to go on a cruise. The thought of it makes me feel claustrophobic and seasick. Scratch Fantasy #1.
  • I host a gigantic dance party. The soundtrack contains every song I’ve loved since 1988, which means it would have to be extracted from my brain via Harry Potter’s pensieve-dipping wand. The party is located in a well-decorated warehouse-like space somewhere downtown, and all my favorite people from the past 20 years are in attendance. This is delusional on so many levels it’s ridiculous. Scratch Fantasy #2.
  • I host a more intimate party, but with all of my favorite people from across the country in attendance. Since it’s a fantasy, I am somehow able to afford to fly everyone here and put them up. Cross-reference the delusion of Fantasy #2, and scratch the 3rd.

Today I turn 40. Yesterday afternoon I tried my darnedest to make a proper cake (albeit grain-free, dairy-free, sugar-free). I had a vision of what this cake would look like: it would be a square mini cake, with airy vanilla layers, a coconut cream filling, and chocolate cream icing. I knew the texture would be different from a traditional yellow cake — knew the chocolate frosting might not be as sweet or chocolatey. As I pieced together recipes, taking an experimental approach to all aspects, wanting to tweak things out of desire or need, I was having the best time baking I’ve had in many months. I am at my heart a problem-solver, and thrive on challenges. I had the vision as my prize, was thinking of ways to style the shot as I measured out ingredients.

I’ll spare the minutia and take you to the last page of the book: the cake was a total flop. Partially edible, but not at all what it was supposed to be. I served up small pieces to my kids for dessert last night — and as I watched all three eat with enthusiasm and give their thumb votes (they ranged from 2 thumbs up to a thumb and a half), I thought about the fact that in a few hours I would actually, unequivocally turn forty. I would be a forty-year old. All of those fantasies replayed through my brain in an instant, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Literally.

I told Tim a few weeks ago that, clichĂ© as it may be, I felt a tinge of midlife crisis. Four decades, and no measurable worldly accomplishments to show for it. My design work never made it into Print magazine, I’ve never been interviewed by Terry Gross, I’ve not yet published that memoir (sneak-peak: southern redneck girl teaches self to cook, this is metaphor for life in general, blah, blah, blah, somehow manages to be funny as hell); I’ve never been properly fitted for a bra at Nordstrom, still share a bathroom with all of my children, drive at least one muffler-less car, have dirty baseboards. I’m not sure where exactly I thought I’d be at this point, but I have a feeling this list of un-accomplishments would not have been penned by my 25-year old hand.

But then I serve these pieces of shoddy, spongy cake to my three children. And as they chew, with thumbs in various stages of up, down, or sideways (that’s a neutral vote), I realize that I also never imagined them, or this life — this journey with my husband and three children. I couldn’t imagine them, because my mind is too limited — bound by dreams of movie reels and magazine ads, award-envy and wanderlust. My fantasies could have never included these three utterly delightful small people, with me as their undeserving mother and Tim as their father, because it would have been too wondrous a dream to risk.

I have no recipe today, because who wants a recipe for a birthday cake fail? But I chose to record this failure, to share it on my own day of milestone naval-gazing, because it’s all just too perfect. Today I won’t eat a beautiful cake, won’t embark on a cruise, am not preparing for that rockin’ warehouse bash or miracle intimate mixing-of-worlds. Instead I’m heading to Louisville, KY with Tim, meeting up with my brother-and-sister-in-law, for an overnight restaurant-hop. I kissed my little ones goodbye this morning before school, confident they’d be in good hands with Grandma in my absence. I’ll face this mark without a beautiful cake to show you, but also without bitterness, for at least a moment comfortable with the fact that life at forty is not what I thought it would be.

It’s better.


Today’s photo, in all its ridiculousness, is in honor of Dr Seuss, as today is his birthday as well.
In case you’re wondering: yes, I ate it. For breakfast.


37 thoughts on “Thoughts on 40

  1. I agree. My life isn’t what I always imagined it would be, but I think I didn’t have high enough hopes for myself back in the day. I’m glad Someone Else did! And I’m easily irritated by birthday cake disasters. I’ve had a few. They just seem ridiculous to me because I can make GREAT cake. Why do the failures always happen on an important day? lol

    1. I dunno — probably as a way to keep us humble? Or focus on what’s important? (or, we simply falter under pressure?)

  2. what a wonderful post, katy. i really enjoy listening to people’s reflections. also, I’m sure that everyone from CG is honored to make a cameo appearance in your blog–even if I am having a slight panic attack at only being “young-ish.”

    happy happy birthday! have an awesome time in louisville!

  3. You bring tears to my eyes. At my house we also have the thumb ritual on experimental foods and I could never have imagined a life where a simple positive affirmation from a six-year old would make my day. Life is funny and wonderful. Happy birthday -they only get better from here.

  4. Oh I love this post. Im left teary and thankful for you as a friend (God knew I needed someone equally OCD in this season), and for my own sweet and simple life. Happy birthday Katy!

  5. Very nice post, Katy. In return, I offer a poem for your b’day.

    ‘This Morning in a Morning Voice’
    by Todd Boss

    to beat the froggiest
    of morning voices,
    my son gets out of bed
    and takes a lumpish song
    along–a little lyric
    learned in kindergarten,
    something about a
    boat. He’s found it in
    the bog of his throat
    before his feet have hit
    the ground, follows
    its wonky melody down
    the hall and into the loo
    as if it were the most
    natural thing for a little
    boy to do, and lets it
    loose awhile in there
    to a tinkling sound while
    I lie still in bed, alive
    like I’ve never been, in
    love again with life,
    afraid they’ll find me
    drowned here, drowned
    in more than my fair
    share of joy.

  6. Sorry to be a big bucket of cold water AND a Marquez, but please be careful of the weather today. You are headed to an area that has an almost 100% chance of tornadoes.

  7. Happy birthday, Katie! I turn 40 in 78 days! Yay to us 40 year olds! Hope you and the family are well. We’ll have to plan another backyard get-together this summer.

  8. I’m not far behind you and I chuckle, too, at where I thought I’d be: 4 gorgeous, well-behaved, precocious children, a Very Important Job at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, a picture-perfect Tudor near Buckhead, dashing husband who is always available but yet manages to have his own wildly successful career. Ah, the delusions of our twenties. Like you, I’m not even remotely close to those things, won’t ever be (well, I did manage the dashing husband), and couldn’t be happier.

    I just adore you Katy, and wish you the happiest of birthdays. I’ll start planning my 40th here soon and we can make it a joint dance party!

  9. Happy Happy Birthday!! I think you’ve achieved a ton in these 40 years, though you may not see it yourself. I find you one of the most witty, intruiging, and genuine people that I know. I am so grateful for your presence in my life! All the best on this milestone! Much love from both of us!

    1. well, those are very kind words, I think I’m blushing! Thanks for your friendship too, you guys also fit into the category of our “youngish” friends ; )
      (i.e., you keep me young, along with the whole cradle-robbing thing, ha!)

  10. Katy, happy 40th! I loved your post too, and here’s another measure of your success – yours is the only blog I have ever taken the time to read. David and I lament not being in the same city as you and Tim far more often than the tiny amount of time we spent together should warrant. He turns 40 next week – the Ides of March. Say hello to Tim! We hope to see you someday and meet your third little one.

    1. Kathye, that is truly a measure of success, one I don’t at all take lightly. And how fun it would be to live in the same city again — how about we come to you guys for retirement ; )

      Happy (soon) Birthday to David. Tell him I lived to see the day after, and it feels about the same.

  11. First, the happiest of birthdays!

    I read this post with a giant smile on my face. Having turned 40 this year, the BIG plans swirled about in my head for, oh, the past year. I was SURE we were going to throw together some enormous fete, with all of my friends present to ring in this milestone. After all, it’s such a big deal, right?!!!

    Then, this fall, a dear friend– or one whom I considered dear– hosted a big mom’s night out, and I was not included. I was so hurt. Who knew a mom (me) who has lived a full life, who is surrounded by incredible family, and who is fulfilled in so many ways could feel so hurt by a simple exclusion? But I was, and when I ran into her a few days after the soiree I asked if I had done something to upset her? She laughed and said, “oh my gosh, no! The party just got so BIG! And there were some people who I KNEW would be upset if they weren’t invited, so I invited these other girls instead. If the restaurant could have held more than 40, I *totally* would have invited you…” Um, alright. I know what you’re thinking: with friends like that, who needs enemies?! But it hurt enough that I decided that was exactly what I *didn’t* want to do on my birthday. As I move into this next decade, my genuine hope is to surround myself and put forth happiness, contentment, and confidence. A party where I have to draw the line and potentially exclude someone who cares about me was easily nipped from the list of celebrations. Suddenly it didn’t seem like such a fun idea after all.

    My husband kept asking what I wanted to do for the big 4-0, and I didn’t have an answer. I just felt sort of in limbo as the momentous date neared. So, the big day rolled around… and my family went for a familiar hike, then ordered take-out. Some might say it was a “non-event”. But, by removing the hoopla from the day, and just reveling in my simple joy of where I was at that moment, I entered my 40’s with a sense of calm.

    Now, 3 months into being 40, I am realizing I have this whole year to “celebrate”. 40 is a big deal. It’s anything you make it. I have exciting things ahead this year, all because, hot damn, I am 40!! May your 40th year be filled with happiness and amazing experiences too. It sounds like it’s already off to a wonderful start. Cheers!

    1. Thanks so much, Ella!

      I, too, have long disliked organizing any kind of party for myself — part of it is not wanting to oblige people, but part of it is the fear that no one will come ; ) I love the *idea* of a party, but not the risk.

      It’s good to be reminded that I have the whole year to celebrate — I sort of felt like that all day today — like, “Hey, I’m 40!!” — like I’m surprised I actually made it. It’s a funny feeling, in a good way.

  12. Happy Birthday Katy! Sounds like a marvelous way to celebrate. Who needs all the pomp and circumstance and fantasy when you can have family and food!

    I am staring at 50 at this point – about 1.5 years away. Don’t really know what to make of it but as my mom, who is 82, always says, getting there is so much better than the alternative! Welcome to your 40s!

    Loved the post.

    1. Thanks, Beth! And what a simple truth spoken by your mom — I think I’ll adopt that one as my new aging attitude ; )

  13. Happy Birthday Katy! I’m sorry I’m a day late. I hope it was a wonderful day despite all the crazy weather that blew through right on your path to Louisville. I enjoyed this post and often think about how I am no where near where I thought I’d be at this point in my life. In some ways, I’m ahead and in so many other ways, I no where close. Sometimes it makes me motivated and other times it makes me depressed. Somehow knowing other people might just feel the same way (you) keeps me from breaking down into a puddle of self-pitying tears. But it’s hard to look at these kids and not feel joyful and not the least bit wistful. In fact, I’m looking at on up-close right this minute and it doesn’t matter so much that I don’t have a refrigerator that doesn’t have crushed ice. Again, happy birthday and a year full of blessings and chocolate!

    1. Nancy, that trip was C-R-A-Z-Y. In short, I kind of feel lucky to be alive. We didn’t see the tornadoes, but were holding up at a rest stop just 3 miles north of the Henryville exit when all hell broke loose there.

      Self-pitying tears. I’ve shed those before, and will likely do it again on a day in the future when I’m only focused on what hasn’t been done.

      (Or, when I think hard on the fact that I won’t be eating much chocolate at all in 2012…)

      Thanks for your well-wishes. For my birthday, promise me you will never stop commenting on my blog?

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