Making Peace with 40

By Diane Stark

Making Peace with 40

“Are you super excited about your birthday, Mommy?” My five-year-old son, Nathan, asked with his usual bouncy enthusiasm.

But I wasn’t feeling the same level of excitement. “No, Honey, I’m not all that excited.”

His eyebrows shot up. “Really? But birthdays are the best day ever. There’s presents, and cake, and parties. And presents.”

“When you’re little like you, birthdays are really fun,” I said, “but when you get to be Mommy’s age, birthdays aren’t as much fun.”

“Oh,” he said, nodding slowly. “Is it because you’re old?”

I sighed and nodded back. “Yep, unfortunately, Mommy is getting old.”

“But, Mommy, even if you are old, birthdays are still really a lot of fun. Remember the cake? And the presents?”

And the cellulite? And the wrinkles? I wanted to say, but didn’t.

How could I explain to my five-year-old son that for me, my birthday wasn’t about cake and presents? I was turning 40, and this year, my birthday was all about self-evaluation.

What did I have to show for my 40 years on this planet? I have a terrific husband and wonderful kids, but I also have a lot of goals. Things I’d like to accomplish, but never have the time.

I’m not as skinny as I should be. My house isn’t as neat as it could be. My walk-in closet has been declared a national disaster site. I still haven’t published a novel. I’m not famous. Or rich. Not to mention my aforementioned crow’s feet and cellulite.

You’d think sometime in the last 40 years, I’d have found the time to dust my coffee table and establish a routine with my elliptical machine and bottle of Oil of Olay.

I see women who are older than me, yet they look better.

Getting older isn’t a lot of fun, although I do realize that it’s better than the only alternative.

On a Saturday evening, exactly 10 days before my birthday, my husband Eric offered to take me on a date.

His suggestion caught me off-guard. “We’re leaving on Friday for my birthday trip, and we won’t see the kids for a week. Wouldn’t you rather take them out tonight since we’ll be alone together all next week?”

He shrugged and said our oldest son, Austin, had offered to take the kids to dinner. “So we’re free to go out, just the two of us.”

“Can we go to Olive Garden?” I asked. “Will you let me choose the movie?”

“Anything you want, Honey,” he said with a grin.

I ran off to change clothes and unearth my stash of restaurant coupons.

On the way to the restaurant, Eric said he needed to stop by his office because he forgot something. When we reached his building, he said, “Aren’t you coming in?”

I shrugged. “Aren’t you just going to grab what you need?”

“Just come in with me,” he said.

I shrugged and followed him into the building. We ran upstairs and he grabbed the forgotten item from his desk. We headed back downstairs, and that’s when it happened.

“Surprise!”

My mouth dropped open and tears filled my eyes. I turned to my husband and said, “I had no idea!”

All of our friends and family were there. Instead of taking the kids to dinner, Austin had driven them to Eric’s office for the party. My sister and her family had driven five hours to be there. My brother and his wife had made the three-hour drive in separate cars because they’d just gotten a new foster child that morning, and they couldn’t fit another car seat in their van.

“It means the world to me that you guys came,” I said, hugging them. “I know it’s a long drive, especially in two cars.”

“Of course we came,” they said. “It’s your birthday and we love you.”

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law had helped Eric with the food and the decorations, and they’d done a fabulous job.

The large conference room was decorated with Happy Birthday signs and purple ribbons. The food was delicious, and my birthday cake was divine. Eric had asked the bakery to decorate the cake with the little yellow Minions from the Despicable Me movies. For the uninitiated, the Minions are these cute little creatures who work for the bad guy, who becomes a good guy in the movie. Ever since I saw the movie, I’ve longed to have a Minion of my own. They’re cute, and they do exactly what they’re told. What mom wouldn’t want one?

And Eric bought me three of them. They were stuffed and hanging from the ceiling. They looked adorable, and I knew I would cherish them as a fun reminder of my 40th birthday party.

The entire evening was wonderful, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I felt so special.

In the car on the way home, I thanked Eric again for the party.

“Were you really surprised?”

“Yes, I really was. We’re going on vacation for my birthday. Who would expect a trip and a party?”

Eric smiled. “I was hoping that would work in my favor.”

Ten days later, I turned 40. I wasn’t any thinner, and my wrinkles didn’t magically disappear. My house wasn’t any cleaner, and I still hadn’t published my novel. But I made peace with all of those things.

Because when I re-evaluated how I’d spent my 40 years, I didn’t see the un-met goals, the imperfect body and my often-cluttered house. All I saw was love.

I saw a husband who loves me enough to plan a wonderful surprise party for me. I saw my parents and siblings who cared enough to drive a long distance just to be a part of the celebration. And I saw the amazing family I married into, who helped my husband make my day a special one.

I am 40, and I am loved.

And I’m OK with that.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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3 Responses to “Making Peace with 40”

  1. Dionne says:

    Hi Diane,

    Thanks for sharing. Like you, I checked off the things I hadn’t accomplished, but soon realized the importance of family and appreciating where I was. Everyone’s journey is different; so, it was unfair to continue comparing myself to others.

    When I was a teen, my mom used to say life begins at 40. Of course, being a know-it-all at the time, I found that hilarious (because 40 equaled old age). It turns out she was right.

    At 40, I think we naturally begin to re-assess things: life, friends, family, career. Then, somewhere down the road, a light bulb goes off. We realize life’s getting shorter and the years ahead are even more precious. So we shift gears, gather up the guts to try new things and do so with fresh zeal and wisdom.

    I’m turning 44 soon, and compared to when I was 39 going on 40, I’m calm and as cool as a cucumber.

    Take care.
    Dionne

  2. Oh Diane, your story took me back. My husband gave me a surprise party on my 40th, and someone was smoking in our house, so I refused to enter thinking the house was on fire. What a fiasco. Enjoyed your story.

  3. Hi Diane,
    Great piece. It had me reminiscing about the months leading up to the big 4-0. It was scary, but once I got past it and celebrated with my sister and cousin at a lovely resort, I was fine. Good luck and cheers!

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