40 Candles

forty-years-old Image via Shutterstock

My family did not forget my birthday.

Today, the morning of my 40th birthday, my parents called my cell phone at 8:29 AM and sang “Happy Birthday” to my voice mail while I tried desperately to squeeze in a few more moments of sleep (and, maybe, denial). My husband had the 6-year-old and the 2-year-old in the nearby family room of our rental house in North Carolina, where we are on vacation. They came bursting in the room about fifteen minutes later, bearing gifts: rocks from the gem mine we visited yesterday and a new gold necklace.

Later in the day, there was a chocolate birthday cake ordered by my mom from a nearby bakery, the words “Happy, Happy Birthday POOPSIE” emblazoned across the chocolate frosting, almost as if the letters themselves couldn’t believe they were spelling something so ridiculous. “I had to spell ‘poopsie’ to the baker three times!” my mother exclaims when I thank her. She doesn’t seem to think it is strange at all to call a 40-year-old mother of four “Poopsie,” and I guess it’s not. My 6-year-old will likely receive a chocolate cake with “Happy Birthday BEN-BEN!” on it when he turns 40, if I have anything to do with it.

This, I suppose, is 40 – and as much as I did relate to parts of Judd Apatow’s movie by the same name, it’s different than I expected, and different even from the 39 I knew six months ago.

Forty is being thrilled but dubious when people don’t believe my age… and crushed and indignant when they do.

Forty is finally accepting that I need to have some kind of actual skincare routine, even if all I can muster is committing to washing my face every night. It’s spotting those tiny wrinkles right above my lip – wrinkles that, until now, I have associated with my grandmother – and making the dermatologist a regular castmember in my life as opposed to the guest star role she had in the past.

Forty is walking into a baby store and realizing that I know very few people that might have a need for sleep sacks or pacifier clips anytime soon. After over a decade in the “baby zone,” I have graduated; by this time next year, none of my children will even have a need for diapers. That’s exciting, a little sad, and a little terrifying, because public restrooms. Mostly exciting. But still. Still, and maybe always?

Forty is seeing the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer and simultaneously feeling complete revulsion and also, okay, maybe a niggling bit of curiosity, because are they really going to show that stuff? And Sonny Crockett’s daughter is the star? OMG. (Sidebar: could we consider a middle-age version starring Rob Lowe and, I don’t know, Cameron Diaz? I don’t really care who plays the female lead, if we’re being honest. Just Rob Lowe.)

Forty is having an account at caringbridge.org to follow all your friends’ cancer treatments. Yes, I said “friends,” plural. And you hate it, even as you are grateful for the chance to be on the journey with them and support them however you can from afar. Cancer is an asshole.

Forty is embracing Facebook, maybe Twitter, and even Instagram, but I’m sorry: Snapchat is just… no, Vine sounds like work, and Tumblr confuses me. Don’t even talk about Kik. I don’t even know how to pronounce that.

Forty is wondering if maybe it’s just too late in life to learn to apply eye liner correctly.

Forty is being too old to take crap from people anymore or to spend time with people I don’t enjoy. It’s easier by the minute to take my 2-year-old daughter’s advice and “let it gooooo.”

Forty is not too old to be a little bit upset that Adam Levine just got married.

Forty is wondering if the sweatpants with hearts on them are too “young” for me to wear in public. They are subdued hearts, in my defense. But maybe I shouldn’t wear them while I voluntarily watch a third episode of Good Luck Charlie, just to be safe.

Forty is accepting that kale and brussels sprouts might be here to stay, and committing to eating them, but only with enough cheese involved. Maybe.

Forty is, I’m sorry, still not always accepting my body for what it is. I wish I could be all rah-rah me and say that I love my body and all its foibles, or that I am amazed by it and how it produced my four babies. I would be lying if I said I don’t still beat myself up for eating too much, or the wrong things, or not exercising, because I am vain enough that I want to look and feel better than I do. But 40, for me, means that I am making strides in accepting myself as a true work in progress. I am finally believing, however tentatively, that my weight does not equal my worth to the world, no matter the message the world sends to me. Forty means that despite my issues, I still eat ice cream for dinner alongside my kids on a summer day, because screw it – life is short, and we only get so many summer days with our kids to eat ice cream for dinner.

Forty is, unfortunately, having a designated funeral dress and wearing it this summer to say goodbye to my 38-year-old sister-in-law, an amazing person, wife, and mother of one toddler son. It’s learning that we don’t just need “Move a Body” Friends – the kind who would help us move a body, no questions asked – but also friends who will speak over our own bodies, should that terrible need arise. We need friends who will remember us so vividly, and with such obvious love and understanding, that the children we leave behind might know their mothers even so. Forty is knowing, viscerally, that our friends, our people, are who create the stories of our lives with us, and who will tell those stories in our absence. It is knowing that our connections to other people are all we have, in the end. They are what makes us alive, and what keep us alive, and we must make them a priority.

But 40 is also realizing that most of us are lucky enough to have so much more time left. It’s not the “big dead end” that Sally bemoaned in When Harry Met Sally; it’s the beginning of another chapter of life, and it’s a good one. At 40, I know who I am, I know what and whom I love, and I am not afraid to go after it. So at 40, the world is even more mine for the taking than it was when I was 20, and I know so much better what to do with it.

Forty is realizing that aging is not something to mourn nor something to endure. Aging is a privilege, full stop. All I care about is my time on earth with my people. I might have the tiny wrinkles. I might be too old for pop stars. I might have to start thinking about my own mortality and, worse, that of the people I love. But in any case – no matter what – I still win, because I am here, and as long as I am, anything can happen.

My friends tell me that forty is fabulous. I can’t help but agree, and I don’t need Jake Ryan showing up with a birthday cake to believe it. I’m just as happy to have my almost-40-year-old husband, my perfectly imperfect children, and a birthday cake with “POOPSIE” written on it instead.

Related post: This is 39

About the writer


Allison is a writer and a mother of four children. Her writing can be found at her own blog, Allison Slater Tate, on Facebook, and Twitter.

From Around the Web


Sarah Spear 9 months ago

Tears again! Fabulous writing Allison. I love your authenticity. Keep being awesome :)

Blake Shelton Bringing Back The Sunshine leaked album 1 year ago

I was curious if you ever thought of changing the page
layout of your site? Its very well written; I love what
youve got to say. But maybe you could a little
more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images.
Maybe you could space it out better?

Elaine A. 1 year ago

I’m almost there too. You make me happy to “join the club”. :)

(well except for the sucky cancer part).

Happy Birthday!!

Amber 1 year ago

I’ll be 40 next year, and this was just perfect!

Jill @ Ripped Jeans & Bifocals 1 year ago

This was perfectly said: “At 40, I know who I am, I know what and whom I love, and I am not afraid to go after it.” I agree with most things you said (I would be twitterpated if Jake Ryan showed up with a cake). Very well-written!

My 48th birthday is next month. When I was 44 (hubby 48) we decided to adopt a toddler and 2 years later, decided to adopt another one. You never know what life is going to throw at you in your forties. I would have never predicted the outcome of my late forties on my 40th birthday. Never, ever.

Sounds like you had a fabulous birthday! Wishing you many, many more!

Nina 1 year ago

I loved this so much, Allison, and relate to much, even at the super young age of 37. 😉

sarsm 1 year ago

Happy Birthday!!
I have just turned 42 and I just keep thinking the next big one is 50!!
OK, I also keep thinking, how is it possible that I am over 40? It just can’t be!!

My husband will not be 40 until next year, which is kind of cool. 😉

Bee Nadow 1 year ago

Happy birthday! As a new mommy at 30, I am so near your shoes. Please don’t feel out of the loop, I relate to almost everything above, even with a three month old, except for the cheese on the kale and the Brussels sprouts. I’ve been eating kale since my 20’s and rejecting Brussels sprouts since my hubby decided they were delicious. Yeuuuck at any age.

carrie z 1 year ago

I so look forward to your stories of motherhood and honest but sincere emotions that go along with them. Most often I can’t help but tear up knowing that there is someone out there who feels as I do and uses this sort of platform to express that with others. Keep your fantastic stories coming and I thank you for making those of us who feel sometimes isolated and alone in this crazy world of parenting feel there are others like us alive and kicking…

Barb 1 year ago

Had my first, and definitely only, child at 42 years and 8 months. Married for the first time at 44. It ain’t over by a long shot kid. I’m 48 with a 5 year old and barely slowing down! Honor the people you have lost (and I have lost many) by celebrating and truly living each and every day. My wrinkles are from laughing, my sagging skin from carrying a child, my wisdom from so many mistakes and my compassion from a heart shattered more than once. Embrace it and live out loud…you are blessed!

Emily 1 year ago

I’ve been forty for just under a month and I feel like I’ve finally grown into myself. I had my first child at 19 and the next at 21 so it’s FINALLY feeling like having two kids in college doesn’t seem so preposterous. Still feeling my way forward into my forties cautiously… but hoping it will be my best decade yet!

Janie Emaus 1 year ago

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Forty is fabulous.

LizD 1 year ago

Happy Birthday! I’m not quite there yet, but I felt every word of what you wrote.

Tara Schott 1 year ago

“Forty is finally accepting that I need to have some kind skin care routine” 3 words honey, Rodan & Fields! I just started using the REDEFINE regimen for those lil wrinkles… and yes, firmness…@ the age of 38. Maybe by 40 I’ll look 30! wschott.myrandf.biz

Allie Smith 1 year ago

Happy Birthday Allison! Beautiful essay. As a woman a bit older than 40, I can relate to all of it.

Amanda Gusman 1 year ago

Can’t relate to anything in this. I imagine turning 50 to seem more like where this woman’s coming from. I say this as a pregnant 37-year-old.

Barb 1 year ago

I especially loved the paragraph about having friends remembering you if you pass on. I have a great memory for those kinds of details. I love sharing stories of family and friends like that. It is like they are still with us. loved the whole article. thanks so much

Mandy Engelbrecht 1 year ago

40 is great, even if I was halfway thru chemo at the time – gonna rock my 41st in Dec…

Trisha 1 year ago

40 is awesome! My kids are going to be 18 and 20 this year. I feel like I am on the cusp of something wonderful. My kids are old enough to stay home alone and I am young enough to have fun and travel. I feel like the 20 years of my life I have devoted to my children has finally paid off. I have more money than I ever had and more vacation time from work. Its such an exciting age! Go 40 year old Mommas!! Enjoy! (I was super proud of myself hitting 40 before being a Grandmother too!)

Thekitchwitch 1 year ago

You made me cry. Happy birthday, Allison. xoxo

Ali 1 year ago

Wow, I’m 33 and can totally relate to many of these ideas. I’m still celebrating my 25th birthday every year, maybe @ 40 I’ll bump it up to 29 😉 wondering if I’m too old for that outfit/hairstyle? Check . attending funerals for friends and family I’ve known my whole life and can’t believe they are gone? Check . My Life is getting better even though I’m getting older? Check!

Ivon Garcia 1 year ago

Great read! Thanks for posting. I’ll be 40 next year. :)

Beatrice Leavens Brown 1 year ago

I am 55. Hardly anyone remembers my birthday. If they remember the month, they get the day wrong. My last baby was born 2 months after I turned 40. My birthday is always a surprise.

Joanna Deacon 1 year ago

40 + is amazing, though it is said those with a prominent Saturn only really get going at 40, while those who don’t may struggle with feeling the party’s over :) We’re all different.

Heather Black-Orkin 1 year ago

I was in the vicinity of 40 two years ago. Still can’t believe it.

Barbara Mastroddi-Lackey 1 year ago

Been there and done that (not just 40, but also 50).

Becky Crenshaw 1 year ago

Wonderful and refreshing. Approaching 40 myself I am relating. Cracking up at the Adam Levine quote! And, since you mentioned it, this is a skin care quiz to figure out what will help the oncoming wrinkles :) Rodan and Fields… It works! <3 Message or email me if you are interested :) Thank you so much for your post! https://beckycrenshaw.myrandf.com/Pages/OurProducts/GetAdvice/SolutionsTool

Heather Nicole 1 year ago

I will never be too old for pop tarts!

Kristy Thresher 1 year ago

I have a few years left until then, but what an absolutely adorable read

Jennifer Gorman 1 year ago

I just turned 48, sigh, and my dad still calls me Stinky…. from my diapers as a baby, lovely. But at this age I feel more loved and more known as a person, and loved anyway, than at any time yet in my life. Part of that is living with an illness that brings you and your relationships to the fire. I also am putting up with a lot less crap from anybody, including my husband and mother. My kids are ending up their growing up years, 21 and 17. Well, the oldest graduated college and just moved back in a few months. So this feels like my last huraah at actually being the Mom In Charge. All too soon they will both be gone from my everyday life, to a career and college. So this is also a time of looking at my life and heart and answering, “And then what???” I have no freaking idea. How about a nap, maybe???

Wee Jules 1 year ago

Yup..next year..kinda looking forward to it actually..new chapter

Andrea Mara 1 year ago

I had my “this is 40” moment last month, and I agree with you – aging is not something to mourn or endure. It is wonderful to be here.
Except for the extra wobbles and bumps. And the realization that I’m never going to be Angelina Jolie. Well of course, I was never going to be Angelina Jolie – I have only half the kids she has and that’s as far as I’m prepared to go, I’m also not almost-married to Brad Pitt, and the last time I performed for an audience, I was doing Karaoke in a bar in Hamburg in 2006. But you know what I mean.
Happy Birthday!

Debbie Dodds 1 year ago

Today i am 38 and as i near 40 i’m starting to really enjoy life. The kids are getting older and i now have a “oh to hell with it lifes too short” attitude. And its so much more fun

Jenn Galbraith 1 year ago

37…. close.

Cheyene Potter-Garwood 1 year ago


Susan Denise PortilloRoche 1 year ago

Love it! 41 and loving life!

Karen Fails 1 year ago

Just turned 41 last Monday and have 11 week old
Twins .. My 40’s are going to interesting and an excuse to act like a kid just that little bit longer !! Lol

Meegan Parker Hubbard 1 year ago

Thanks for sharing. I turn 40 in a few months and I have mixes feelings. Overall….feeling blessed!

Vanessa Lane 1 year ago

I turned 50 in May and struggled with it more than any other birthday before. Maybe it’s because my mom is exactly 25 years older than I am and I remember giving her a surprise party for her 50th and she seemed old then! I don’t feel old-it’s just a number-but sometimes the number SUCKS! I had my youngest at 42 and my mom was a GRANDMA at 42. YIKES!

Colleen Flynn Brow 1 year ago

So true!!! Absolutely love this!

Mary Ellen Guadagno 1 year ago

I’m planning my own party. It’s only going to get better.

Linda Kendall-Thompson 1 year ago

Wait until your 50.

Yvette Davis Mendoza 1 year ago

I <3 my forties!!

Mary Ellen Guadagno 1 year ago

December 2015

Samantha Shay Epstein 1 year ago

I’ve spent everyday since turning 39 dreading 40. This sucks!!!

Ann-Marie Helin 1 year ago

I LOOOOVVVVEEEE THIS , thank you , thank you !!!

Laura Richardson 1 year ago

Like a stalker it watching me two years to go ….thanks

Nikki Kantola Czerwinski 1 year ago

I’ll be 40 on Sunday! Thank you for sharing :)

Katie 1 year ago

I’m lying here wiping away the tears. I too just turned 40 and you have written these words that are in my heart.

Kara Kitchen 1 year ago

I’m 41 (and a half) and my mom still calls me Poopsie too; no cake decorations, but definitely cards/gifts labeled with the misnomer…

Jodie Regan Sexton 1 year ago

This is so funny!!!

Amy King 1 year ago

Turning 42 in October..turned 40 six months after I had my third child.. I keep on saying I’m too old for this shit!..

Rene’e Timmins Fryant 1 year ago

I really needed this…I turn 40 next month.

Maribeth Uhlenhopp 1 year ago

44 and still rocking!

Tara Neill 1 year ago

I. Love. This. I have a while before I turn 40 but still… This is awesome.

Sonia Maragoni 1 year ago

I’ll be 41 next month…
I had my second child a month after my 40th birthday… I love my 40s so far….

Anna Green 1 year ago

I turn 40 in October still not trying to think about it too much. Lol

Dina Hanna 1 year ago

1 year away. Thank you. Like like like

Kimberly Luebeck 1 year ago

I get the phone call thing. I will be 32 this year. My mom works night shift. Every year between 1150 and 1210am, she text me. It is the best happy birthday, minus the dog pile of 5 children.

Peper Lockett 1 year ago

This spoke to me

Amy Hatzigiannis 1 year ago

Great post..I turned 40 on the 14th! I was struggling but I am so lucky to be where I am in my life and that myself husband and children are healthy..whonam I to complain? Here’s to another 40 :-)

Denise Heaney 1 year ago

40 next year. We lost my brother in law in March to melanoma. This end of the 30’s sucks.

Kristen Mae of Abandoning Pretense 1 year ago

What a fabulous post. The “move a body” paragraph made me cry.

Cheron Burleson-Adcock 1 year ago

In 3 weeks, actually. LOL

Hollie Raspe 1 year ago

5 years away!

Beth Bryant Kidwell 1 year ago

45 in March. Love this!

Karen Harrington Coles 1 year ago

39 until February here. Lots of great points!

Terri Conklin 1 year ago

Long past it….

Tiffany Hover 1 year ago

I will be 40 in 6 years. That same year my oldest son will turn 21, my younger son will graduate high school and turn 19, and my baby (and only daughter) will turn 13. So yeah, not really excited for all that.

Sabina Parsons 1 year ago

Wow that hit home!

Jennifer Martin Baldwin 1 year ago

Awesome and so very touching!

Elise Lux Morris 1 year ago

Love this!

Marcela Marchesini Kapfer 1 year ago

My hubs turned 40 this year. I have six years before that.

Crystal Shovlowsky 1 year ago

I’m not close to 40 yet and I really enjoyed this article. When I do hit 40 I will have one son on his way to college and the other in 8th grade.

Britt 1 year ago

I’d still take Jake Ryan at my door with a cake….

Abbie Draper 1 year ago

I turned 38 yesterday.. It’s a great read!

Rebecca Rodgers Kettner 1 year ago

Thank so much for this. I turn 40 on Friday, and I have to admit, I have been struggling a little this week. I am slowly, but surely, learning to let it go.

Audrey Weston Day 1 year ago

Thank you!

Manon Keller 1 year ago

Love it!!!

Diane Burke Ptacin 1 year ago

40 is a smudge in the rear view mirror and I’m looking ahead to 50 in a few years and this describes how I feel about that.

Lindsey 1 year ago

Happy birthday!
I’m hot on your heels as you know. I’ve been mulling something about female friends, since that’s what is on my mind as I round 40, and I love what you say about those friends who, if the terrible need arose, would still be able to teach our children who WE were.

Amie Wolff Logan 1 year ago

At forty, I was not a mom yet. At 43 I am. I like 43 more.

Dot Whited McCumsey 1 year ago

On September 11th, I will step across the threshold to 41. How in the hell did I live this long?

Jessica McNaughton 1 year ago

Turning 40 tomorrow! How did you know? This rings so true to me.

Tina Auletto Leo 1 year ago

I’m only a week away!!!

Beth Rabin Akkaway 1 year ago

So very true. Just joined the 40 club myself and being in it isn’t nearly as bad as the time I thought about it!

Fiona 1 year ago

When I turn 40 my kids will be practically grown. I wonder if that will be better or worse?

Jennifer Merritt Manazer 1 year ago

Love this!!!

Michelle Markey 1 year ago

40 is great. I’m with her, except on my 40th birthday I was WAY in the baby zone, and if there were to be a middle-aged 50 shades of grey, it would be Jon Hamm, not Rob Lowe.

Mia Mathis Puleio 1 year ago

Amazingly written! I will be 37 this year and 40 doesn’t sound so bad after all

Kristy Edwards 1 year ago

Have two years yet till 40…by then, my daughter will be 17, my son 16. My mom won’t be calling me and giving me a hard time, like we did her when she was 40, we lost her in 2010 due to complications from cancer. That will be the hardest thing about turning 40 for me. But, I’m of the same opinion (or trying to be ) as far as letting go of people and things that just don’t work for my family or I…I just wish the universe would get the message!

Janette Henson George 1 year ago

I hit 40 in November and really looking forward to it! I’m happy with who I am, where I am, and where I’m going. I earned every one if my years and that’s something to celebrate!!

Christina Lanier 1 year ago

I love this!! I keep telling everyone I can’t wait to be 40 next April bc I’m going to tell everyone to “f-off! I’m 40!”

Jenny Bates Sosa 1 year ago

I took 30 hard. I embraced 40. I’m two years into my forties and I’m more than Ok with it. I remember when I was in my teens I thought 40 was old and close to the end. I still feel young, love life way more now than ever and it’s no where near the end!

Kimberley Costley Weber 1 year ago

I couldn’t wait to turn 40. For me it was a new chapter in my life and I’m still enjoying it.

Debbie Oliver 1 year ago

Agreed, full stop. I’ll be 40 in October. I’ve NEVER been more sure of who I am or what I need to stand up for than now. Love it. 😉

Jennifer Moore 1 year ago

I turned 40 in May when my first baby was 4 months old. For me, the adventure is just beginning.

Jen Goldsmith Andersen 1 year ago

I’ll be 40 at the end of September and I still don’t know what I wanna be when I grow up. It terrifies me.

Adrianne Ward Burney 1 year ago

….four years behind me! At 40, I had a 12-year-old daughter, a 3-month-old son, and was working part-time as a substitute teacher. I’ve come to realize that 40 was just the beginning! I feel much better now @ 44.

Jennifer Blume Colosetti 1 year ago

40 is awesome!!!

Missy Williams 1 year ago

yes in 16 days I will be 40 omg I don’t even wanna think about it

Sara Jarvis 1 year ago

Just turned 40 yrs young on Fri. I miss some parts of being younger but appreciate the wisdom. :-)

Stacy 1 year ago

I turned 40 just under a month ago. This piece was almost a gift in itself. It was beautifully written and spot on!

Katie Miller Zabielski 1 year ago

Love this :)

Rebecca 1 year ago

I turned 40 two weeks ago today. I am right there with you.

Gloria Trueblood 1 year ago

I had my son two days after I turned 40. I had major issues turning 30 but none with 40.

Lake Traasdahl 1 year ago

Ha! My ma calls me poopsie too! And this is exactly how I felt about turning 40, so freeing!

Jessica Holden Lauderdale 1 year ago

Love this:) 40 is still a few yrs away for me( I’m 36), but I can already relate to this.

Tracey 1 year ago

Happy Birthday! May it be a fantastic year!

Jeanette Wilkoski DeMito 1 year ago

Tuesday is my 40th & I have never struggled with a birthday like this. I feel like I should really have my shit together @ 40, but that seems impossible with 3 kids! Lol

michele 1 year ago

So incredibly true…All of it! I am 44 and whew…Lots of things changed when I hit 40. But I am embracing it!! Love the articles on scary mommy!

Cynthia Lingley-Boudreau 1 year ago

I will turn 40 on Wednesday… I am struggling with it to be honest…

Roxy Almaraz Syler 1 year ago

I’ll be 46 in Nov,hubby just turned 45 in June.We have a daughter that will be 5 next month and our son just turned 3 in May!! My family still sings to me as well!

Ingrid Walerius 1 year ago

Perfectly written

Mary Schneider 1 year ago

In the vicinity?? lol!! Passed that milestone a couple years ago. It’s really no big deal. Just another number. Besides… as I tell my kids, women stop having birthdays after 29. We just celebrate the anniversary of that b-day. 😉

Jackie Guy 1 year ago

Happy birthday!!! I’ll be 49 this year and yes, my parents still call me and sing too.


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