40 Candles

by Allison Slater Tate
Originally Published: 

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 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

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