I thought about doing a massive party, or even a smaller party, some gathering of friends playing games or roller skating or sharing food, but that didn't happen. Maybe it was a failure of planning, maybe the fact that most of the activities I considered are better when it's not brutally hot, maybe it's that my life is so full of gatherings of friends and family, celebrations of joy, that I don't need a dedicated party to mark another year on the planet.
My birthday has been a fortnight-long affair. My father and stepmother came up to take me to dinner, birthday wishes have been showered upon me at community gatherings and dinners with friends. I have a loving boyfriend who's used my birthday as a perfectly reasonable excuse for presents and cake and random hugs and messages, and not one but two special birthday dinners. A regular gathering of my tribe will share my actual birthday.
Today, my best friend chose to spend one day of her first real adult vacation at Fiesta Texas riding roller coasters, and she invited me to go with her. So, in celebration of my fortieth, I screamed and laughed and stood in lines and collected sunburn. It was glorious. I love to be an adult. She and I, we have some things about adulthood figured out that I think maybe some adults never get.
When I was a little girl, I thought 'adults' were these magical figures who had it figured out. I listened carefully to them, sure they were dispensing secret and brilliant wisdom and True Answers. I've since learned that adults don't have it all figured out, that we're grasping and muddling just as much as we ever did. We've got some pieces of it, and others have some pieces of it, and all together we've got some right answers and some wrong ones and no way to know which is which.
But today, in line for one of the rides, a mother turned to me and said, "If you're riding alone, will you take my little girl with you? I don't really want to go on this ride." I said I would, and suddenly found myself entrusted with an eight-year-old named Josie. She said, "I'm not scared." I said, "Me either." She said, "Mom thinks I should be." I said, "People say you should be scared a lot, and it's OK not to be." She nodded wisely, and said, "I know." We had a great ride, and I returned her to her waiting mother (people give me their children a lot; I have one of those faces, I think).
A little later, my friend and I got caught up in the conversation of a couple of preteen girls, who were talking about the rides and the people and math and everything else. We joked and chatted with them, agreeing that the man trying to text on the ride thought he must be important. As we walked out, we talked about how "Those girls are probably going to grow up to be us. I'm comfortable with that."
There's a fun part to being an adult, the part where I get to decide when it's Roller Coaster Day and when to eat cookies for breakfast. There's the part where I have a control over my life and destiny I never had as a child. For a long time, I thought that I was 'paying' for my breakfast cookies and my mental health days by being a responsible citizen the rest of the days, by paying bills and being on time to work.
But...that's not how I pay for my indulgences. The real price of adult freedoms comes when a pair of perfectly trusting eyes looks up at me, unafraid, and I have the chance to nourish her courage. When two joyful children on the cusp of adolescence test the waters and engage with 'adults' on a more equal footing, I have the choice to shove them back down into childhood or to relate to them as peers.
At forty, there's an argument to be made that I am now entitled to greater respect, that I've got a greater level of experience and understanding, that I should probably embrace my 'grownup' identity and settle into some stability. But I'm going to keep eating cookies for breakfast and ice cream when I want it, and I'm going to consider roller coasters or skydiving or base jumping or hiking alone a perfectly reasonable pursuit for 'a woman of my age'. I'm going to laugh and love and choose all the things that bring me joy.
In part, I do this because I a choosing joy and love as the life I want. But in part, I am doing it because I *am* the adult, and I *do* want them to learn the things I have figured out. And the things my forty years have taught me, children, are (in part) these things:
When you have the chance to meet someone's eyes, do it. When you have the chance to laugh, take it. Sometimes you have to work hard and sometimes you can play, and there is a value and a beauty and a necessity for each in the healthy life. Friends are the people who love you whether you are weak or strong, and trust you when you know where they are weak. You can have cookies for breakfast, but if you have them every day you'll stop thinking they're special. People who love you will try to understand you, but they won't always succeed; forgive them the failure and forgive yourself your own. It's all right to admit you're afraid, but you never have to be afraid just because someone else expects you to be. You have the right to be happy, and the responsibility to get that way.
Most of all, you are loved and beautiful and you have infinite capacity for joy and suffering, and EVERY SINGLE DAY is a series of choices you make to create your own destiny.
I love you all.