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When your Child Turns Forty

Wish I looked like this now!

Published in ChicagoNow, February 9, 2017

I remember turning forty so clearly. Back in 1985, when you were eight and your siblings were eleven and fourteen, I had a party in a Detroit restaurant that Grandma insisted on making for me. I protested just as you are doing now. The difference is that she ignored my wishes and did it anyway.

It wasn’t a huge deal – just our family, my brothers’ families, and my parents. Grandma had a huge poster made because that was popular back then. It was a baby picture of me and everyone was supposed to sign it. And it said, “Laurie is Fourty.”

When we came home, I had another party with our friends. Dad tried to transform the poster by putting quotation marks around the “four” part of “fourty.” The party and the poster were embarrassing, but back then, fortieth birthday parties were en vogue. All of our friends had them. I remember not loving my dress and feeling like I was looking kind of old. Now, I think I looked pretty awesome back then.

Right after that fortieth birthday, I began my career as an early childhood administrator. The first time I nervously addressed a large group of parents at orientation, shortly after my birthday that ushered me into a new decade of life, I clearly remember thinking that life does begins at forty. Or at least for me, a new phase of my life was unfolding. It was the start of a career that lasted 25 years.

There are tons of sayings about the Big 4-0 birthday, but I really like these three:

  • It’s true what Ann Landers (you probably don’t know who she was) used to say. “At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.” Now that I’m 71, I can assure you she was spot-on correct.

  • Benjamin Franklin said, “At twenty years of age, the will reigns; at thirty the wit; at forty the judgment.” So, you are entering a wiser phase of life, which is a good thing.

  • Maya Angelou also had some sage words about turning 40. “When I passed forty I dropped pretense, ’cause men like women who got some sense.”

The point is you have many years ahead of you to build your career, raise and launch your children, and enjoy life. I would never have guessed back in 1985 that I would go back to school to earn a Master’s in early childhood education, start a new school, and watch my children finish their educations and have children of their own. So many wonderful things just happened along the way, including eight grandchildren I treasure. And after I retired, I was still not finished. I started blogging and then published a book when I was 70.

If you think it is weird to turn forty, just imagine how you will feel when it happens for your youngest child. While I promise not to embarrass you with a huge baby poster or force you to have a party and make a speech like Grandma did to me, I understand now why she wanted to celebrate this special birthday.

So, blow out the candles on the traditional Valentine’s Day birthday cake I have baked you almost every year, make a wish, and believe me when I tell you that life holds much happiness and adventure in the years to come.

Happy Birthday, babe. And may the cliché be true for you: Life begins at forty.


by Laurie Levy
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