When I was born, it was in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis. Even on the far edges of the earth, there was fear. My mother remembers the nurses at the hospital wondering if there would be war, and if they would need to go. I of course was oblivious to this, having turned up eventually, about a week late. Life was all about eating and sleeping (perhaps little has changed).
When I turned 10, I was just a kid. A kid who was just getting to do exciting stuff: Girl Guides, piano and dance, netball. Well, that’s as much exciting stuff that you can do living in the country, in a two-room school with only about 45 kids aged from 5 to 13. Summers were endless. Winters were full of frozen puddles to jump in and giggle as the ice broke. Birthdays were spent with my parents, sisters, and grandmother. Life was carefree, fun, full of prospects.
When I turned 20, I was in the midst of my third year exams at university, the exams that would see me graduate with a BA in History and Political Science, which would see me become the first member of my extended family with a university degree. There were opportunities for women, and I had met a wonderful man I would eventually commit to spending the rest of my life with. Life was exciting. On my birthday, I cooked dinner for some friends, and we drank wine and Baileys (not together). Life was looking good.
When I turned 30, in Bangkok, I had three birthday parties. One for each decade. Two were surprises – a posh lunch at my favourite hotel in the world with a couple of friends and the hotel manager (also a friend), and later pizza with many of the Embassy staff, including most of the local staff (with whom I was privileged to have a special relationship). And the third I hosted myself at our apartment, a barbecue by the pool. Work was stimulating, we lived in one of the great cities of the world, and there was Thai food. Life was good.
When I turned 40, I had recently quit my job in an effort to set up a business and be self-employed, and hopefully become a mother. But I had suffered dengue fever, and experienced my first ectopic pregnancy, and had scheduled an appointment with a fertility specialist for a few days after my birthday. Life was more uncertain. But I knew more about what I wanted than ever before, and I knew what I was and wasn’t prepared to do to achieve it. I invited some friends over and cooked them dinner. It was very low key, but we had good food (if I do say so myself), and good wine, and good company. Life was still exciting, but it was now scary too.
Today I turn 50. Life is getting shorter. I’m on the downhill slide. I bear no illusions that I will be that small number for whom 50 is half-way. I have seen the aging begin – the hair has long since been coloured to hide the grey, the lines on the face are arriving. 50 is scary. Really scary. I can’t say I’m thrilled about 50. But I’ll adjust. At 50, I know the the things I’ll never do. I’m okay with them, the what-might-have-beens. Life has had its disappointments, but it has its unexpected rewards too. I’d rather concentrate on them, on what I can do, on what I want to do, on the type of person I am, and on who I have in my life.
I’m not cooking dinner tonight. We have a reservation at a prestigious restaurant, set in wine lands, surrounding by dramatic mountains, in a vast vast land. There will be champagne. And I’ll have my husband. He’s all I need tonight. And it’s not just because he has the Visa card.