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Approaching the Big 40 as a Parent - Mel Bailey

After a pleasantly surprising Indian Summer, Autumn is now upon us and brings with it an undeniable drop in temperature as the nights draw in, the leaves start to fall, and we find ourselves on an official countdown of festivities (Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Christmas...) to the end of what has felt like the longest, weirdest year in history.

For me it also signifies the last few weeks of my 30s as I rapidly approach the big 4-0.

Coronapocalypse may have stolen our toilet rolls, our holidays, our family gatherings, our liberty, and in some cases our sanity, but I feel increasingly disgruntled that it has also effectively stolen the last year of my 30s. A year I should have been savouring every moment,  overhauling my life, muttering to myself about getting “fit at 40” and working through one of those infamously impractical “40 things to do before I’m 40” lists.

At the end of the year I am (apparently) transitioning into my next decade and if I really sit and think about that fact, it just does not seem possible. I am increasingly convinced there simply must have been a miscalculation somewhere along the line.

My 20s were good. Undisputedly REALLY good. They were a crazy blur of living the student dream at university, working as a holiday rep in the Mediterranean, adventures, sunsets, late nights, and making and cementing some incredible friendships that would always go the distance. There were also lots of holidays; sometimes, up to seven a year. My friends often referred to me as “Judith Chalmers” (as much as it pains me to say this, millennials might actually have to google that.....)
An accolade which certainly feels like a distant memory or a parallel universe in the current Corona-dominated climate.

Towards the end of my 20s, I also met my long-suffering husband to be, (the legendary Dave). We bought our first home, acquired a dog and a tortoise, went on our first holiday, and he was brave enough to make an honest woman of me 2 months before my 30th birthday, ensuring that I exited my 20s with a flourish. 

In contrast, my 30s have been dominated by the crazy transition from Judith Chalmers life, to motherhood. From seeing that first blue line on a pregnancy test and being blissfully unaware of the rollercoaster I was boarding, to somehow learning to keep 3 small people alive; rearranging my life, my mind and my entire existence around them, their wants and needs. It’s safe to say that 30s life has been much more caravan (or tent!) at Camber Sands, than 5 star all inclusive to Mexico, and in all honesty I wouldn’t change a single second. My three babies have made me the person I now find myself to be (complete with grey hairs, pregnancy scars, and most days, holding onto sanity by a microscopic thread ).

Whilst I can’t deny that my life to date has been bountifully full in every sense, I honestly don’t feel ready for my 30s to end. One moment I was having my first baby; she was placed in my arms, and I was completely overwhelmed at the strength of my love for her. Then I blinked a few times, had 2 more babies, and suddenly somehow they are now 7, 5 and 3 (?!)

My 30s have been the “baby years”. The sleepless nights, the witching hours, the feeding and teething troubles, the temperatures, the endless nappies and wipes, the exhausting stage of physical need from 3 children born so close together. The baby groups and classes, car seats, prams, strollers, monitors, stair gates, child proofing, giggles, laughter, first milestones, and silly games that can turn their frowns upside down in an instant. A decade of marvelling at their innocence, and enjoying reliving so much of my own childhood - sharing stories, films, and songs that I myself loved with them.

Inevitably my 40s will bring far more parenting challenges; the sort that come as they get older, where it takes more than a few verses of their favourite song to solve their troubles. For this I don’t feel prepared (does anyone?), and I also don’t feel ready to say goodbye to those “Cbeebies years”.

So whilst I continue to be perplexed about how I can possibly be turning 40, I am even more in denial about how the passing of time means my children are also entering the next phase of their lives. I can’t even imagine what the next 10 years will bring, or what any of us will be like or how we will look when we get to the next decade threshold (I suspect there will be a lot more grey hairs and worry lines involved). The children will be 17, 15 and 13 and that very notion just seems insanely abstract. When I look back at how fast the last decade (or two) have actually gone, it’s also a slightly terrifying reminder of how our time flies.

One positive to come out of this past year, is how much it has forced us to refocus on what is really important. I miss unlimited gatherings of family and friends, unreserved hugs, actually making plans, going places, and looking forward to stuff. I hope when life returns to some kind of normality, that I will take all of those things a little bit less for granted, and I will treasure our family memories that much more, because before I know it, in the whirlwind of a few more blinks and teenage dramas, another ten years will have passed, and I’ll be looking back on my 40s wondering what the hell happened?!

If I can force myself to look beyond the trauma and trepidation of it all, I’m very aware that turning 40 also brings many reasons to celebrate (least of all that we are all still here!). Even though Coronapocalypse has probably stolen any chance I have of a group celebration to appropriately (and riotously!) mark the occasion, I’m holding firm to the hope that we might be able to celebrate at some point in 2021......which begs the question, does this mean I get to stay 39 until then?....