9 months. Long enough to grow a human baby, or about 5 inches of hair. Time to complete a university academic year, or perhaps grow a banana plant.
Exactly 9 months today, I will turn 40.
Apparently that’s when life begins. Apparently it’s also the time by which a person should have ‘challenged oneself to do something that seems impossible’, ‘been on safari’, ‘read every book by a favourite author’ and ‘learnt about wine and cheese pairing’.
By those standards, I am perhaps running out of time. And I’m a literature graduate who really likes wine and cheese.
I have watched lions devour meaty carcasses at Longleat from behind my car window, and I have challenged myself to eat whole chillies and to stay awake all night, but I’m pretty sure the list makers would tell me those things don’t count.
Apparently it’s also the age by which a person should know their net worth (zero) and also know how much they have saved for retirement (also zero). That’s two ticks in the box there then. Or crosses. Whatever.
I’m not sure how I imagined my life might be at nearly 40.
If you’d asked me aged 10, I’d have said I’d be in the army or an equine physiotherapist, most definitely with no husband or children. Yuck.
Ask me again in my early twenties and I’d have forgotten those dreams and acquired some level of interest in men, babies if really necessary. Consciously or unconsciously shaped down a more conventional path, wallowing in dreams of writing literature while panic-buying jobs to pay the bills.
Ask me at 30 and I’d have convention written all over me with a husband, child and a mortgage in tow. I’d have imagined 40 would bring a beautiful house, travel, a sophisticated capsule wardrobe, children accomplishing amazing things.
Ask me now, having thrown convention somewhat to the wind by having a disabled child (not planned) and moved to Cornwall (somewhat planned) and I’ll show you a money-pit with grand plans always slightly beyond budget, camping holidays, a motley collection of clothing either too big or too small (mostly too small) and children accomplishing amazing things, just not the ones I expected.
When your children have special needs, pretty much everything becomes an amazing accomplishment, even if that thing is learning to crawl across the living room floor aged seven. Not how I expected. Not worse. Not better. Just different.
If 40 is supposed to be when life starts to get a little easier, I can’t imagine it being that. If it’s supposed to be the beginning of the end, I can’t imagine it being that either.
And yet it does feel like a milestone.
To be celebrated. Or marked in some way. I feel the need to do something.
I’m pretty sure I’ve already had at least one mid-life crisis. I have quit a multitude of jobs in my time. Moved to the seaside. Started a business.
I don’t need to burn the house down and start again.
So what next?
Maybe it’s time for pink hair and another tattoo. Time to finally write that book, or take up yoga.
What I hadn’t anticipated, though, was the need I feel nine months from d-day to literally and metaphorically get my house in order.
I don’t know if this is typical behaviour in the final countdown to 40 or a hangover from the ‘living in survival mode’ for so long that having a child with special needs brings. Maybe it’s not either of those things, but a natural follow on to burn out. Rebuilding from the ground up. Taking control from chaos.
All I know now, with nine months to go, is that at 40 I’d like to feel like I’ve got my shit together a great deal more than I have right now.
For me, there will be no adrenalin filled ’40 before 40′ bucket list. No list of must haves or must dos. But I do want to take control. Get organised.
Maybe that’s just called being a grown up and I’m actually decades behind?
I like to think instead there’s no such thing as ‘grown up’, these days and its all just an iterative process of getting gradually better at being human, step by step through life.
Either way, the next nine months bring with them an exciting cocktail of Slimming World and Kon Mari.
Shifting unwanted belongings in more way than one.
Being left with only the good stuff.
Space for life to begin, maybe.
Like Carl Jung said, the first forty years ‘you are just doing research’ after all…