Articles: Big Bad Birthdays

FROM The Irish Independent

Next time someone you know is heading for a ‘big o’ birthday? Go easy on them. No matter how mature and philosophical they normally are, no matter how composed they look, inside they may be a quivering mess, wanting to do the impossible, to stop the clock.

I know this because, I have just moved up a decade. And like my first day at school, I did not want to go. Unlike school, though, which kind of landed on me, I’d been conscious of this birthday for two years. I liked my thirties. I was born to be in my thirties. It was me. Couldn’t I just stay?

Friends in their forties spoke of how great it was. They were, they said, more confident than they’d ever been. Their children were older, more self-reliant and, crucially, less demanding. They’d been through enough of life to know who their real friends were. They let certain concerns go, worried less. The time had come to look after themselves, for beauty treatments, Botox, laser. You name it, they deserved it. Their day had come.

My planned method of coping was denial. Say nothing, work at forgetting not only that the birthday was significant, but that it was coming at all. To my husband, I was specific. ‘No surprises.’ I used the I-mean-business tone of voice reserved for serious occasions like when I’m trying to get into the iced-cold Irish Sea and my children are threatening to splash.

When I was asked what I’d like for my birthday, I said ‘to be out of the country’. And I meant it. A romantic holiday for two would surely take my mind off the whole inescapable thing. Drastic measures were needed, I told myself when I began to feel guilty about leaving the children behind.

The big surprise was that it worked. I was away, too distracted by the Amalfi Coast and mad Italian drivers to notice. I returned home, knowing that it was too late to dread. It had come and gone. I didn’t look ten years older. I didn’t feel ten years older. I’d aged a day. Well, a week.

But the run up – that was not pleasant.

So to all those people, out there, heading for a traumatic birthday, I dedicate this do-and-don’t list to you. It is designed for those who love you, to make sure your transition is as painless as possible. Call it the Big Birthday Guide, if you will.

Do not: buy the birthday boy or girl a card with numbers on it. Doing so will make it impossible for them to stay in denial.

Do not: tell them they look young for their age. You are only confirming that you consider their age old.

Do not: under any circumstances: organise a birthday cake with candles in the shape of their new age to be carried out to their restaurant table by singing waiters. Cake and waiters if you must. One simple, old-fashioned candle in the shape of nothing will do nicely.

Do not: wisecrack about mid-life crises. You may be closer to the truth than you realise.

And the Do’s…

Do: believe them when they say they don’t want any surprises. Unless of course they are the type of person who generally tells you they don’t want something when they do.

Do: let them indulge their solution to the crisis as along as it doesn’t break the bank, the law or your relationship.

Do: tell them that you wish you were that age again. Even if you haven’t yet reached it. They will appreciate the lie – if they notice.

Do: tell them that they are beautiful/handsome – just remember to leave out the word ‘still’.

Do: explain the benefits of the decade they are heading to, just don’t expect them to listen until they’re there.

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