Clare Mackinstosh: Don’t fear the Forties

Reaching forty has been like sliding my feet into already warm slippers... In fact, if forty feels t

Reaching forty has been like sliding my feet into already warm slippers... In fact, if forty feels this good, I can’t wait for fifty - Credit: Christopher Titze

Reaching forty has been like sliding my feet unto already warm slippers...

I turned forty this year. I don’t know why it is that we mark the passing of each decade with the fanfare that we do, but such is the way of the world; and so it is that I remember precisely how I felt when thirty loomed. The milestone dogged me like a black-hooded reaper for several years before The Big Day; like a ticking bomb destined to explode. It mocked me with every Sunday supplement that listed Thirty Things To Do Before You’re Thirty; with every ‘inspiring woman’ feature in every glossy magazine.

At almost thirty, I had achieved nothing. I was healthy (tick), thin (tick) and in a relationship (tick). I had a mortgage and I could change my own tyres (tick, tick). But beyond that? Nothing. Where were the marathons, the break-through discoveries, the academic papers? Where were the stamps in my passport? Moreover - and this was the clincher - where were the children? I had been still in my early twenties when I ‘decided’ (as if such a thing can be scheduled, like a conference call, or a mini-break to Amsterdam) that I would have my family before I was thirty; ahead of the big career push, ahead of early retirement with children already grown-up and off our hands. As I hurtled towards thirty, my lack of offspring became an emblem of failure. I was incapable of seeing what hindsight now shows me with startling clarity; that I was still young (oh, so young!), that I had a job I loved, that I had good friends, a loving family, a disposable income. I wonder now, as I look back at my almost-thirty self, if I ever took stock; if I ever stood still and looked around me, counting my blessings, of which there were many. I wonder.

A lot happened in the ensuing year, and the pressures of achievements fell away as gradually as they had grown. At twenty-nine I was barren; and then gloriously fecund - pregnant with twins! At thirty I had two children; and then… and then… I had just the one. Oh, how it changed me; that big birthday year.

There is so little that matters in life, but too often it takes a tragedy to make us realise that. And now I am forty. The big four oh. And what have I done, in these intervening years? Have I run a marathon? Hell no. Have I found a cure for cancer? If only. Am I thin? Don’t make me laugh… But am I happy? You bet. I am young enough to have years ahead of me, yet old enough to have enjoyed what’s already been. I know who I am and what I what, and I care not one jot what strangers think of me. I wear what I like - what is comfortable, what makes me feel good - and I don’t give two figs if my stretchy-dress-and-leggings outfits would never grace a catwalk. I eat too much, but I eat well. I drink too much, but I know when to stop. I laugh often and uncontrollably. I give generously - in time and in money - and in doing so feel happy to have helped. I wear make-up when I feel like it, and none when I don’t. I run when it’s sunny and curl up by the fire when it’s cold. I won’t read a boring book, just because everyone else loved it; I don’t order brandy when what I really want is Bailey’s and crushed ice. I am happily, gloriously, unashamedly comfortable in my skin.

Reaching forty has been like sliding my feet into already warm slippers; like looking in a mirror and seeing my reflection. I love, I live, and I laugh; and there is little more important than that. In fact, if forty feels this good, I can’t wait for fifty.

I See You, published by Sphere is out now in paperback. For more information or more from Clare Mackintosh, visit her website or follow her on Twitter! @claremackint0sh

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