40 Days

My mom turned 40 at Kramer’s Supper Club in Evansville, Minnesota, a no-stoplight town in the West Central farmlands. It was a surprise party. I was 17-years-old at the time and the only one of my 4 siblings to snag an invite because I had a car and agreed to sneak in the cake ahead of time. The room was decorated in prerequisite black and white graveyard-inspired decor because turning 40 means you’re about to die, and that’s obviously something you should joke about. My friend Missy came along, and we sat by ourselves when things got started, plotting to steal a taste of someone’s unattended beer. We got our chance when all the adults cleared out after dinner. No one noticed us hanging back, taking swigs of Miller High Life from half-empty bottles. That night defined for me what a 40th birthday was supposed to look like. I assumed it would take a lot longer to get there myself.


I recently polled my Facebook friends to see how they spent their 40th birthdays, and here were some of their experiences:

  • Had a hysterectomy
  • Took a two week trip to the UK
  • Had too much sushi and wine
  • Cut off very long hair for Locks of Love
  • Enjoyed a farm to table dinner
  • Took a long weekend on the Olympic Peninsula
  • Forgot because brain dumped out pre-divorce memories
  • Had tea and played with kittens
  • Went to Disney World and then went on a rafting trip to see Grizzly bears
  • Turned 40 in a Chicago hotel room
  • Started a random tradition of spending every birthday somewhere I’ve never been before, doing something I have never done before
  • Disneyland!
  • Husband planned a surprise party
  • Went off to an island alone and considered how I wanted to live the next 40 years
  • My wife left me
  • Saw Queen Latifah
  • Cooked dinner for a few closer friends
  • Parents took me to Italy


Now it’s my turn to summit that infamous “hill” and start the gradual decent into old age. I’ll be 40 at the end of March, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to celebrate it. I don’t have any scheming daughters to sneak sips of my wine (Miller High Life was something I never tried again), and my life hasn’t followed a traditional path with a husband, kids, and whatever else we attach to the American Dream, so I don’t really feel 40. Maybe no one ever really feels 40. Is it even really that significant anymore?

Scrabble 40.jpg

It must mean something—the number 40. It’s the number of weeks human beings gestate before birth. And then we grow up listening to American Top 40 before settling into 40 hour work weeks after college. In the Bible, people were always spending 40 days wandering around or getting tempted or rained on.  40 must mean something.

Today marks 40 days to my 40th birthday. And while I don’t know how I’d like to celebrate the actual day yet, I’d like to take that time to meditate on what I’ve accomplished so far and to think about what I’d like the next half (or so) of my life to mean. Over the next 40 days, I’m going to seek out new experiences, make new connections, strengthen existing connections, and hopefully finish a few projects that I started in my 30’s. This was inspired by my friend, Renata, who had one long, continuous celebration. And why not? If we’ve made it this far, shouldn’t we take some time to celebrate ourselves?


I’ve come up with about 20 things to do so far, so I’m in need of some ideas! Big or small. Feel free to comment with suggestions or simply share what turning 40 means to you.

12 thoughts on “40 Days

  1. My husband surprised me with a trip to Mexico for my 40th (he’d also turned 49 that year and it was our 20th wedding anniversary so it wasn’t just about my birthday). I like your idea of giving yourself experiences and goals and challenges. I obviously don’t know you so can’t really offer suggestions. Aside from travel, my list would probably be overwhelmed with nerdy, geeky things. Think about the things that bring you most joy and start there and maybe include things you want to shed from your life, like one-sided friendships or donating clothes you’ve not worn in ages. I like that you’re marking this special birthday and the start of a new decade but try not to get hung up on the age thing. It really is just a number. And 40 is no longer middle-aged even so it’s not a new phase in your life or the start of a slow shuffle towards death. I’ve totally embraced my 40s in the 15 months I’ve been in them. I think you will too.

    1. A surprise trip to Mexico sounds lovely!
      I think you offer some wise advice. I probably need to shed a few things (pounds in particular…lol). A lot of women have also said they love their 40’s because that’s about the time you start to accept yourself and let go of things and relationships that aren’t working. So, yes – 40 isn’t sounding so bad. Thank you, Laura!

      1. I would agree with that. I feel more internally settled in my 40s (though it’s early days still) than I did in previous decades. I probably went through the shedding process (except pounds) prior to turning 40 because of emigrating. That forced me to cast off unnecessary things (except pounds) and I also made a conscious decision to not pick up any new friendships that were superficial. Having a wide circle of acquaintances is one thing but in terms of actual friendship I wanted to be sure I was investing my time and energy in people and relationships that actually involved a proper connection, quality over quantity.

  2. That’s a sweet blog post, Jolene. I can’t remember what I did for my 40th but I do know that I’d made my goal of pulling down 50k a year before I hit it. I am going to celebrate the 14th anniversary of my 40th this year and I still don’t feel even 30. It’s a state of mind. So whatever you do, do it well. You’ll have 40 more fantastic years to look forward to. xo

    1. Thanks, Pam! I agree that it’s all a state of mind. I really admire your fitness goals. I’m 100% sure that you’re in better shape at 54 than I am at almost 40 because of all the running. You’re an inspiration!

  3. I love this! I turned 51 last year and I still don’t feel 40. It is all a state of mind. (and I cannot believe you will be 40!)

    1. Thanks, Kari! One thing I’d like to do over the next 40 days is get together with some of the women from our memoir group again. I miss meeting up at the Pickford to write.

  4. Let me take you out to lunch with my parents so they can pester you with all their questions about a first time trip to Ireland!

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