This story has been sitting in the field for a few months and needs to get cut off the leash before it composts away in our warm Winter sun and before the new year catapults us yet again into another growing season. Now while the crops are turned under and seeds are waiting patiently for planting is the time to reflect on all that makes up the fodder for our lives.
This is a personal story on turning 40. On letting go. On moving forward. And of growing old and new all at the same time…
My decision to hide on my 40th birthday is calculated. Why? For many reasons but mostly because I witness the breakdown of my friend on her 40th birthday in front of a huge gathering:
She clams up with a hundred guests raising their glasses chanting “Toast! Toast! Toast!…” Tears well in her big blue eyes and a river of emotion cascades down her cheeks. Her mouth locks shut and her voice cuts out even as she wills something brilliant to escape; the gush of emotion is too strong. She looks out to her friends (and she has a lot of friends) with a blank begging helpless look. Those of us that are close slide in to cover with long speeches in her honor while she bravely put her fears aside, swallows the tears back, releases a little laugh, and tries to regain composure.
I don’t know why I’m reminded of that old Virginia’s Slims slogan “You’ve come a long way baby” when I think about turning 40. I picture that woman in the commercial with her feathered dark brown hair boldly holding a long thin cigarette as if she’s reached the zenith of what it is to be a mature, beautiful, professional woman.
And then I also think of Charles Dickens:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . “
It’s an emotionally charged birthday right?. The stakes are high. All those things we want to accomplish (creating a family, loosing 15 pounds, higher salary, marriage, a dream house, a better career) before settling into middle age misery now gone forever. The years of realizing how seriously outdated you are creep in with every wrinkle, every hipster fashion statement that revisits the ’80’s as if it were fresh, and all the new technology – and adoption of new technology – that permanently cements the disparity between young and old (Yes, I live in San Francisco where there’s more start-ups than Starbucks).
So on my 40th birthday I decide not to have a party. Not to tell anyone. And for sure not to put myself in front of a group of people where I’d inevitably end up sobbing with a sobering hangover the next day clouding my doom and gloom. For me, 39 is the best year professionally and the worst year personally and there is just as much to celebrate as there is to bury. Hence the ‘Best of Times’ and “The worst of Times’.
Professional best are my late thirties: I establish my own farm to table business offering events and workshops at Pie Ranch and Potrero Nuevo Farm and I receive a full blown four page article from the Magazine, Edible, recounting my cooking adventures and praising my Edible After School program in Pescadero. I do Pig Roasts and Harvest Dinners, workshops, private events, and teach my youngsters how to cook and how to create a business with cooking. It is a vibrant two years working with farms along the Pescadero coast that any chef would be envious of. To work side by side farmers turning their hard earned efforts into feasts that bring the community together to celebrate is something to feel great about.
But the year 39 in and of itself is personally hard. My new marriage is off to a romantic start but I miscarry midway through the farm season at 5 months pregnancy and suffer an avalanche of problems that leave me lower physically and emotionally than I’ve ever been before. You cannot imagine how terrible this experience is unless of course you or a partner has been through it before. It is a horrible thing to loose a child but the aftermath of hormone drops, depression and deep sense of failure that follows is crippling. Not to mention the hospital bills.
Through this experience I have come to realize that it’s not uncommon although bizarely not publicly talked about as much as it could or should be considering that 30% percent or more pregnancies end in miscarriage (although preterm delivery is more rare) with little known cause. And here I’m thinking I’m going to sail into my 40’s with baby on the way and business booming and marriage glowing.
You see for a woman of my age – and of course, it’s only when something like this happens that you suddenly realize your age and mortality – there is a decision that has to made. All my girlfriends of this age are defining the baby-making-line: either they are sure they don’t want to have children because the time has come and gone to find a partner (or they simply don’t want to) or they are willing to cough up tens of thousands of dollars for In Vitro by taking loans out against mortgages or credit cards or whatever. I find myself, for better or worse, standing alone heading into my fourth decade in the all natural DIY baby making camp taking my chances and believing in fate.
I take little down time after the miscarriage and focus on my work. The best therapy I can offer myself is taking in the salty sea air along the coast and eating vine ripened tomatoes and fresh grown produce and petting cows & goats daily and just fully throwing myself into a big batch of something really tasty that is going to come out delicious because everything that’s gone into it is downright divine.
Yes, my food is very good this year. It gives me a sense of purpose. An event can take your mind off troubles quick when you realize that there are real people that have to be provided for and that have paid top dollar for a wonderful celebration. Cooking forces one to live in the present – in the now. It provides little time for reflection until after the plates are cleaned, the guests have left, and the adrenaline rush has worn thin. And it also staves of fears about what the future may or may not hold. When you’re prepping for hours and talking story with other cooks the mind can’t focus on much else.
My coastal community picks me back up and puts me on my feet again. Pescadero is my Tara, my place to heal and regroup and harmonize. The fabric of this community held together by pioneering women who in their beautiful and strong ways lend their knowledge of Mother Earth, life, and love without judgement. I would pontificate that because they live closer to the land they hear its heartbeat a little louder.
But back to my birthday…
I have planned farm-to-table events before and after the big day to insure focus and they have sold out. My husband is in a quandry because if he messes this birthday up I’ll never let him forget it, and he knows we need a weekend to heal and be together. I have no time to travel, absolutely no desire to party. I just want to get sneak away.
He arranges a beautiful cabin at Manka’s in Inverness and packs up 6 bottles of my favorite French champagnes. And because woman cannot live on champagne alone he grabs beautifully packaged proscuitto and coppa from our neighborhood deli and cheese from our local frommagerie and fruit from…well the fruit’s from Mexico (and it’s really tasty too).
We drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and head North and we are fighting. Yes. We are fighting. I am crying. We both are yelling. And we are just about ready to throw everything over the bridge and jump for it. Why? Because the fertility monitor has been blinking with its stupid smiley face that it’s time! it’s time! it’s time! And he’s been working nonstop and now we’re wasting this precious time in the car… and we’re never going to get pregnant again… and forget it… forget everything… this is your fault… no it’s yours… I hate you… no, I hate you… etc etc etc.
This is how crazy and desperate you can get when the clock is pounding away right next to your ear.
We pull up to Manka’s and meet the rather eccentric caretaker (Inverness is known for its delightfully odd reclusive folk) who guides us to our beautiful log cabin complete with a huge river stone wood burning fire place, a deep leather sofa with soft vintage woolen blankets, and an old fashioned wood hot tub bubbling away on the deck. He gives us a quick tour of the place and then whips out two glasses and a carafe of no-name red wine. He pours the two glasses right up to the brim and bids us farewell.
We drink. We breathe. I let out a little laugh and so does my husband. He cracks open champagne after we drain the red, and we kick up our heels in front of the fire and celebrate my 40th birthday with love and laughter and music and warmth from the hearth.
A tap on the door signals our dinner is ready and we scramble to put robes on and straighten hair and sheets. We dine on slow roasted local lamb shank with a hearty winter cabbage, spinach and beet salad and move on to the red wines my husband has brought along for the adventure. Life is good. We are lucky: to have each other, to live in this beautiful part of the world, to be blessed with opportunities that allow us to pursue our passion and creativity and intellectual aspirations, to be healthy and alive.
And it hits me. I have just let go. I have just let go of being 39. I am now 40!
And I have nothing that I have to get done before turning 41. I have no prerequisites for living life in my 40’s. I have completely not accomplished any of the things I wanted to before turning 40 so now they completely don’t matter! I did not have a baby. I did not make more money. I do not have a big new house. I did not loose 15 pounds. I did not run a triathalon or a Tough Mudder. I didn’t do anything!
I did however accomplish just about everything I’ve ever wanted to in life over 39 years – so the rest is cake. I’ve lived and worked in four different countries on three different continents following my passion full heartedly, I couldn’t be happier with the people I work with, I love my coastal community, I love my husband, family and friends, and I’m in good health (although still a little fatter than I’d like to be). And it’s okay, it’s all going to be okay.
We plunge our spoons into the warm plum and apple crisp with melting vanilla ice cream and crack open yet another bottle of wine. This time a delicious dessert wine, Constantine, from our dear friend Ivan. We savor it’s peach and vanilla notes with every bite of warm gooey crumble. And now we are tipsy (if not totally drunk) and well provided for.
I rebuild the fire and we cozy up with blankets around it’s blaze mesmorized by it’s colorful licks of heat. My husband brings out the gifts – which I’m not expecting since the price of the room and wine will be sobering in a week or too. A new computer! I won’t be obsolete afterall! I will not let technology pass me by! Let those whippersnappers drool over this new shiny piece of hardware!
We did not “hit the mark” on my 40th birthday in October, although that would have been a tidy ending to this story. But instead we let go of heartache and let in love and fulfillment on a much deeper level. All things happen for a reason – not always a reasonable reason –but if nothing else the test of strength and the acknowledgment of vulnerability gives us a rich soil from which to plant the seeds of change. So although I am one year older, I feel in many way much much younger again.
Wishing you a very Happy New Years filled with mouth watering slow roasted conversation and sweet and sparkling family time.