Birthdays are always a big deal. It's the one day out of the year that you can say, "Woohoo, it's all about me today!" In our house, you get to choose what you want for breakfast, for dinner, and what you want to do that day . . . and nobody can complain or say no (last year, I made them all help me clean my art studio = priceless reactions). But it's funny when you tell someone you're turning 40. You get an "OH!" with their mouth in a big "O" shape and big eyes. You're turning THAT age!
I wanted to do something big and something meaningful for my 40th birthday . . . so I did! It didn't involve lots of people or a big party. There were no balloons and no black decorations. It was colorful and fun and I was mostly alone (except for dinner, of course). If you're looking for a unique way to celebrate someone's 40th birthday, I might have an idea for you.
The truth is that 40 is a milestone birthday. You walk into a party supply store and the area for "40th Birthday" loot is, by far, the biggest (mostly black too). I remember my mom's 40th birthday, like it was last year. They made her sit in a wheel chair to enter the room, gave her a black shawl, and a cane. All the decorations said "Over the Hill" and the gifts were mostly gag gifts, while friends and family roared with laughter. My sister and I thought it was hysterical. She was so old!
And now I'm old. Or at least what I thought was old when I was fifteen. My how time changes our perspective. As December 22, 2014 approached, I wasn't feeling old or full of regrets, nor did I mourn the loss of my youth. I actually feel really excited and motivated about the years ahead. Okay, maybe I do wish I could still eat like a teenager and not gain a pound, stay up til 2:00 AM and function fairly well the next day, and sing "Favorite Things" at the top of my lungs and have my kids sings along with me instead of roll their eyes at me. But overall, nah. I really like where I'm at.
I decided to spend my birthday giving more than I received. As an artist, I'd been wanting to give myself a 30-day challenge for several months, but I was chicken. You see, I shutter at the thought of committing to things. It makes me feel locked-in and trapped. I fear that I won't be able to follow through and will let people down. I'm not the mom who sends in 40 homemade cupcakes for the teacher brunch. I send paper plates and napkins. I don't do PTAs, neighborhood committees, or monthly classes. I value freedom and flexibility. But this was my personal challenge, so being a little uncomfortable was going to be part of it. I decided (quickly, before I could change my mind) that I would do 40 paintings in the 40 days leading up to my 40th birthday.
I marked the day on the calendar, ordered some small canvases and started thinking of ideas. Then I started painting. Every day (usually in the evenings), I would paint a small canvas. Sometimes I planned out the ideas ahead of time and gathered images to draw from, while other days I just painted what I felt like.
I knew I wanted to spread more kindness too, so I decided I would also do 40 Random Acts of Kindness. I have a Pinterest board full of RAK ideas here, so it was easy to put the list together. I had to buy a few things and make a couple of phone calls, but it didn't involve too much prep time. Originally, I thought I would document the whole experience with photos and maybe even put tags on some of the items we donated with a hashtag to create some excitement. I later chose not to because I really wanted to focus on the act of giving and not expecting anything in return. My husband and kids helped me with some of them, and I did several by myself. We took clothing items to a women's shelter, blankets to the vet clinic, and put gift cards in random books at Barnes & Noble. We took needed items to the humane society, paid for the car in line behind us at Starbuck's, handed out individually wrapped cookies downtown (most people thought we were crazy), and left kind notes in books at the library. I smiled at a lot people (and got some surprised looks), filled my daughter's room with balloons on her birthday, took lattes to the pharmacists at CVS, sent flowers to my sister, and gave a painting to a friend. I don't have photos or likes to show you, but the proof is in my heart. It felt great to give with no expectations.
Painting for 40 days straight taught me that I like the playful feeling of less pressure. A huge canvas sometimes can make us feel like it has to be "amazing" when it's finished, but little canvases are less intimidating. Each one was like its own little adventure, waiting to be discovered. I wanted the paintings to take an hour or less, be playful and fun, and imperfect. I tried new techniques, made some mistakes, experimented with new color combos, and surprised myself a few times. I love some of them and I really don't love some of them. But I'm content with each one and proud of the commitment. They all remind me of a challenge I gave myself, a relaxed learning experience, a time to let go of perfectionism and be more playful. Isn't that what turning 40 is really all about?
The truth about age 40 is that I have let go of many ideals I used to have, loosened the grip on control, learned to listen to my gut and heart and trust myself more. It's less about what is out there to have and gain, and more about what is in here, inside my heart and my home. The people in my life, the connections I've made, and the memories we make are what this dance called life is all about.
At 40, I've spent more years with my husband than I have without him. He has shown me that persistence and perseverance really pay off, that people need to feel appreciated in their jobs, and that family always comes first. I have a 12-yr old son that has taught me that there is always more than one way to figure something out, that video games are awesome, to ask people how they feel often, and about loving big. I have a 15-yr old daughter that thinks I'm old and weird and said she can picture me being one of those "hippy people from the 70's". She sings constantly and can't believe she had to explain the difference between tbh and tbr to me. She has taught me to get things done, to be true to myself and to not over-think things. I have a 17-yr old son that shows me you're never too old to watch online videos and laugh out loud, who believes that living simply and having fun are most important, and that kindness always wins. He has enlisted in the US Marine Corps and will leave for boot camp this summer. He knows that following your passion is most important, even if it involves a lot of fear.
I have empathy for my 16-yr old self that was so hurt, lost, and angry; my 19-yr old self that was an idealist and had big plans for changing my world; the 29-yr old self that was so overwhelmed as a mother of three little ones; the 35-yr old self that found her passion and direction; the 40-yr old self that feels humbled, determined and authentic. Forty years of life experiences gives us a shift in perspective, a humble calmness, and helps us focus on what we know is really important (will I be even wiser at 80 or just not give a damn?). We realize that it really is all about the hokey pokey – about having fun and learning to laugh at yourself, making people smile, and being more giving of yourself.
Here's to many more years!
P.S. I've decided to give away all 40 paintings! Follow my Facebook Page: n2cre8n for details on the weekly drawings and sign up for email updates at the top of this blog. Update will be this Fri 1/23/15!