Do we ever feel our age?
Maybe at 10 years old. I celebrated double digits with a backyard party, a new bicycle and a rainbow cake. Summer lingered in the Northern Hemisphere and we swam much of the day. I can still smell the chlorine.
If you're reading this on Saturday, September 5, it's my birthday. The 50th one. Cue over-the hill jokes and gag gifts like false teeth and magnifying glasses.
Perhaps you're remembering or dreading your own 50th. Or looking forward to it.
According to a Dartmouth University researcher, the most miserable age is 47.2. It's when many of us are raising teenagers or trying to rearrange an empty nest; marriages and partnerships are tested; health concerns like menopause and more sinister gremlins rear their heads.
While some people sail through 47.2, I hit an iceberg. That year I realised I couldn't make anyone else's decisions but mine. Dissolving an already spluttering marriage was like transition in childbirth. Instead of intense pain lasting hours, the dull ache lingered for years.
I survived the storm. Afterwards, relief washed over me like a warm wave in Pilot Bay.
I look at 50 with wonder and awe. Much like Christmas, you know the day will come but are still gobsmacked, nonetheless, at the speed with which the holiday or milestone birthday arrives.
It's like a long-awaited asteroid smashing into the Earth while decimating illusions of youth.
Who else is 50? The average age of elected MPs in New Zealand at the last election was 50. Millennials and Generation Z often conflate us with Boomers, though we're Gen X (dammit).
The average age Kiwi women hit menopause is 52, though this varies. A lot.
We are the sandwich generation - often caring for minor children and elderly parents at once. We're responsible. Jenny Joseph's poem, Warning, talks of wearing purple with a red hat when she's older while spending her pension on brandy, summer gloves and satin sandals.
Joseph also addresses the stickier parts of middle age:
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry And pay our rent and not swear in the street And set a good example for the children. We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
At age 10, my element was neon on the periodic table. At 50, I'm tin. If I make it to 79, I'll be gold.
Mostly, I'm grateful and somewhat astonished to be alive. For about 10 years, I didn't think I'd outlive age 37. I was misdiagnosed with a life-threatening liver condition at 26.
Back then, median time from diagnosis to transplant (if you were lucky enough to get one) was 11 years.
Part-time catastrophiser and planner that I am, I tried to squeeze in as much living as possible. I married, had two babies, travelled, enjoyed my job in TV news and felt safe knowing my husband was in good health if I were to die young.
Epic fail. Sean left first, dying unexpectedly in 2010 at age 48. Thankfully, my initial diagnosis was wrong. I still have a limping liver, but my condition is different and less lethal than first suspected.
George Orwell said, "At 50, everyone has the face he deserves." We can gripe about crow's feet and the Google Maps criss-crossing our chests, but these ageing bones are blessed to have had 10 more years with my children than my late spouse has had. No matter how old I get, I'll always miss him.
Sean would laugh at my 50-ness.
This year, we're lucky to be able to gather, face-to-face, during the pandemic. The only bubbles I'll encounter today are those in my glass.
Three friends came over last weekend, presumably to plant seedlings near my half-stained fence in our tiny section. It was an early birthday present. I returned from Master 14's football game to find a fully stained fence, two rows of clivia plants and three new plants in glazed pots.
One of them is a money tree, meant to bring good fortune. I took it in - my friends' planning, their work, their dedication to bringing beauty to my backyard - and burst into tears.
The Bay of Plenty has already delivered good fortune within a multitude of friendships and acquaintances.
New decade birthday goals are still kicking around - possibilities for more education, building my career, finally publishing the manuscript.
A woman I know started medical school around age 50. A 50-year-old colleague recently started her PhD. I can plan tomorrow - if I don't fill my cup scrolling Facebook first.
Today, I'll revel in joy.
Oscar Wilde said: "Wisdom comes with winters." I've had a few. What I know after 50 years is it helps to have friends smarter than you, older, younger and different from you; anticipation of an event is just as important as the event itself; everything will change; time is our most precious resource; and adolescence is fleeting, but acne is forever.
I strive to live into my best version of "grown-ass woman", which is how my friend Becky refers to someone who stands up for herself.
My goal is to stop caring what other people think; to dress how I like, dance when I want and speak my truth. Gloria Steinem wrote: "Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age."
To that, I'll raise a glass and sink my teeth into another bite of cake.