So my friends, today’s the day. I have achieved my half century. Everyone I’ve spoken to over the last couple of weeks has been asking me one question – how are you feeling about it? So I thought I’d try to articulate exactly how it feels to reach your 50th birthday. Prepare for one of those long streams of consciousness – it’s been a while. You may need to make a cup of tea before you sit down with this one.
I’m going to start with the downside so that we can get it out of the way. You see it’s instinctive for everyone around me here to try to soothe me and jolly me along but there’s something I need to acknowledge before we move on to the celebrations and I’m relying on you to understand. As you know, I’ve been very buoyant about the approach to 50 over the last 12 months but this week, I’ve actually been feeling a bit sad. Why sad? Well it’s got nothing to do with the number but a lot to do with the milestone.
You see as well as being a time of looking forward, it’s a time of looking back. I’ve been thinking about all of the years that have gone by, the times I’ve had and, of course, the people I’ve shared them with. That always brings me to some of the really special people that I won’t hear from today.
More than anything, I would love my mum to come bustling through the door with a cake that she’s made saying “50! You’ll always be a little girl in our eyes…” and then nudging my dad with a “… won’t she Fred?” My dad would smile and reply “yes, 50 is nothing – it’s just the beginning...”
Being older parents, it was always likely that they wouldn’t be here for my 50th birthday but there are those whose deaths were less foreseeable – my first husband*; my best friend; my nieces. They would all have been full of jokes about my dotage today. There are important chunks of my life that I shared with them that no-one else knows about. In a way it almost feels as though those times have been erased and the years lost.
So, that’s the sad bit that has been preying on my mind over the last few days. Don’t worry, I’m ok, it’s just that sometimes it’s easier for me to get things off my chest here. The good thing is that I have always been a keeper of cards so I can dig one out from each of them and that will be my way of dealing with it.
As I’ve said so many times before, the benefit that comes with losing people you love too soon is that you know how very lucky you are to reach your 50th birthday. So there will be no moaning from me about it, I see today as a gift in itself. It really does feel like a milestone though and it’s very different to hitting 40.
My 40th birthday was all about having a big party with a marquee in the garden and choosing a diamond eternity ring as my gift from Mr MC. For my 50th, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted other than significant time with the people I love. So that is what most people have given me and I have promises of lovely occasions stacking up until Christmas, each as individual as the giver.
There are too many to thank here individually but, if any of you are reading, I hope you know how much I appreciate the thought you have put into your choices. I feel incredibly lucky to have you in my lives.
Before I move on, I must just pay a little tribute to those who are closest to me, starting with my precious boys. Creating you and helping you to grow into the people you have become will always be the greatest of my achievements. I love each of you for who you are and for the fact that you are all such individuals.
My go-getting, determined eldest – you have had a few knocks over the last few years but you continue to amaze me with your ability to bounce straight back up again with a smile on your face.
A rough, tough rugby player on the exterior, I know you have a gentle heart. You and I have an uncanny ability to read each other. I miss you when you are not here and will miss you even more next year when you will be in London, working for one of the world’s biggest and most exciting brands. It is your moment to shine and I know you will. I am endlessly proud of everything you do.
My idiosyncratic Mr Middle – I thank you for taking your job of keeping Midlifechic readers entertained with your adventures so seriously. There is never a dull moment with you around!
You are the creative one of the three; selflessly kind, especially when it comes to your friends. Always one to look out for others, you taught me a lot when you deliberately came last in your school run. You did it so that a boy who was being victimised could finish before you. I remember saying that it must have been a hard thing to do and you answered “but someone’s got to come last Mum, why shouldn’t it be me?”
And my youngest, my fellow bookworm, linguist and lover of words. I sometimes wonder if you resent being my baby – I find it so hard to let you fly. But flying you are. If all goes well, next week your grit and determination will see you achieve your Black Belt in karate, snapping at your dad’s 2nd Dan heels.
You are another gentle soul, always the one to sense when I need a bit of extra help – or just a hug. You think so hard about people on their birthdays. When I told you I was feeling a bit low about being 50 you said “why Mum? 50’s awesome – you’re like one of the trees in Lord of the Rings!” I’m not as up to speed with LOTR as you but I know that in your eyes, it is high praise indeed.
So my sons, at some point over the next ten years, you will probably all fledge from this nest we call home but I hope I will still have an important role in your lives. I will be your backstop I suppose, there behind you when you need me, in the same way that I was when you were learning to ride your bikes. This will, of course, mean that your dad and I will have more time together and we are already starting to contemplate adventures without you such as inter-railing. You’ve been warned!
Which brings me to you – my Mr MC. As well as being my rock and fulfilling your wedding vow of putting a smile on my face every day, you also give so much of your free time to taking photos of yet another outfit that I have come up with. You never complain and it’s time I said a public thank you to you here for everything you have done since the day we first got together. Being as happily married as we are at the age of 50 is an achievement in itself but, thanks to you, it isn’t difficult. (I know…you aren’t 50 for another three years yet…the day will come).
And now I must come on to Midlifechic and you, my readers. The extra time I have now that the boys are bigger has enabled me to nurture this blog which is a new and unexpected source of pleasure in my life. I’ve gradually got to know quite a few of you and thinking about you… and chatting via the comments and social media… brings me joy every day. I thank you so much for the time and the input you give me. I know you are never quite sure what is coming next on here so I am truly grateful to you for staying with me and keeping on reading.
As you know, I tend to write Midlifechic very intuitively and I’m not sure where I’m going with it but it is something that I am determined to keep building, even though life sometimes feels a bit too full. I don’t view it as a business so I don’t have a strategy or a five year plan. I do know I won’t enjoy watching myself growing older each time I upload the photos but the consolation will be that you are growing older with me and together, we’ll be pioneering a new way of being 50-something.
Being a midlife blogger
It isn’t a bad time to be at the other end of the ‘over 40′ blogger arena. It is becoming a tougher environment as some of the 30-somethings move up. The thing that I loved about the over 40 blog world when I started was that it was different to the magazine environment that I came from. It was led by a bunch of women who had lots to say. You could imagine sitting down and having coffee with them. They were taking their photos with an iPhone in the back garden and telling you honestly what they thought about the clothes they were trying. They were genuine, likeable and approachable. Thankfully some of them are still hanging in there and I look forward to their blogs every week.
I’m lucky to have a group of good blogging friends. I have the ongoing warmth and support of the Over40Collective and some other midlife bloggers that I’m getting to know. Otherwise it could be a rather rarefied atmosphere to operate in.
Now that blogging is becoming a full time career option for a lot of people, new, financially motivated players are moving in and elbows are being sharpened. The pressure to ape magazines (who, it should be remembered, have professional photographers and five figure budgets for every photoshoot) is discouraging. The increasing use of post production techniques means that a lot of images of older women on blogs and social media just aren’t honest. I often notice this when I am asked for one of my images by another blogger or website. I am infuriated by the way they retouch me, taking away wrinkles and moles that are an essential part of the person I am. There is so much fakery around.
Don’t get me started on the world of Instagram and the hours people spend leaving fawning comments on strangers’ posts in the hope that they will follow them back. Or worse, they buy fake followers from unscrupulous sources. I can understand how the teenage bloggers are sucked in to this world but I didn’t think it would affect the women who have enough life experience to know better. Whatever I do with Midlifechic, I can assure you that I will keep it real.
Putting 50 into context
You see I think those of us who are around the cusp of 50 were particularly fortunate to be born when we were, in the late analogue age. Our education was free, our teen years were often boring and so we spent a lot of time thinking and dreaming. This helped us to build strong personalities and a facility to generate our own opinions.
The supermodels in our sight lines were usually a size 12 and pop songs glorified women who were a ‘perfect 10.’ On the whole we were brought up in a culture that enjoyed food rather than fearing it, even if the cuisine of the 80s was relatively unsophisticated. Our teenage route to oblivion was usually via nothing stronger than a couple of glasses of ‘cider and black.’ Everything closed at 11pm and so the opportunities of the night were limited.
I’m not forgetting the blackouts of the 70s or the miners’ strikes and the fundamental societal changes that took place in Thatcher’s Britain but I do think it was an easier time for most girls to grow up. I talk to the girls who are friends with my sons and I often feel really worried for them. The external pressures that they face seem to hit them from every angle. For both boys and girls it is a 24 / 7 society. Even on holiday there is no reprieve from the forces that surround them.
What I’m trying to say (in a long winded way) is that I’m glad to be 50 and to have lived through the times that have made me the person I am. I am pleased to be old enough to remember the analogue world and yet young enough to embrace the opportunities that digital has brought along. To be steadfast enough to know when things are worth bothering about… and when they aren’t.
The next decade
I wonder how much will change over the next ten years. As I look back to my 40th birthday, I realise what a rollercoaster ride the last decade has been. Little did we know, as we drank champagne in the garden on 19th May 2007, that the clouds of the ‘great recession’ were gathering in. When I look at the lives of the friends who celebrated with me, they have all changed exponentially.
I would say that the individuals have changed too. Regardless of their job or industry sector, nobody has had an easy time. I heard on the radio the other day that we are living in the longtail of the recession and that it is unclear how long that will last. There is no doubt that the immediate outlook is uncertain on lots of levels. Life has taught us that it is better not to set too many goals if we will feel disappointed when they don’t turn out as we planned.
The good thing that has come out of the last ten years is that people aspire less to the material than they used to. Across the generations, we have learned that it is people that matter and the times you have with them, not things. In my marketing world, there is even a name for it. It is being called the ‘age of experientialism’ driven by the ‘experience economy.’ The ‘It Bag’ is over. Instead people are chasing the ‘moment’ – whilst curating it carefully on Instagram of course!
So what am I looking forward to in the decade to come? Well everyone who is in their 50s tells me it is great, that they are having their best times ever. I’m being careful not to make too many plans. I have some really interesting projects on the go at the moment that straddle my marketing and blogging worlds and they are keeping me cerebrally fulfilled.
I will use my analogue values as my compass as I dive ever deeper into this digital world and make sure that I am not sucked in too far. I think there is a pivotal role for all of us here – we are well positioned to help those who are older than us to embrace the benefits that digital brings. However, we can also hold our hands out to those who are younger than us and help them to retain perspective. The superficiality, the egocentricity and the vanity will grow and grow. We are the people who can help to keep it all real, reminding them to view life through their own eyes rather than an Instagram filter.
So this weekend will be low key, largely because we have exam fever in the house. It is nothing new to me – having a birthday in May, it was always the way. We have a meeting to go to this morning and after that I’m not sure – although I can detect a twinkle in Mr MC’s eye. He’s told me I will be off grid for the afternoon so something must be afoot. Tonight we are going out en famille for a special dinner and I am looking forward to having all of my chicks back in the nest for a little while.
Tomorrow we are leaving the teens at home as we hit the town for a Saturday night out. Mr MC and I are going to a gig at Manchester Uni where I will be lost in a throwback to my youth. We are going to see Soul II Soul who are being supported by my all time favourite band, The James Taylor Quartet. On Sunday, at some point, we will make our way home and resume our role as responsible parents. But before that… for one night only and regardless of my years… I will be as young as I feel!
*no you haven’t missed anything. This isn’t something I have ever covered on Midlifechic – and, for lots of reasons, I will probably keep it that way.
Disclosure: “How it feels to reach your 50th birthday” is not a sponsored post
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