Your wake-up birthday: when and why?

Drawing of woman astonished by a card wishing her "happy umpteenth birthday".
Some birthdays give you a shock. What happened on your wake-up birthday?

I need your help, dear readers. Please enlighten me about your wake-up birthday (or birthdays).

A. Which of your birthdays affected you strongly in an unusual way?

B. What emotion did you feel? Was it shock, alarm, wonder, excitement, fear, or some other feeling(s)?

C. What did you realise, think, decide, or do as a result of that birthday?

I’m really keen to hear from you. Because I’m writing a memoir about my own experience, and I’m only one person so what do I know?

Readers, I appreciate you more than ever

This morning I woke up thinking, another lonely day in lock-down. It’s only Day 19 for us this time and I have a great network of friends and family and yet I woke up thinking, another lonely day in lock-down. I’ve got a Facetime call booked for 5 o’clock, but will I talk to anyone before that? Waa waa waa. In other words, poor little over-privileged me.

Then I thought, someone will read my blog! Someone might comment! How utterly wonderful is that?

And I felt a rush of appreciation for you—my regular readers. You know who you are, we kind of know each other and and we talk to each other and it’s a flippin’ miracle. You open my mind and that’s exciting.

And I appreciate you too, random reader who lurks in the shadows and sometimes reads a blog post right to the end. You too are special, you’re doing you and doing it right. I like it that you’re there, even if I never see you.

And I appreciate you too—you who live alone like me and generally love it or at least manage. You—who in a pandemic have new fears and insecurities, irrational bursts of peevishness or gloom. I get it. We’re in it together for the greater good.

This too will pass, I tell myself. However, I doubt this warm appreciation of my readers will pass. I had it before, I had it already and it was real.

But today was like a wake-up non-birthday. My feelings are of gratitude and warmth. My insight is that you are there and sometimes we connect, we talk and listen to each other. So I am not alone.

34 thoughts on “Your wake-up birthday: when and why?

  1. You are definitely not alone! I enjoy your posts and love your sense of humor.

    I usually stop to think about birthdays when the year ends in zero. I never felt any different after turning 30 or 40, but I was aware that another decade had passed. John will be 80 years old in a few days. I don’t think he likes the sound of that. It doesn’t help that we’ve had medical issues, some diagnosed and some pending. I hope we are smart enough to keep doing the things we can and to slow down when we have to.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Anne, you were the first to respond to my plea! Thanks for being there. Yes, the new decade birthdays are a natural cause to pause. That’s a positive and realistic attitude to future and its birthdays. I’m sure you are smart enough for that.

      1. I like your words, cause to pause. I’m glad you have confidence in my brains. It’s midnight, and I don’t have enough sense to be in bed!

  2. And we readers appreciate you, too!

    Thirty was a big year for me. I had finally achieved all the things I thought a grownup needed in order to be a grownup: marriage, motherhood, a house, a car, a tiny bit toward savings, and student loans paid off. Hahaha, oh what I didn’t know and had yet to learn!

    When I turned 50, it felt like a big birthday, but knew from my 30th birthday experience that I probably STILL had a lot to learn. So 50 was a humbling birthday for me and also one that urged me on: more knowledge, more faith, more community involvement, better relationships.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you, Priscilla! Ah, another 30th birthday frisson. Some are unnerved because they haven’t achieved what they hoped to, others like you because they have. Problems, problems. But what fun to hit 50 and see all the possibilities ahead. That’s great.

  3. I didn’t like the sound of 70. Still don’t. Can’t even imagine how I will feel at 80. Still…I’m healthy, relatively happy so all is good. I try not to focus on it. I actually enjoyed my 50s and 30 didn’t phase me at all. It’s those high numbers that remind me that I’m nearing the end of my days. I too love the blogosphere. I feel closer to people I’ve never met than I do some friends.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, some numbers sort of feel threatening. And you have explained why: time’s running out! (Only another 20-odd years to go.) But that can add sweetness to every day. Waking up is kind of exciting. I’m glad you share my feelings about blogland. Where other social media can be cruel, this feels slower and safer and more suitable for me.

      1. Perhaps in the blogging group we meet up with more people like us. People who don’t post brutal nonsense.

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        That’s true. It’s a little slower,and that helps.

  4. Beth A Rubin says:

    Well, as others said, I appreciate you too! My wake-up birthday story is a little different. For me it was turning 58. My mother, her mother, and my grandmother’s sister all died at 57. I spent a couple of decades being reckless with my health and body because I irrationally thought I wouldn’t have a 58th birthday. So I did two things. One, I got a tattoo. Second, I recalibrated how I treat my body and started taking much better care of myself. I’m 66 now and feeling like perhaps I’ll be more like my paternal grandmother….or, to quote old blue eyes, “do it my way…..” (you know the tune, right?). Thanks for asking.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Wow! Beth, you really marked that landmark birthday. I suspect we’re all a bit irrational or superstitious in such circumstances. Our stories are a wee bit similar. My mother died at 70. At 74 I realised, oh, I’m going to live a lot longer. Better do my best to make it good. Which included taking better care of myself. Do do the you you that you do so well.

    2. I Am Kat says:


  5. Thirty was a hard one for me. I was still floundering and trying to figure out what I wanted to do. It was shortly after that birthday that everything started falling into place. Fifty was another monumental one, but this time because the 20 years between 30 and 50 had been exceedingly fulfilling—in terms of career, relationships, spirit, and challenges. Fifty was a celebration. Seventy is just over a year away and I hope I will welcome it with grace. Neither of my parents, nor my husband’s, made it to 70 (most of them not even close), so there is a tiny feeling that I will be blazing new trails…. Every year is a gift.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’ve heard others say 30 was hard, even before I wrote this blog post. Expectations are so high for that stage. I’m thrilled to hear that 50 was a celebration! And I understand how delicate it feels to live beyond the age when our parents died. Now what? we think. Now, as you say, new trails!

  6. Jennifer Holdaway says:

    Hi Rachel. I appreciate your unique views on life and your smiles – thank you for being you and sharing some of that with an extended community. Waving out to you with a smile. 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Lovely Jen—it’s reciprocal 🙂

  7. cedar51 says:

    This year (April) I turned 70 and there was no true celebration, I went out and about on my own, ate some nice food.

    But there was a bit of wake up call when I realised that a now more or less ex-friend started to bully me when I had my 60th – or should I say in hindsight that day (70th) showed me much. A few months ago, I created an email which basically said “don’t come here unexpectedly, and I’m capable of making my own decisions” – she agreed. I backed off but there were still niggly comments on my f/b page…I deleted a few. Last week she phoned me and I realise “she taken no notice…and she got quite irate about a number of things”

    I’ve sat here thinking rather than writing about how this is so sad…if only she had kept her opinions to herself. She is also one of the reasons that I left the fibrecraft world. Having had no car for a few decades, and even when I did she insisted on driving me places. When her irritation at other drivers and her mealy mouthed comments to me, got so bad – I resigned. I’ve never got in her car again…if I need to be driven some place, I ask another way more supportive friend or take OLA.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That was quite a turnaround. Sometimes we have all the information for weeks, even years in advance, and yet it’s still a shock when we finally get it. I’m glad you asserted yourself.

  8. Sixty-five because I hadn’t expected to find myself alone at that age.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That was a whopper blow.

      1. Yes, I was divorced a few years before that, but 65 just seemed like such an important age, somehow.

  9. I Am Kat says:

    Hi Rachel you are definitely not alone. I love your posts and while we are not on full lockdown yet in the Caribbean I totally get your feeling of isolation. I have always considered myself a late bloomer and turning 50 was an expectedly transformative experience for me. I felt different all at once, I felt as if I had come into my own, that I was officially a grown up even though I had clearly been adulting for decades before.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Isn’t this so strange? Sometimes I suspect there’s a biochemical component that kicks in on a birthday. Yours is a wonderful story. Some assume that all birthdays are depressing after a certain age but that is far from true. Thank you.

      1. I Am Kat says:

        You are most welcome.

  10. I have a different answer – my 12th birthday. My birthday is in July, so summer in the northern hemisphere where I grew up. I left primary school just before my birthday and started secondary school in the August. I hated primary, loved secondary, and had a feeling life was going to change – and it did.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      How interesting, Basia — that even so young you could see the big picture. What a great birthday!

  11. QP and Eye says:

    Hi Rachel, I’ve been MIA since June last year struggling with the whole COVID thing and now the isolation of another lockdown (in NSW). So yes, I completely understand your feelings. But I did want to say as others have, you are not alone and now I’m back I look forward to taking up my Reader feed, of which you are always an important part. As for birthday epiphanies I have to say that the year I turned 15, also the year my mother died, I had the surreal feeling that I was now on my own. That feeling has stayed with me all my life although I have never been alone and have a beautiful husband with me although my children are in New Zealand and Melbourne. My 15th birthday is the only one I remember with any clarity because of the overwhelming sense of grief and loss that can at times still ambush me, like now simply writing about it. Sorry my story isn’t cheerful but there you are. Take care x Linda

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Dear Linda, I’m sorry I didn’t manage to reply until now. Your story moved me. Such a huge realisation to hit you at that birthday, an age when in a perfect world we should all be full of juice and joy. (Of course in the real world, even safe and steady one, it doesn’t work out that way.) I’m startled yet again by the way a birthday can trigger what you call that “surreal” feeling. I think birthdays open us up and we dare to peek at the big picture, seeing some truths about our lives. Your feeling was appropriate at the time—and sometimes you lapse back into that grief and loss. I’m glad that in your present life you are loved and cared for. But I understand. Thank you.

  12. I particularly enjoyed my 60th birthday as I had an overwhelming feeling that I no longer had to prove anything to anybody anymore. I was, and am, content with myself, my situation, and my life.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      What a blissful state. We’re sometimes unaware of such pressures until we escape them. (I got that a smaller version of that release when I left high school and started at university, oddly enough.) Your contentment is well earned at 60 and I would wish the same for all of us, preferably starting decades earlier — but that’s not how it works, is it?

  13. judibwriting says:

    Great questions to ask and I love that I have found your blog. I also will be outliving my husband and my mother and father’s ages when I turn 70 this month. Because I live in an assisted living area of a retirement community, I am very young compared to most of my neighbors, one of whom is in their hundreds…which is sobering. Given that my body with its chronic conditions is older than my years, I feel I am finally matching up my body with a more accurate chronological timeline. Although the potential of living longer than our forebears is very real these days, I would be amazed if I actually had 30 more years left to live in this challenged vehicle. I’d love to see my almost two year old grandson and his yet unborn brother grow up, but as we cannot know how long we have, I envision this birthday to be one I greet with curiosity and joy- whether or not the small planned family gathering will take place in person given travel restrictions during the unfolding pandemic status here in the U.S..

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Wow! What a read! Not a story I will forget Ina hurry. Not a birthday you would forget in a hurry. Confrontation with your aunt and uncle grappling with (dare I say it) the ultimate, terminal point of being alive. For them. Which is not a universal “meaning of life”, but unique to each individual. Terrific writing. Love the punctuation too.

      1. Nemorino says:

        Thanks! Glad you liked the story. (And even the punctuation.)

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