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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Birthday Week

Birthday Week
Before the World of Wearable Art Show, Wellington

You've probably had a few birthdays that took you by surprise: Maybe you were somewhere you didn't expect to be, celebrating with people you never expected to meet, having conversations you never expected to have.

Last year, I turned 40 in Paris. I walked to a tiny cafe called Le Comptoir (The Counter) in the 6th arrondisement with my dad and his wife. I savoured salmon and the most perfect bowl of plump, pinky-red raspberries (framboises, in French – a lovely word, n'est pas?).
Raspberries at Le Comptoir, Paris

This year, I turned 41 in New Zealand. I spent eight hours of my birthday in a Range Rover with The Boyfriend, peering at snow-capped mountains, green hills, gray mama sheep with their suckling lambs; and giant white wind turbines while driving narrow, winding roads from Wellington to Mount Maunganui. 

We stumbled on dinner during a pit stop at the Rangitaiki Tavern (reknowed as a biker pub). I shouted (treated) The Boyfriend and Fiona and Finley mince (ground beef) and cheese pies. Finley said, "If I eat my half, can I have another?" I told him, "Yes, but I doubt you'll eat all that." He did. I ate a toasty ham and cheese sandwich, washed down with a pot of Gumboot (standard-issue Kiwi) tea. Dessert was a couple pieces of Whitaker's dark chocolate with almonds. It was a classic EnZed experience, unscripted, unrehearsed and just fine by me.

I tend to celebrate my birthday for a week, or even a month, so whatever we do September 5th is but one slice of the b-day pie (or cake, or pizza...). I bought tickets to the World of Wearable Arts show in Wellington http://www.worldofwearableart.com/ and arranged a two-night city getaway, sans kids, with The Boyfriend, Pete. His sister and her children kept Fiona and Finley occupied and happy while we were gone. This is remarkable, considering the kids and I had no idea Pete and his family existed until about six months ago.

Also remarkable - the cast of characters who laughed, ate and drank with Pete and me at our 86th birthday bash -the Spanish couple who invited the kids and I to live with them after learning we needed to find a new home; the Germans who've just gained permanent NZ residency and a new job; the Kiwi runners who push me up The Mount and swap stories over coffee afterwards; the church family worker who connected me with fellow mums who've become friends; the South African and her family who share play dates, girls' nights and meals... These are friendships born not of a newcomer's desperation, but of shared interests and experiences.

Birthdays force you to pause – your mind, your mouth, your movement - for a nanosecond and take stock. Inventory things done and left undone. Lessons learned and common sense ignored. You ask yourself: What do I know this year I didn't know before? What do I know – at all?

What I think I know at 41:

-You get second chances
-Smart people can make unwise decisions
-My skin will continue to break out until the day I die. It's my face's way of telling me I'm still alive.
-You can't take a trip without affecting someone else. Your journey could change their lives, too.
-The person you become in 15 minutes will be different from the person you are right now.
-It doesn't take long to fall in love.
-If I do nothing else right in a day, at least I've applied sunscreen.
-Rarely will anything ever work out the way I expect.
-Two margaritas after a run, before food, is not a good idea.
-You can live far from home and still have the luxury of too many social engagements.
-Love is a powerful motivator. So's desire.
-Children are here to return us to the present moment.
-If you stop moving long enough, the nesting instinct returns.
-Fence-sitting for too long gives you a sore bum and a tired brain.
-Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen.

What I don't know:

-Whether and when I or those closest to me will get sick or injured.
-Whether The Boyfriend and I are willing to make the extreme sacrifices required to stay together.
-Whether my kids will swim proper freestyle this year.
-Whether the All Blacks will win the World Cup.
-What I'm doing with the rest of my life.

Do we ever answer that last question? We don't really know, do we? Plans are like ocean currents – shifting, changing, ebbing, flowing. You make a plan and a rip current pulls you under and sets you drifting far from where you started. Or you start swimming and learn you have more stamina to go further than you ever imagined. Then friends with a boat tow you to shore. Joy, wrapped in a shiny bundle of Surprise, awaken you to new possibilities. Even at your age. Even at mine.

Cheers to another year.  

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