This day my son is 40. For him this will probably feel like ripe old age, as it does for most of us. I can’t believe I am 40. Where did my youth go? It has been rudely swiped from my grasp without asking me if I minded. Time, it seems, has the swiping hand. Those of us who can’t even remember being 40, never mind being supple of limb and encased within a skin that doesn’t sag in all the wrong places, chuckle. We, after all, are miles ahead of the 40 year olds, all of us wrinklies pretending we aren’t, wrinkly, and all of us wishing we didn’t grunt on rising from a low slung garden bench. We tell the somewhat astonished sudden 40 year old that they have all these joys to come, countering the generational ‘joke’ with compliments on their achievements and their tight skin.
I remember turning 40. I was mother of five feral children but still in good shape, externally at least. I knew something was afoot but not what. There was an unusual amount of whispering in corners throughout the house. This, in my experience as a mother was nothing unusual. There are about 20 books of whisperings in corners that were never published. Bright and overly loud reassurances pinged around the walls like balls. No, nothing Mum, really. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (again). Eyes full of darts between them, eyes avoiding mine. I just went about my daily work but inside I hugged the secret with no name, for today, it was all about me.
Around 4pm there was a knock at the door. Nobody knocks at doors on the island. In fact, the only need for a door at all is to keep the rain out and the dogs in. Framed in the well-chewed doorway (dog trying to escape) stood a nun. I thought at first it was Sister Michael, who had encamped herself in a caravan not far away and who flew about in the wind like a crow, her habit billowing out behind her like a sail. It wasn’t her. Who was it? My innate politeness kicked in and I welcomed whoever she was. Behind her stood my mother-in-law. Well, that wasn’t odd at all being, as she was, a devoted catholic. Nuns and priests were never very far away from my mother-in-law, but I did wonder at her thoughtlessness arriving with said nun, all grins and expecting tea and cake, on this, my 40th birthday.
It took me a good few seconds to recognise the nun. My mum. No, my mum is 600 miles away from here and she is definitely not nun material. But it was her. She had purchased the nun habit some time before and had turned up at smart parties inside it, trying not to giggle and making everyone laugh as mum always did, the joker in the pack. This well kept secret was the best of all gifts. My mum, nun notwithstanding, had planned to arrive this very day, just for me. I felt very loved. My kids had arranged a secret party and the evening was perfect. I found a photograph someone had taken of my face, mouth wide open, eyes bright, the surprised one. A perfect click. It smiles me now, when I look on it, on that face, so young, so tightly skinned, eyes like marbles in sunlight.
So this is a tribute to my son. In whom I am more than well pleased, not just for what he has achieved, which is a very great deal in terms of achievements, inner wisdoms learned, his peaceful warrior heart, his fierce and loving protection of his family, but also for his choosing me to be his mother. Happy birthday James. Remember this day, because tomorrow, it will twist away from you and be gone.