40 Years and 847 Days

I was born on my mom’s 30th birthday, October 19, 1980. So she and I not only share a birthday, but we share all our decade milestones. A little over week ago, the dumpster fire that is 2020 witnessed our 40th and 70th birthday – a milestone we had planned to celebrate in London, watching the Chicago Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals in Olympic Stadium. But of course due to the pandemic, the trip was cancelled and the birthday plans of two diehard Cub fans were up in the air until the last minute.

Instead of flying to London (insert first world problem sigh here), we drove into NYC the weekend before our birthday and treated ourselves to visits to our favorite shops (Zabar’s, Strand Books, Fishs Eddy, Paragon Sports, abc Carpet & Home). For lunch, we ate my favorite sushi (Tenzan – if you don’t know, now you know) in my illegally-parked swagger wagon, its hazard lights flashing and windows down for air flow since we had to take our masks off to eat because this is apparently the world we live in now. But anyway. The sush was delish.

I returned home Sunday afternoon, ready to get back into mom mode while trying to manage my last-hours-of-my-30s anxiety/excitement. My close friend and neighbor had texted to ask if we could go for a walk. My husband decided to take the kids and dogs out as well, so we all walked together to the corner where my neighbor was waiting for me in her car. She ordered me to hop in, and proceeded to whisk me away to another friend’s house for an outdoor surprise party-à-trois. Balloons, pompoms, a Happy Birthday banner, gifts, food, cupcakes, a bottle of Töst, 40 cans of seltzer, me, two of my best friends in the world, and no kids: the perfect way for me to end my 30s.

On the big day itself, I reunited with my mom for more shopping, an outdoor family dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, and a delicious three-tier red velvet cake baked by my husband. The Birthday, as we call it in our family, was a good one. A good multi-day celebration. A good reimagining of what a milestone birthday can be in a pandemic. A good use of our proximity to NYC. Good quality time with family and friends. Good food, great cake. And no booze.

I don’t think I even thought about drinking. Which, still, 847 days into my alcohol-free existence, amazes me. Because a few years ago, I could not conceive of enjoying a birthday, especially a milestone birthday, without wine, champagne, and tequila. The idea that I would happily, contentedly, turn 40 without a drop of alcohol would have been simply ludicrous to me if it had crossed my mind. Which it never did, because, like many events of 2020, a booze-free birthday was too far-fetched for me to even imagine. 

Yet here I am: 40 years into my life’s journey, 847 days into my alcohol-free journey, and more grateful every day to be exactly where I am. 

I still have a lot of inner work to do. This pandemic has sapped much of my creative energy, hence my absence from here. While I haven’t been blogging, I have been continuing to write – in my journal, mostly. I needed to take some time to record this insane year, to write myself out of anxiety and back into grace. I have also been reading a lot, and doom scrolling too much. I am still working diligently to rewire my brain out of its diet culture settings and into a more harmonious and attuned relationship with food. I have been taking time to breathe, move my body, and snuggle my family. Some days I barely manage to stay present, much less accomplish much else. Pandemic fatigue is real. But we have no choice but to carry on.

I hope to carry myself into my 40s with strength, self-compassion, and as much grace as I can muster. Entering this new decade as a non-drinker feels empowering, and I’m going with it.

My First Alcohol-Free Birthday

Pondering my late 30s and also the fact that we just decided to close on a crumbling farmhouse

I turned 38 almost a month ago. And yes, it was a particularly busy birthday on the heels of a particularly busy week, and I was contending with a particularly bad cold and allergy double-whammy. But I can always make time to write about something important. And my first alcohol-free birthday since I was a teenager (with the exception of my two birthdays-whilst-knocked-up) certainly counts as a milestone in this alcohol-free year.

So why have I not carved out the time to write about it until now, almost a month later?

I have reflected on the day, and thought about what I could write, many times. October 19, 2018. I turned 38 years old. And we bought a 240-year-old farmhouse in New Hampshire.

It was a picture perfect New England day: shining sun, piercing blue sky, and the hint of a fall chill in the air. While my husband and I walked around the house, wondering if we just made the biggest mistake of our marriage or if we just gave our family the most incredible gift to be enjoyed for generations to come, our kids delightedly explored every nook and cranny and discovered hidden treasures everywhere. “Look at this legendary pencil! This rock smells like peaches!”

The kids poked around the old barn, gleefully flitted through the back field, and climbed on a massive pine tree that had fallen across the path through the woods (as their dad and I saw the dollar signs it’s going to take to get it chopped and cleared – yikes). Witnessing the wonder in our kids’ eyes made us feel just swell. Maybe this really will be awesome. Time will tell.

That evening, we toasted my birthday and our new (old) house at the home of my aunt and uncle, who live in a nearby town. They popped the prosecco and had a ginger ale on hand for me to pour into my fluted glass. Minimal awkwardness, and I was so grateful. I didn’t miss wine, I didn’t want wine. A lovely family dinner complete with a homemade cake put the cap on a very special and very wonderful day.

And that’s that. Booze-free birthday: check!

I wanted this post to be a mic drop. I have been trying to come up with some clever, mind-blowing analogy between buying an old farmhouse and having an alcohol-free birthday. Something about a fresh start. New life breathed into old… the house as a symbol of… something. But I haven’t been able to draw enough of a connection between la maison et moi to write some poetic, full-circle piece from that angle.

Maybe I could bring major dramz with this post, I’ve thought to myself. Use the tried and true “if I were still drinking” comparison! If I were still drinking… well, it still would have been a great day. Just infused with a lot more anxiety that I would have smothered with sauvignon blanc. Nothing stark and impactful enough from that angle.

So I’m left with a simple story to tell: I turned 38 on the day we closed on an old farmhouse. I had a very nice, surreal, fun day. And I didn’t miss booze at all.

Anticlimactic, but perhaps therein lies the beauty of my first alcohol-free birthday. Maybe there are fewer a-ha moments these days, even on milestone days, because this is just part of who I am now. I am someone who doesn’t drink and who is happy about it.

My birthday was special because a birthday is a special day. It was particularly memorable because we bought a house. I’m very proud that I didn’t drink, but that’s not what truly set this day apart.

Alcohol just doesn’t deserve that much credit anymore.